[EM] STV district magnitude

James Green-Armytage jarmyta at antioch-college.edu
Mon Jul 21 18:47:03 PDT 2003

Dear James Gilmour, and other election methods fans,
	Here I am replying to James's latest reply in our ongoing STV district
magnitude series. To summarize, I am in general arguing for higher
magnitudes, while the other James G. is arguing for lower magnitudes.
	In copying text from earlier postings I have left many paragraphs out, so
it will appear disjointed if read straight through.

James Gilmour wrote:
>There is more to effective representation and effective democracy than
>maximised PR.  If the maximal PR has adverse effects, I am quite
>prepared to see the PR restricted - though I prefer to see that done
>through some logical determination of district magnitude rather than an
>arbitrary threshold.
>My problem is with the way most extremist groups behave.  In
>parliamentary systems where majority government is expected, and the
>governing coalition depends on such small, extremists groups, they
>usually exploit the situation so that they exert power out of all
>proportion to the support they have within the electorate.
>We have what we have and we have to make it work as best we can.  There
>are quite different political cultures within parliamentary democracies
>around the world.  Some expect single-party majority government.  Some
>happily accept minority government.  Some expect majority coalition
>government.  In some parliaments a single vote against the government
>immediately produces calls for a formal vote of no confidence, which the
>government must then win.  Some democracies have a more mature approach
>and understand that the government need not win every vote on every
>piece of legislation and policy it brings forward.  Unhappily for those
>of us who live in the UK, we have one of the least mature parliaments,
>despite its age.  Our political culture expects single-party majority
>government and expects the government to win the vote on every issue it
>puts to the House of Commons.
>Fine, but when it comes to a vote of confidence, as it sometimes will,
>the government must secure a majority or fall.  Then the very small
>extremist parties really exploit the situation.  You must remember that
>some of these groups hold such extreme views (ie extremely different
>from the overwhelming majority of the electors in their country) and
>hold those views so strongly, that would prefer to plunge their country
>into chaos (and bloodshed) rather than to concede one iota of their own
>extreme policy.  That does make democratic parliamentary government
>rather difficult.

I (James Green-Armytage) reply:
	I think we might be able to agree that small parties can be a liability
in counties that have parliamentary governments in which a majority vote
of no confidence can have dire consequences.
	I can probably agree that if you have a situation like that, and you are
stuck with it, creating a proportional system with a huge district
magnitude is not necessarily a good idea.
	My feeling, though (which is admittedly not very well informed, because I
have little experience with parliamentary governments) is that those sorts
of systems can be just as big a barrier to democracy as a hack voting
system like plurality. I am speaking of the kind of systems that you call
immature, where coalition governments form one big impermeable voting
block which entirely excludes the minority, and which always votes
together on every issue.
	In ideal terms, then, I would like a governmental system that allowed for
more fluidity in terms of shifting majorities on different issues, so that
49% of the representatives don’t lose every single piece of legislation
they lay down. Also, I would like an STV system with a pretty high
district magnitude.
	In real terms, I would like to oppose these sorts of immature systems, as
well as advocating that they switch to STV-PR. I *might* hesitate in
recommending high magnitude STV-PR until the stability issues of coalition
governments were reasonably well worked-out.

	If the governmental system you were dealing with allowed for this sort of
fluidity, and didn’t have any particularly significant ‘natural
communities’, would you be opposed to using a high district magnitude form
of STV or CPO-STV?
	If so, why?

James Gilmour wrote:
>In contrast, STV-PR does have the effect of encouraging accommodation.
>If coalition government is a likely outcome and there is divergence of
>view within the potential coalition parties about the desirability of
>forming a coalition, the supporters of those parties can send a strong
>message about what they want by giving their higher preferences to pro-
>or anti-coalition candidates as they wish.

I reply:
	Yes. This is one of the main reasons why STV-PR is superior to list PR:
voters have lots of power to shape the agenda of parties, rather than just
choosing between them. (Open list should be able to do this to some
extent, but it is less precise.) We do seem to be agreeing on the benefits
of STV.
	By the way, are you saying that small parties would be as much of a
liability in high-district magnitude STV systems as they would be in list
systems of equal magnitude?

