The Electoral Reform Society, a 134-year-old organisation which hasn’t yet achieved its principal objective, yet is, surprisingly, proud of this, lists 9 voting systems, under the heading ‘Type of voting system’. They do not include the voting system I designed F2PTP (www.makevotescount.co.uk) despite the fact they have known of it for over two years and I have corresponded with them about it, though not to any great extent, largely because of their disinterest.
One wonders, then, what qualifies, in their view, as a ‘voting system’? Clearly, it isn’t a voting system, so it must be something else. Such an approach, is a part of a series of reasons that obstruct the progress of this very necessary reform and typifies the approach of organisations and, perhaps political parties to overlook, or even dismiss ideas that don’t fit their pre-determined ideologies. The ERS doesn’t list F2PTP as a voting system, not because it isn’t one, it clearly is, not because it isn’t in use anywhere yet, as they list other, ‘theoretical’ systems, but because of its source. Anything that hasn’t grown up through their ‘politically correct’ processes, simply doesn’t count.
As it happens their ‘preferred’, system for a UK general election is STV (Single Transferrable Vote); that is set in stone, and that is part of the problem.
That’s pretty much the view of other pro-reform organisations and the result is the growth of pro-reform, but dispirit organisations, each with their own view of their own preferred systems and their own preferred campaign strategies. Their work does keep the subject alive and does broaden general awareness, but what they haven’t achieved is any identifiable progress to change the election that really counts.
My approach is to draw together all the groups that want reform and work collectively towards making it happen. This means, as a priority we must all agree on the eventual voting system that will be put to the people. That means evaluation. As it happens, evaluation can be a very powerful tool.
Notionally, an evaluation process is straightforward, one sets the criteria, that which the voting system would ideally produce as outcomes and the practicalities and disadvantages of its processes, weight that criteria, because some criterion may be less important or less significant as others, then measure each of the voting systems against the weighted criteria to produce a result. All the voting system electoral outcomes require a certain amount of modelling and projection, based upon real votes in past elections, but there are well known techniques to determine the outer limits of the models and a valid comparison of this part of the evaluation process can be made.
Were we to leave it here, little would be achieved. Despite the obvious benefit of choosing something that best meets one’s own needs, it has not been done, to my knowledge, with voting systems. People use all sorts of associated information to validate their preferences. That might be that they use this system there, or many countries already use this system, or this system is technically the most proportional. However, any evaluation process, as I’ve described, has never been carried out.
Nevertheless, inbuilt and stubborn prejudice is unlikely to be resolved by simply arguing that one view has greater validity than another. So, we need a mechanism to break this deadlock. A mechanism exists, and it is polling.
Not only do we need to set and weight criteria, but it makes sense that the setting and the weighting of such criteria would do well to take into account the views of the very people that may well be asked to decide on the outcome.
The Swiss, before drafting legislation that will, on conclusion, be put to a referendum, embark upon a process of official opinion polls to find out what’s likely to go down well and what to avoid. The eventual legislation, therefore, is far more likely to be approved in a referendum if the principles discovered through the polling process are represented in the proposed law. It is simple and effective, and that’s probably why our government doesn’t bother with such things.
However, I digress.
Establishing the opinion of the people is a powerful tool. For example, were one to think that the simplicity and transparency of a particular system was important, yet meet opposition from those who felt differently, a poll that suggest people wouldn’t vote for something they didn’t understand changes the game entirely and it is an opinion that cannot be argued with. The people’s view is also a politically useful tool, because part of the polling process can also assess the likelihood, given much better political arguments, of people voting for candidates that support voting reform.
Where technocrats disagree, the opinion of the people can settle that far better than lengthy argument.
The intention, then, is to invite representatives to come together to partake in an evaluation process to decide which of the available voting systems would be the best one for United Kingdom general elections. When we get to this stage it would represent real progress and practically, as well as politically, achievable. My intention is to move the project forward and it is likely to be a step by step process.
A potential problem remains, though, as to how many organisations, or political parties, will want to be involved in such a process. That we don’t yet know, however, it wouldn’t end the innovation as UKIP would be able to carry it out whatever the inclination of others might be to partake, and unwillingness on the part of others would not play well politically. Refusing to consider, which is what evaluation is, shows unreasonableness and bigotry, not the sort of public face these organisations want to project.
The next article in the series will outline new arguments for electoral reform and how we can use them to change the importance of electoral reform as most people perceive it.