[EM] UK electoral systems "post mortem" discussion on radio

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km_elmet at t-online.de
Thu Jun 18 11:26:18 PDT 2015

On 06/12/2015 11:30 PM, Juho Laatu wrote:
>> On 09 Jun 2015, at 23:47, Gervase Lam <gervase at madasafish.com>
>> wrote:
>> A few weeks back, I heard on the radio a reasonable discussion
>> about the chances of electoral reform in the UK.  It sounded like
>> one of the panellists in the discussion knew of the various
>> ("complicated") PR systems more than the average person.
>> In any case, only glancing mentions were made about other
>> electoral systems.  The panellist knew the target audience.  I
>> think this is understandable given that the target audience really
>> want good results, not a "technical" system.
> The Scottish system was used as an example. It is a natural candidate
> since people often do not want any "foreign" systems but something
> more familiar and something they can trust. In addition to this kind
> of ranked / STV style systems there are also other kind of PR
> systems, like party list based systems. Although most systems are
> more complicated than the FPTP, I think they are simple enough since
> they seem to work in many countries. A proportional system can work
> well even if regular voters do not know the details of the counting
> process well enough to explain how the system works. For them it is
> enough to understand how to vote, and to have some general trust in
> the fairness on the system.
> In the broadcast they discussed whether a reform is possible or not.
> If people want a reform, the reform might come because of good
> experiences in some parts of the country (Scotland), in some other
> elections (local, EU), or if voters are active enough and form a
> movement with wide support. Although the incumbent parties are likely
> to oppose any changes to the system, there is a tipping point
> somewhere. The voters can change things if there is strong and wide
> enough interest.

Systems of government seem in general to be very stable in the sense 
that they don't often change. If the voting method is biased in the 
sense that some group gets elected more often than in an ideal method, 
then naturally this group will prefer the status quo, and they will also 
have the power to keep the status quo in place.

To what extent the voters can vote themselves another system depends, 
then, on the fidelity of the method itself. If the method is grossly 
unresponsive, then it will take a lot of push to do so. (If the system 
is too unresponsive, then there will eventually be a revolution, but not 
even Plurality systems are that unresponsive.)

So you could have systems that are unfair or unresponsive enough that 
they're not very democratic, yet are responsive enough that the 
discontent never builds up enough that there's a call to change the 
system. In that case, election reform will be very hard, even if it's 
what the voters want; the systems won't allow them to express the 
desire. At any given time, other issues might be more important, even 
though fixing the system itself could make it much easier to handle all 
of the direct issues later.

 From a selection point of view, a system only has to be a combination 
of good enough and resilient enough to ward off changes. The better it 
is, the less inherent resilience it needs because the voters would 
sincerely prefer the system to remain in place; and the more inherently 
resilient it is, the less good it needs to be (because it can withstand 
greater pressure to change).

To some extent, one could say that democratic systems in general require 
that the people accept the order. Where people are not used to the 
representative system or where it starts to break down, sometimes the 
people decide to vote themselves out of democracy and into more 
authoritarian rule.

It would be interesting to have a meta-system where one can in theory 
reach every system (or every system can be tried at least once), and 
where every system can do anything it likes as long as it doesn't alter 
those rules. Bu doing that in practice would be very hard. 
Representative systems do somewhat attempt to emulate it: you may run on 
any program, and if elected with a majority, you can do anything as long 
as you don't fiddle with the rules themselves (something which often 
requires supermajority or referenda). Yet it isn't perfect: the voting 
system may be inaccurate and the voters usually have to choose between 
policy bundles rather than policies in themselves.

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