Voting Systems

I have always felt that the first-past-the-post (or plularity) voting system as practised in the US (except the Louisiana senate seat) and the UK is flawed since a house elected using this system does not reflect the will of the voters. A political party can easily get a two-thirds majority in parliament with only a third of the vote if there are more than two parties running for election. However, a pure proportional representation system has its own flaws. It gives more power to the fringe elements and makes the system somewhat unstable. A lot of countries therefore follow some sort of a hybrid system. For example, Turkey uses proportional representation with a minimum of 10% votes required to be represented. This resulted in 363 out of 550 seats in parliament for the AKP in recent elections even though they got only 34% of the vote. In fact, the elected parliament there represents only less than 54% of the electorate (I am talking of the people who voted; in such discussions, I don’t care about those who did not bother to vote.) Just a few more seats for the AKP would have given them the power to amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority. What’s more, they did not even need more votes to do that: if the share of the opposition party (CHP) had been a bit smaller than the 19% they got, it would have given AKP 367 seats.

The flaws of the above systems then are obvious. However, studies of voting systems have shown that all systems can give bizarre results under some conditions. Consider an instant-runoff system with three candidates. If 35% of the voters prefer A first and B second, 33% B first and C second, and 32% C first and A second, then the votes of the last-placed C go to A resulting in a win for A. However, if A does something great during the campaign and increases his support at the expense of B, then B places last in the election. So, B’s votes are assigned to C and C wins the election.

Another problem with all voting systems other than the plurality vote and proportional representation is that they are more complex for the voters. I guess they can’t be used in Florida then.

In my opinion, the following characteristics are required for a good voting system:

1. It should reflect voter opinion somewhat accurately.
2. Fringe parties/candidates should not have much influence. This can probably be accomplished by instituting a minimum threshold of votes required for seats in the parliament. However, this threshold should not be too high, a la Turkey, to undermine #1.
3. Usually two-third majorities in parliament have a lot of power, including the power to amend the constitution. Therefore, two-third majority should be very difficult to achieve without a mandate from the electorate.
4. The system should encourage a smaller number of parties (preferably 2) without making it impossible for new parties to break through.

I know most Americans are not interested in changes in the voting system. However, being the oldest demoracy, we are working with an old system while there are better alternatives available.

Website: Proportional Representation Library

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer