[EM] U.K. Voting Systems, 3rd edition

Blake Cretney bcretney at postmark.net
Tue Jul 27 17:42:00 PDT 1999

Wiseman, Julian wrote:

> Just for the record, many people (myself included) do not believe that
> single-member plurality is "ANTI-DEMOCRATIC", whether whispered or shouted.
> Majoritarian systems prevent power being passed from the ballot box to the

You seem to view "Majoritarian systems" as distinct from PR systems. 
How do you define "majoritarian" to come to this conclusion?

> negotiating table; and simple systems are widely understood and provide a
> clear link from constituent to representative. Whilst I don't believe SMP
> optimal (my preference can be found via
> http://www.jdawiseman.com/papers/electsys.html), SMP is far from pessimal,
> and has served two countries well for centuries. 

> Gerrymandering can be
> avoided by depoliticising boundary commissions (as in the UK); and
> can be made fairer by capping campaign spending (perhaps a more complicated
> constitutional change). 

Does anyone know of any recent studies of Gerrymandering?

Regarding PR-squared, I think that it is superior to SMP.  In SMP, it
makes sense for government to concentrate programs on close-race
constituencies (or regions of the country).  If seat allocation
depends only on total vote, there is no reason to do this.  Although,
it still makes sense to use government spending to help cabinet
ministers get re-elected, this is done at the expense of back-benchers
of the same party.  Similarly, PR-squared eliminates Gerrymandering as
a way to increase total seats.

Another advantage SMP has over plurality is that it does not give
some voters more power by virtue of living in smaller constituencies. 
However, people who live in small constituencies will not view this as
an advantage, and attack the method based on this.  Worse yet, smaller
constituencies will have lower margins of victory, and as a result
will be more likely to be represented by other than their plurality
winner, creating hostility towards the method.

PR-squared is much more prone to minority governments than SMP.  A
vote of 40% to 35% to 25% would likely result in a landslide win for
the 40% in SMP, but in PR-square it causes a minority goverment.

Plurality-squared has the advantage that a party cannot win more
seats with fewer votes.  I don't see this as an important gain,
however.  I don't place much meaning in a party's ability to gain a
plurality of the vote, so I am not concerned if the actual winner gets
a few percentage below the plurality winner?

You'll have a hard time persuading non-PR advocates to back your
method.  I suspect that most do not view SMP as having any need of
reform.  There are people who have basic pluralitarian views, but are
concerned that sometimes in SMP the plurality party does not win. 
However, they will likely be just as outraged when a plurality winner
does not win in an individual constituency.

The primary reason that I prefer PR methods to either of these
plurality methods is that they seem more likely to create a government
which represents the public will.

Of course, a pluralitarian would respond that in SMP, the government
is chosen solely on the basis of the votes of the population, so
clearly the government is the choice of the voters.

But consider the hypothetical method called Second Past the Post. 
This is the same as First Past the Post, except that in every seat the
candidate who comes in second wins.  I think few people would see the
result of such an election as "the will of the voters", and yet the
election result would depend entirely on the votes.  However, I would
say that the result reflects the peculiarity of the electoral method
rather than the will of the voters.

I hope this demonstrates that saying that an election result depends
entirely on the voters, and that it gives the choice of the voters is
not the same thing at all.  So, if an SMP government does represent
the choice of the voters, there must be some other justification than
that it is the direct result of voter choices.

Often it is suggested that the best way of determining the choice of
the electorate as a whole is the decision of the majority.  Since you
affectionately refer to SMP as majoritarian, I suspect you would agree
with this.

We would therefore think that a system that was truly representing
the will of the people would tend to impliment policies which
represent the majority of the population.  Of course, any system which
is representative rather than direct will filter majority decisions
somewhat.  To what extent this should occur is an unrelated issue. 
For simplicity, I am going to assume that voters vote for parties
based on their policies, and that parties then attempt to carry them

Now consider an election is held on an issue important to the
electorate.  Assume a vote that goes as follows:
Percentage  Square  Party   Stand on Policy    
42          1764    A       For
32          1024    B       Against
26           676    C       Against

58% voted against the policy, 42% for it.  However, the policy will
be implimented because the square of the votes gives a majority to A. 
Perhaps you have some reason for believing cases like this will be
rare.  I suspect, however, that if you have more than two strong
parties, they will be the norm, and the decisions of government will
have little relation to majority will, but rather to the peculiarities
of the voting method.

Blake Cretney

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list