Make them WANT to vote before making it easier


The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/26/uk-e-voting-elections-el... - has reported that the Electoral Commission recommends the UK to consider allowing internet voting to increase voting turnout especially among younger electors.

As STV Action’s only object is to promote the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system, we are neutral on whether internet voting should be introduced, but we have two important reservations.

One is that no new method of voting should be introduced without vigorous safeguards against inaccurate results, whether by accident or deliberate manipulation. Votes must be counted accurately and must be seen to be counted accurately; the public must have confidence in the method. We must feel sure that an accidental software or programming fault or deliberate tampering has not distorted the election result. In view of abuse of postal voting in recent years, it would also be essential to ensure that no-one could vote instead of someone else or vote in multiple fictitious names.

The other is that making it easier to vote would not necessarily make more people want to vote. An important reason for not voting is the very justified perception that voting makes no difference. In about 70% of constituencies (the safe ones), the result is a foregone conclusion so people feel that there is no point in voting and who can blame them?

Changing the voting system from First Past The Post to STV would do more than anything else to make the vast majority of votes effective and give electors a reason to vote. That is more important and more urgent than introducing internet voting or other ways to make it easier to vote.

North Korea 100 – United Kingdom 70


North Korea’s recent general election passed with little comment in the UK, probably because the result was a foregone conclusion.

There was only one candidate in each constituency and the only options were “Yes” and “No”. Consequently, it was no great surprise not only that the ruling Communist Party was re-elected but also that every MP is likely to be loyal to the leadership.

How different we like to think our elections in the UK – and similar First Past The Post elections in the USA, Canada and India for example – are. After all, we have a choice of candidates and parties.

In practice, most UK constituencies – about 70% of them – are safe. In a safe constituency, the winning party is usually known years before the election takes place. If you doubt that, will you put money on any party other than the Conservatives winning Chichester in 2015? Also, in a safe constituency, the individual winner is known as soon as the holding party makes its nomination.

So there is little difference in kind between North Korean elections and UK elections. The difference is in degree.

Of course there are many other fundamental differences between the political systems of the two countries especially on freedom of expression and control can change hands in the UK but not in North Korea. However, the difference in constituency voting is only in degree.

Election results in North Korea are a foregone conclusion in 100% of the constituencies. Election results in the U K are a foregone conclusion in about 70% of the constituencies. The difference is in degree, not in kind.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) would transform UK elections. No seat would be a foregone conclusion for any candidate.

STV for building societies


There is a very interesting posting on http://moneyversusdemocracy.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/time-to-democratise.... It is about electing building society directors but the most relevant part for STV supporters is an explanation of how block X voting works.

Block X voting is used to elect many building society boards, local authorities, pension trustee boards and club committees. Several vacancies are filled together and each voter is allowed as many votes as there are vacancies.

The problem is that, if there are, say, four vacancies, a voter who uses all four votes casts one of them for his favourite candidate and the other three against her.

The best short-term solution for the individual voter is to use only one of the votes. The best long-term solution for voters generally would be to change the voting system to the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

Deaths


We very much regret to announce the deaths of Bernard Black and Simon Gazeley on 17 December 2013 and 1 January 2014 respectively. They were both stalwart champions of STV and had been members of the ERS Council. Bernard had also been a Vice-President of the ERS. They are a great loss to the electoral reform movement.

We extend our sincere sympathies to their families.

We intend to post more detailed obituaries of them. Readers who would like to contribute memories or tributes are invited to send them to editor[at]stvAction.com.

Broadly-based movement


There seems to be a spat between Godfrey Bloom MEP and Katie Ghose (Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society) - http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2013/11/22/comment-why-won-t-... - about whether activists of very different political views should co-operate with each other when they agree on electoral reform.

STV Action’s view is that they should.

All STV Action asks of its supporters is that they support the Single Transferable Vote (STV). Supporters are free to hold their own individual views on all other issues and we do not wish to divide them from each other or us so we do not ask them to support or oppose any other political campaigns, and STV Action itself does not campaign on any of them. For example, we do not mind if some of our supporters want to reduce the minimum voting age and others don’t or if some want to leave the EU and others don’t.

The electoral reform campaign must be a broadly-based movement.

What are elections for?


Contributed by Peter Morley:

There have been several reports following Paxman’s interview with Brand, and now Clegg has added his accusation that as Paxman earns his living from politics he shouldn’t sneer at it.

Clegg says correctly that politics is about the way we decide how we pay taxes, support our hospitals and schools, whether to go to war and how to deal with climate change. That is surely too important for Brand and Paxman to discourage people from voting.
But Brand and Paxman do not seem to understand how British elections work.

