So we are being asked to consider changing the voting system for elections to the House of Commons. Currently we have FPP (First Past the Post) which is a nice straight forward system. A number of candidates stand for election, the voters cast their vote for their preferred choice and the one with the most votes wins. Simple. If you have just a handful of people standing for election and lots of people voting this system quickly gives a clear result. For example, in a group with a hundred voters one candidate might get 55 votes, another 40 and the third just 3. The one with 55 votes has a clear victory. Where it starts to get complicated is where the voting is more evenly spread out across lots of seats. You could have a situation where every victor has, say, 40 of the votes and the other two 30 a piece. That would mean that one party could win 100% of the seats with 40% of the votes. That hasn’t exactly happened but with FPP you can have a party with most seats but not most votes (as did happen in the UK in 1974). It is not all that unusual for the number not voting for a winning candidate to be significantly greater than the number of electors who did – it just requires the opposing votes to be spread out between two or more others – that duly elected MP may even have a comfortable ‘majority’.

Each system has its drawbacks, FPP included; in fact an article in the New Scientist from last year the writer suggests that “Democracy is always unfair”.
I suppose it depends on whether you are happy with a minority party having all the power (and all political parties in this country are minority parties)…. I think I’d like the power shared around some as I’m not totally convinced by any of the parties’ leaders or policies.

It also depends whether you are voting somebody in  or trying to keep the “nasty party” out. Who the “nasty party” is will depend on your own preferences and prejudices, of course.

AV (the Alternative Vote system) is not PR (Proportional Representation) but a tweak on FPP. If the candidate with the most votes still has less than 50% then the people running the election look at the second preferences of the votes of all the people who voted for the person who had least votes. That person drops out of the race while all the other candidates may get some extra votes. If anyone now has 50% of the vote they are duly elected. If not, the process carries on until eventually one person reaches that 50% mark.  It is possible for a candidate to catch up or even over take the person who had most votes in the first round so some might be a bit miffed about that. Plus if you voted for the winning candidate in the first place and they win in the end your vote only gets counted once – but are you going to complain if they’ve won?

The overall effect on the outcome of any of these elections depends on how much tactical voting there has been and how much there will continue to be. Hopefully more people will feel able to give first preference to their preferred party/candidate.

My experience of STV (the Single Transferable Vote system) is not altogether happy. It is a lot harder to keep a particular party/candidate out through tactical voting – which is perhaps an improvement – but it seems that even with more than one representative to be elected in a given constituency the three never include any of my first preferences!

The fact remains that if you vote for a minority party who never get elected, how is your opinion going to be counted? Is democracy about fair elections or is it about every one having a voice that is heard? The crucial thing, I believe, is that however one is elected, you should seek to serve the whole community and not just the part that has happened to elect you.

The Christian principles involved here are that:

  1. every human being is a child of God,
  2. anyone in a position of authority is there by divine permission not divine right,
  3. leaders are there to serve the community and not be self-serving, and
  4. no one is perfect (every single human being is a sinner) and that includes our leaders as well as the electorate.

I shall probably vote for AV in May but somewhat reluctantly. Whatever system we have my lot never seem to get in.