I wrote awhile ago:
>> 	My point is that there are different degrees of 
>> representation. Is the
>> winning candidate necessarily the first choice of 50% of the 
>> electorate?
>> Of course not. Do those 50%+ really agree with everything 
>> that candidate
>> does? Of course not. 
>> 	Sooner or later, 50%+ of the ballots got transferred to 
>> one candidate,
>> but that candidate does not necessarily represent all of 
>> those voters very
>> well.
>> 	There are different degrees of representativeness. There is
>> representativeness that is rather vague, and there is 
>> representativeness
>> that is more specific.

James Gilmour replied:
>This is all very fine in the abstract, but in real elections we try to
>measure "representation" by numbers of whole candidates elected and
>numbers of electors whose votes counted towards that result.

I reply:
	I see this as a somewhat rhetoric-based non-response to my main point.
	What does the measure of representativeness have to do with how 'real'
the election is? You can measure the representativeness of a real election
that way if you like, but you can measure it in other ways as well, and I
still think that yours is a kind of weak definition of representativeness. 
(And one which cheats a little bit, in my opinion. For example, when IRV
advocates say that an IRV winner always has the support of a majority of
the voters, this is not entirely true. The only sure thing is that they
win a pairwise competition with the other candidate who makes it to the
final round. Even assuming that any candidate actually ends up with a
majority of the original ballots at the end, it is something of a stretch
to say they represent a majority of the electorate, as many of those votes
could easily be third, fourth, fifth, or tenth place lesser-of-two evils
	Aside from the measure of representativeness that you propose, there are
other measures that are equally 'real'. For example, what % of people got
their first choice elected? Or one of their first two or three choices?
Or, you could take a survey and ask how closely they feel they are being
represented by whoever their vote went to. I'm not really advocating any
of these measures, but I'm just saying that there is nothing particularly
'unreal' about my point, as your measure is not the only empirical measure

	Basically, I see a tradeoff between localness of district size, and
strength of representation. That is precision of representation, or the
actual similarity between the views of any given voter and the
representative(s) that their vote helps to elect.
	This is not some kind of a flaky surreal point, but rather seems like a
pretty key concern when one is talking about proportional representation.
	If you think that the harms to large district magnitudes outweigh the
benefits, that's another matter, which we are also discussing. 
	But please make note of the point that large magnitudes should enable
voters to elect representatives who come closer to expressing their own
	Also, if there is a diminishing return of strength of representation
given increasing district magnitude, I highly doubt that it is anywhere
near as steep as the curve which you drew, which was based on this shaky
definition of representativeness.

	Yes, I am talking about normative systems as much as I am talking about
present-day reform. As I have mentioned, I am interested in normative
systems in their own right, as well as being interested in present-day
reform. But also, many of these normative concerns are relevant to
present-day reform. That is, if you are ever in a position to choose
between high and low district magnitudes in an STV system, these issues
become totally relevant.
	If there are political reasons why high magnitudes are impractical,
dangerous, or unpopular, okay, I wouldn’t fault a reformer for advocating
a low magnitude solution. That’s fine. But where there is more of a
choice, I would like reformers to keep these issues in mind, in particular
the strength of representativeness in high-magnitude systems. Alright?

James Gilmour wrote:
>As I understand it, it is intended to be a mechanism to protect the small
>to prevent the tyranny of the large majority.  The same arrangement
>exists for the Senate of the Australian Federal Parliament, where each
>of the States has 12 representatives irrespective of population.  The
>reasons for these arrangements are almost certainly tied to the history
>of the time when these institutions were created.  I leave it to others
>to debate their relevance in 2003.  Here in the UK we have our own,
>somewhat different problems in deciding how best to procure the members
>of the second chamber of the UK Parliament!!

	Yes, I imagine that both the American and Australian senates have a lot
to do with the federation of semi-autonomous states or territories. I
imagined that the point was to keep the big states from bullying the
little or sparsely populated ones.
	My solution for the US, then, would be to elect the HOR by CPO-STV, maybe
switch the Senate over to Condorcet, but to reduce it's powers somewhat.
That is, make the HOR the 'dominant' chamber, and try to limit the powers
of the Senate more closely to matters dealing with the relationship
between the states and the federal government, and constitutional
amendments. The details of this are up for grabs. My point is that I see
the need for a chamber that represents states equally in a federal
government, but I would prefer the more popularly representative
government to be more powerful in general. I agree that this is a very
separate topic, though.
	I also agree that the House of Lords is a rather peculiar governing body.

all the best,
James Green-Armytage

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