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[text style=”large-callout”] Direct Party and Representative Voting – perhaps the simplest form of PR, which could replace FPTP for elections to the House of Commons. [/text]

With FPTP, sooner or later another palpably unfair General Election result is inevitable. With an election due in 2015 Electoral Reform could be back on the national agenda much quicker than you think.
In the 2010 UK General Election, using ‘First past the post’ – FPTP, Labour got 29% of the votes in the election, but 40% of the votes in Parliament. The Liberal Democrats got 23% of the votes in the election, but 9% of the votes in Parliament. The Conservatives got 36% of the votes in the election, but 47% of the votes in Parliament. Fraud? Conspiracy? Laughable? Shameful? The public has rightly shown its anger at other forms of public abuse of power. So why do we tolerate FPTP?

There is no perfect electoral system. ‘….there are so many forms of PR, choose a PR system that is simple and straightforward. Don’t be too much of a PR “perfectionist”!’ Arend Lijphart , Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of California, San Diego.

Why do we stick with FPTP as our main electoral system in the UK?
Party political advantage is certainly a factor, but that’s not all there is to it. FPTP has some attractive advantages, and all the competitive systems have enough disadvantages to prevent reformers reaching a consensus. Without an obvious alternative the status quo always seems the safest option. Electoral Reformers’ campaign arguments tend to concentrate on the benefits of their preferred system and the disadvantages of FPTP. They ignore the attractions of FPTP, but this is a mistake.

What are the attractions of FPTP?
Firstly, voting and counting is simple, both the act of voting and the concept. It is the simplest system, and thus the most inclusive system.
Similarly, the simple counting system is both quick and transparent. Again it is simple in both practice and concept. It is important for people to understand and have confidence in the process, and simplicity is itself an important barrier against electoral fraud.

The other key advantage is that the system is based on the Single Member Constituency. For a given number of MPs in the parliament, the Single Member Constituency is the smallest geographical area and has the smallest electorate. This means that each constituency election is as local as it can be. The electorate has the best chance of direct contact with the candidates afterwards with the MP. With just a single MP, there is no doubt about who the constituent should contact.

A further consideration is that if the system of single member constituencies is abolished as part of the introduction of a new electoral system a large number, if not all, of the MPs would have to find a new constituency. Such an apparent threat to MPs careers inevitably sparks self interest based resistance to change. It’s human nature. But these are the very people who will have to vote for electoral reform to pass it into law.

What are the alternatives?
In brief, there is no consensus. The AMS / MMP system addresses this dilemma by introducing a Party Vote in addition to the vote for the Constituency representative. Voting is simple but it loses existing single member constituency boundaries and introduces List MPs, which have their own drawbacks. Constituencies have to be larger if the number of MPs is unchanged.

STV, despite its merits, loses many people with its complexity. It requires multimember constituencies and preferential voting, and very few people understand how the votes are counted.

PR List systems do away with the single member constituency, and have not attracted much support in the UK.

If electoral reformers want to overcome resistance to change, it is time to consider a form of PR which has the simple and straightforward beneficial characteristics of FPTP – namely simple voting and counting, and the single member constituency.

This is the case for Direct Party and Representative Voting. It is a PR system that could appeal to many, both politicians and voters, who would otherwise support the status quo.

Direct Party and Representative Voting

There is nothing complicated about voting in a DPR Voting election. Voters cast two votes – one for the political party of their choice – the ‘Party’ vote, and the other to elect their constituency MP – the ‘Representative’ vote. Each vote is a single choice – the voter marks their choice with a single X.

The ‘Party’ votes are aggregated nationwide, and this determines proportionately the number of votes each parliamentary party has in the parliament and therefore which party, or parties, can form the Government. The Representative vote elects an individual in each constituency. The candidate who gets the most Representative votes is elected as the constituency MP.

The voting (and counting) in DPR Voting is as simple as FPTP. It’s different because each voter has one vote for the party to form the Government, and another vote for the candidate to be the local MP. This form of voting is more straightforward for those who know which party they support, and gives more options for those for which the relative merits of the candidates is important.

The system requires some changes to the way parliament operates. For the purpose of votes (divisions) in parliament, each party’s parliamentary votes are shared out equally amongst its MPs.
As a result, each MP has an equal share of their parliamentary party’s votes. Their ‘parliamentary vote value’ has a value which may be more or less than one.
The exception is for divisions on ‘non party political’ issues (free votes), where each MP has an equal vote value of one.
For more about Parliamentary Vote Values see http://www.dprvoting.org/DPR_in_practice.htm#parliament

The use of the Parliamentary Vote Value removes the need for the complexities of other electoral systems, and results in a raft of features that would be beneficial to our elections and our politics.