We do NOT elect our Prime Minister or our Head of State, the Queen. We do not even elect which party forms the Government. We elect individuals to represent our constituencies in the House of Commons. But our voting system puts the country in the hands of the 40 or so “marginals” where the MPs elected by of a very small minority – the “swing” voters – decide which party forms the Government and thereby who becomes Prime Minister.
That is not the effect of representative democracy. It is the effect of first past the post – an out date and pernicious voting system.

Instead of abstaining and regarding elections as immaterial, Brand and Paxman would do well to learn more about the benefits of STV and then campaign for it openly on their respective programmes. Now that really WOULD switch the public on to vote.

STV in USA


Although the USA uses First Past The Post (“FPTP” aka Winner Takes All) for most of its elections including its national ones, there is a lot of local autonomy. Party list and hybrid systems are rarely discussed in the USA and, when FPTP is not used, the system of choice (excuse the pun!) is usually Single Transferable Vote (“STV”) known as Ranked Choice Voting in the USA.

FairVote Minnesota’s report of Ranked Choice Voting in Minneapolis, St. Paul recent municipal elections - http://fairvotemn.org/node/2309 - shows how successful the system was in those elections.

“Ranked Choice Voting is the simplest, fairest way to ensure that every voter has his or her voice heard in our elections,” said Jeanne Massey, FairVote Minnesota Executive Director. “Tuesday [5 November] was one of Ranked Choice Voting’s biggest tests yet, and it passed with flying colors.”

“RCV gave both cities positive, substantive campaigns that encouraged candidates to find common ground, build coalitions and focus on issues that matter to voters.”

If you visit http://fairvotemn.org/node/2309 to read the full report, you will also have an opportunity to vote online by choice voting for your favourite feature of RCV. You may want to recommend friends to try it so they can see how easy choice voting (STV or AV) is.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editorial of 6 November - http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/230919001.html - comments favourably on Ranked Choice Voting in the same elections. “Also put to a rigorous test Tuesday was ranked-choice voting, which was introduced in Minneapolis in 2009 and received mostly favorable marks this year”.

What Russell Brand could have said about voting


David Smith has contributed the following:

On Newsnight on Wednesday 23rd October, following the announcement that Russell Brand would guest edit an issue of the New Statesman, Jeremy Paxman challenged him on why anyone should respect his opinions if he couldn’t be bothered to vote. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YR4CseY9pk#t=15). Russell claimed that voting was useless but did not explain why. At one level the answer is obvious, governments and opposition front beaches simply do not listen to the people. The question is why not. They have many other pressures:

? Attracting party funding
? Coping with corporate led media
? Lack of access to reliable advice independent of corporate lobbyists – if you have ever worked in the Westminster bubble as I have you will understand what a strange isolated world it is. Ministers and many other MPs come to see the world as the money men see it.
? The current operation of the money markets

Set against these pressures, votes cast under first past the post system simply don’t count. Would proportional representation (PR) counter this? PR simply means fair shares for parties, and since all three major parties in parliament have been pressured and brainwashed into thinking in much the same way it is almost irrelevant.

So what about Alternative Vote where you vote for people not parties? This was of course defeated by a brilliant and misleading negative campaign on behalf of the powers that be. But it is used in Australia under the name PV (preference voting). Regrettably it does not make that much difference because parties have virtually no incentive to field more than one candidate in each constituency. The answer is preference voting in multi-member constituencies, i.e. STV. In that system parties would at least have an incentive to field more candidates than they expected to get elected. Voters could choose; MPs would have to start listening.

So what Russell Brand could have said is, “Maybe if we had STV there would be some point in voting, but sure as heck THEY would rather risk a revolution rather than allow that.”

STV to stay in Ireland


There was a lot of talk about Ireland changing its voting system, a constitutional convention was set up and in August it come to the following conclusion:

“The Convention decided decisively in favour of keeping the current PRSTV electoral system
but in a modified form, in particular by increasing the size of constituencies and changing
from the alphabetical order of candidates on the ballot paper. Members also recommended
a series of measures to improve voter turnout at elections, from the establishment of an
Electoral Commission to the an enhanced education programme in schools. I believe these
results give a very clear message of the regard in which the current PR-STV electoral system
is held but equally of a strong demand for changes to it, as part of a more substantial
agenda of political reform.”

This is excellent news and I think that getting rid of the 3 member seats will greatly improve the system, as many of them were foregone conclusions, often with only one of the parties giving any choice of candidate.

The commission overwhelmingly rejected moving to the greatly flawed MMP system(mixed member proportional), which failed to work in Albania and Italy, by 79% to 20%.

The government is expected to respond before the end of the year.

The full text of the convention report is in the link below

https://www.constitution.ie/AttachmentDownload.ashx?mid=f17ca0d8-240f-e3...

Keith Underhill

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.

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