Two practical steps to advance STV


The Reform Groups Network site is well worth a visit. We found two blogs of particular interest.

First, John Greenwood has suggested, under “A Cunning Plan to demonstrate a better voting system” of 8 October, running demonstration PR elections alongside next May’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) local elections. Afterwards, the voters – and, indeed, the public generally – could be asked various questions about the outcomes of the PR and FPTP elections, such as which they thought was fairer.

Of course, this has been done many times before. The late Enid Lakeman was very enthusiastic about this kind of activity and local groups have often done it. Readers can see Miss Lakeman’s own account of one of her demonstration elections at http://fairlocalvotes.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/lakeman.pdf.

Nevertheless, reformers could repeat the exercise, especially now that there are so many local groups and, even more, if the ERS and UD will take the lead and assume a co-ordinating role. The ERS ought to be able to train local groups to design ballot papers and count by the chosen method. UD seems good at motivating local activists and managing publicity. They should be able to do a good job if they collaborate with each other on the exercise.

The Society passed eight resolutions at its 2011 and 2012 AGMs calling for STV for local elections in England and Wales to be a priority. One of the 2012 resolutions was a special resolution which was legally binding on the Society’s Council and, indeed the Council has decided that this should be the Society’s priority. So John Greenwood’s project would be ideal and timely for the ERS.

John Greenwood has suggested that the votes would be counted by “the system favoured by UD”. A very early decision would be needed on this, as it would affect the design of the ballot papers and how the system would be explained to voters and the news media.

However, that would not be difficult. It is inconceivable that the ERS would campaign for any system other than STV, which is its core object as confirmed at its last four General Meetings.

In any case, any system other than STV would create insuperable problems for the ERS and UD. For example, if a party list system was used, they would have to decide on the order of each party’s list. If a mixed system was used, they would also have to decide which candidates should be list candidates and which should be ward candidates. This would be arbitrary and artificial. Normally, of course, each party would make its own decisions.

That would not be a problem with STV. A number (say, five) of neighbouring wards would be grouped together to create one multi-member ward and all the candidates for the individual wards would simply be on the ballot paper for the multi-member ward.

If this is to be done, it must be done properly, thoroughly and efficiently. It will take organization; there are fewer than seven months now to the local elections in May and the Christmas and New Year breaks will intervene, so there is no time to lose if the project is to proceed. We urge the ERS, UD and local groups to clear the decks and concentrate on this.

The other blog, which we found of particular interest, was David Smith’s “Preparing for 2015” of 29 September. We should mention that he is an Officer of STV Action, but he wrote his blog in his personal capacity.

David refers to the eight ERS AGM resolutions for STV in local government, mentioned above. Although quite critical of the ERS, he also makes two practical suggestions on how the ERS could further the campaign now.

His first suggestion, like John Greenwood’s is to hold demonstration STV elections. They would educate the public, show how STV works, how fair and accurate it is and how easy it is for voters. David seems to envisage holding “street” elections at any time with, perhaps, fictitious candidates, whereas John has specifically suggested holding our demonstrations elections outside polling stations at the time of the official local elections next May; i.e. exit polls.

These two suggestions are not mutually exclusive. There is no reason why we could not take up both of them. Local groups could hold David’s “street” elections week after week, each branch starting as and when it feels able, leading up to the local elections in May and then, in May, hold John’s exit polls in many parts of the country by STV and compare their results with the official first-past-the-post elections. The publicity material for the “street” elections could also announce our intention to hold the exit poll, thus building up to it.

David’s second suggestion is entirely different but equally valid and is something that STV Action has advocated for several years.

Many people are members of voluntary organizations, such as sports clubs, professional institutes, social clubs, trades unions, special interest clubs (stamp collecting, embroidery, model making etc), learned societies, charities and many more. They all elect governing committees or councils.

Some of them already use STV for their internal elections. A determined and well-run campaign to persuade the others to use STV would, at the very least and even if some chose not to change, bring STV to the attention of many people who know nothing about it. Those organizations that changed would benefit from a more representative governing body and their members would become used to using STV. Using STV for Parliamentary and other official elections would then seem less strange to them.

As mentioned above, STV Action has supported this for some time as can be seen at http://stvaction.org.uk/STVorgs which gives practical advice for introducing STV to voluntary organizations and lists some that already use it although the list is not up-to-date, so readers should not rely on it.

If electoral reformers concentrated on STV instead of spreading their resources thinly over a variety of “reforms”, it would not be difficult to conduct both these campaigns – demonstration STV elections and working to reform voluntary organizations – at the same time, but it would seem sensible to give priority to demonstration STV elections until the local elections next May.

Please click on http://reformgroups.net/ers/ to read John Greenwood’s and David Smith’s blogs.

STV for local government

Crispin Allard of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform wrote a very good article about STV for local government on 30 May on the Reform Groups Network site: http://reformgroups.net/libdems/archives/440.