[EM] STV vs Party-list PR, could context matter?

Richard Fobes ElectionMethods at VoteFair.org
Sat Feb 18 12:47:31 PST 2012

On 2/17/2012 12:54 PM, David L Wetzell wrote:
 >     From: Richard Fobes <ElectionMethods at VoteFair.org>
 >     As for STV, going beyond two seats easily produces unfair results.
 >     And in the U.S. the results also would be quite unstable
 >     (i.e. not mesh well with the current two-party system).
 > Can you elaborate?
 > I don't see why 3-5 seat STV with a droop quota wouldn't have results
 > like what you described that would maintain yet transform the US's
 > 2-party system.

If STV is used with an odd number of seats (3 or 5) per district, in a 
(U.S.) state that feels well-represented by the Republican and 
Democratic parties, two problems arise.  The first is that it would give 
an undeserved advantage to a third party in every district (which is 
more obvious in the 3-seat case, but still applicable in the 5-seat 
case).  The second problem is that luck or (more likely) political 
manipulations, would determine which party wins the third (or fifth) 
seat, and that would increase the need for more party-based seats for 
the purpose of correcting the imbalance.

Another way to understand the second problem is to consider what would 
happen if 55% of the voters in a state favor the Republican Party, and 
the remaining 45% favor the Democratic Party, and there is an even 
distribution of these preferences throughout the state.  If STV uses 3 
seats per district, the likely result would be that two thirds of the 
elected representatives would be Republicans, and only one third would 
be Democrats.

If STV is used with 4 seats per district, in a (different) state that 
strongly favors a third party, the fourth seat would yield unpredictable 
results.  Here I'm assuming that the first three seats would be filled 
by one Republican, one Democrat, and one third-party politician.

As I see it, accommodating proportional results in any state (and in the 
United States overall) has to occur at a higher level than the district 

Instead of the 3, 4, or 5 seats per district that you recommend,
if STV were used with just 2 seats per district, many districts would 
choose one Republican and one Democrat, some districts would choose one 
Republican and one third-party candidate, and yet other districts would 
choose one Democrat and one third-party candidate.  In that case, 
relatively few additional "proportional" seats are needed to accommodate 
either third parties or an imbalance between the Republicans and 
Democrats, or (more likely) both.

You -- and many other fans of third political parties -- view third 
parties as the solution to the current problem of government not doing 
what voters want.

In contrast, my view is that first we -- the voters -- need to reclaim 
control of the Republican and Democratic parties, and then we can decide 
whether we need one or more third parties.  (I expect that we will need 
small third parties, but that they will primarily serve as a way for 
voters to steer the two main parties in wiser directions.)

Remember that state legislatures and Congress use a voting method (for 
choosing which proposed laws to pass) that works reasonably well with 
just two main parties, but that voting method would break down into 
chaos if a legislature or Congress had to form coalitions (in order to 
get a majority of support for each proposed law).  Also remember that in 
Congress (and presumably in state legislatures) the chairmanship of each 
committee switches to a committee member who is from the majority party; 
there is no graceful way to choose which committees switch their 
chairmanships to which of three (or more) parties.

My main point is that any voting system used in the United States has to 
accommodate both times of transition and times of stability.

You seem to be focused on accommodating a transition to a three-party 
system, without also accommodating a later transition back to a 
two-party system.

Remember that a two-party system is not necessarily bad -- if voters 
control both parties.  The two-party situation we are in now is bad 
because special interests (not the voters) control both parties.

Election-method reform must (first and foremost) cut the puppet strings 
that currently connect politicians -- of both parties -- to the biggest 
campaign contributors ("special interests").  That alone will change the 
political landscape dramatically, and that change might result in a 
stable two-party system that all the voters like.  We have to allow for 
that possibility -- rather than to assume that voters will always be 

In summary, any well-designed election method not only must accommodate 
a transition to fairer elections, but also must accommodate whatever 
stable situation follows the transition.

I do favor having more than two parties, but I don't see how three (or 
more) strong parties can be accommodated until after Congress and state 
legislatures use voting methods that are compatible with more than two 

I'll add that I don't see any other democracy, including the multi-party 
ones in Europe, that have cut the puppet string between politicians and 
special interests, so we have no successful models to follow.

Richard Fobes

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