Voting Reform – Party Lists

Party lists in theory should give almost perfect proportionality in the result of any election. The theory behind the system goes something like this:

  • Almost everyone votes for the party they support rather than the individual candidate
  • Instead of having individual constituencies why not just have a regional (or national) poll in which you cast your vote for your party of choice.
  • Add all the votes up and allocate the number of seats to each party based on the percentage of the vote obtained.
  • The parties then allocate the seats to MPs based on a list they have drawn up, normally with the party leader as the first person selected.

This is about as pure a form of proportional representation as you could wish for. If Labour get 30% of the vote they get 30% of the MPs. If the Green Party get 8% of the vote they get 8% of the MPs and so on. However there is one big snag with Party Lists – we don’t get to choose the people who represent us, the parties choose the people who represent us. The system can be made fairly transparent, but it still boils down to voting for a party and getting the representatives they choose in the order that they want them selected (presumably starting with the party leader).

The system is used in a modified form for the Scottish Assembly where it is known as the Additional Member System. There the majority of the members are elected by a First Past The Post system in individual constituencies. The electorate then has a second vote on a regional basis. The total number of seats in the Parliament are allocated to parties proportionally to the number of votes received in the second vote of the ballot using the d’Hondt method. For example, to determine who is awarded the first list seat, the number of list votes cast for each party is divided by one plus the number of seats the party won in the region (at this point just constituency seats). The party with the highest quotient is awarded the seat, which is then added to its constituency seats in allocating the second seat. This is repeated iteratively until all available list seats are allocated.

This is not as you may have gathered a method of electing our representatives that I like. The two main reasons for my dislike of the system are:

  • It breaks the link between the representative and the represented. We would no longer cast our vote either directly or indirectly for a person. Our vote goes to the party.
  • The MP’s loyalty needs to be toward his or her party, because it is the party that now decides whether they as individuals will be elected, not the voters. This is because the higher you are on your party’s list the greater you chances of being elected.

There is an argument for using this system as a top up to either FPP or AV (sometimes known as AV+) but I feel that this produces a two tier parliament, with some MPs directly elected and a rump beholden to their party bosses for their seats.


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