In brief the principal outcomes are:
• A form of proportional representation is achieved with minimal change to the voting system.
• The existing system of single member constituencies is retained.
• The existing system of electing MPs is retained. All MPs are directly elected constituency MPs.
• The votes each party has in parliament are proportional to the votes won in the election.
• This determines which party, or parties, can form the government
• Simplicity of voting and counting is comparable with FPTP.
• The election is not decided by the voting in ‘marginal’ constituencies.
• The system does not encourage numerous small parties.
• The system is resistant to gerrymandering
– Frequent revision to constituency boundaries is not necessary.
• Separating the vote for the MP from the vote for the party means there are no safe ‘party’ seats:
– It encourages independent and independent minded candidates
– The MP becomes more responsive to his/her constituents but less dependent on the Party.
• Each (‘Party’) vote in every constituency makes a difference to the result of the election.

Note: Voting is not preferential – Multimember constituencies are not used – Party Lists are not used

How similar would a DPR Voting election be?
That’s the point. It would be very similar. You could have an election tomorrow based on the same constituencies, same boundaries. The voting (and counting) in DPR Voting is as simple as FPTP. The voting is slightly different – each voter has one vote for the party to form the Government, and another vote for the candidate to be the local MP. Most people who vote can make up their mind which party they want to win. Choosing the candidate is very similar to the voting under FPTP, so the voter faces no additional challenge.
DPR Voting retains the simplicity of voting which is essential for the system to be democratic and inclusive. Counting is also simple, transparent, and quick which makes fraud more difficult and gives people confidence in the process. Election night TV programmes could still report the results on the night.
Because it is so similar, the cost of implementing the systems would be relatively low – cheaper than the switch to any other voting system.

The Democratic implications of DPR Voting
The consequences of the Party vote and the Representative vote in the election combined with the introduction of the ‘Parliamentary Vote Value’ in parliament are radical, and result in some important benefits for our democracy and our way of doing politics.

1 PR
A form of proportional representation is achieved with minimal change to the FPTP voting system. The votes each party has in the Parliament are proportional to the votes each party wins in the General Election. This is fundamentally fairer, more democratic, than FPTP.

Every other PR system would require significant changes – new constituencies, and new methods of voting eg multimember constituencies, preferential voting, multiple choices etc. and this triggers objections, not least from MPs who would have to reapply to be adopted in the new constituencies. With DPR Voting this is not necessary. It is possible that MPs previously elected under FPTP could be re-elected under DPR Voting in their existing constituencies (but it would be up to the voters).

2 Wasted Votes
In a DPR Election each ‘Party’ vote in every constituency adds to each party’s total. Not only are no votes wasted but every vote make a difference to the election result. If every vote makes a difference to the result, this provides an incentive to vote, at least for those who care about the result.
Another related consequence of the Party Vote is that an election can no longer be decided by the voting in a few ‘marginal’ constituencies.

3 Getting rid of ‘Safe Seats’
Separating the vote for the MP from the vote for the party means that the election of the individual MP is on personal merit, not party label. A consequence is that there are no ‘safe’ party seats. Lazy ineffective or dishonest candidates could not rely on the popularity of their party to ensure their election. Conversely, good candidates could still be elected when their party was unpopular. For this reason it also encourages independent and independent minded candidates, and makes the MP more directly responsive to his/her constituents.

4 The makeup of the Parliament
DPR Voting would result in a parliament of locally elected individuals, elected to represent all their constituents. It does not necessarily result in a parliament which is a microcosm of British Society with balanced proportions of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. This is up to the voters. Questions of positive discrimination in the selection of candidates are a matter for the political parties, and in my view should be outside the discussion of the electoral system.

DPR Voting is a simple electoral system, but to understand it fully takes more space and time than I have right now. You can read more at http://www.dprvoting.org

Conclusion
DPR Voting is a way of introducing proportionality to our multi party political system while retaining single member constituencies and much of the existing familiar electoral system.

Voting and counting is as simple, intuitive and quick as FPTP. Each MP is the local choice, elected on individual merit. It gets rid of safe seats and marginal constituencies. It encourages democratic participation because every vote makes a difference to the election result. As a replacement for FPTP, DPR Voting offers more advantages and fewer problems than any other system. The changeover of the electoral system from FPTP to DPR Voting would be easier than with any other form of PR.

DPR Voting would achieve greater equality for the voter, greater voter choice, and a form of proportional representation at minimum cost and with minimum disruption. It could be simply and powerfully presented to the electorate as a fairer electoral system for Westminster.

BY: Stephen Johnson