11

A common complaint or source of disenfranchisement in democracies is that many constituents don't feel that their vote "counts" because the margin in most electorates is far greater than a single vote.

What if, in a single-transferable-vote system, the representative elected was subsequently given a number of votes in parliament/congress equal to their margin in the election.

e.g. if the Blue candidate receives 100 votes but the nearest rival, Red candidate, receives (after transfers) 90 votes, the Blue candidate becomes the representative and their vote on bills etc counts as 10 votes for that term. On the other hand, in a 'safe' seat where Blue receives 190 votes and the only other candidate receives 10 votes, Blue becomes the representative with 180 votes on each issue for that term.

Firstly this would mean voters no longer feel that their vote never counted, given it either strengthened or weakened the candidate ultimately elected in parliament.

Secondly, you could never have a party win power without the majority of the popular vote. In a parliamentary system the party in power is the one with the most votes in parliament and that would always correspond to the party that won the most actual votes in the election, even if they didn't get the most seats. There'd be no advantage to playing the percentages to maximise seats while losing on total number of votes.

But thirdly this would force parties and candidates to always contest all seats equally (and allocate spending without favouring marginal or battleground electorates). Because losing 100 votes in a closely contested seat is just as bad for a party's total vote count in parliament as losing 100 votes in a heartland seat.

Has such a system been suggested before and if so what is it called? Are there obvious problems with such a system?

One problem that occurs to me is what happens when the final two candidates are both from the same side of the political spectrum. e.g. a center-left and far-left candidate in a heavily left electorate. If the election was close the winning candidate would only have a few votes even though almost all of their constituents would support them when they voted against a bill put forward by a right-wing party.

Maybe in that case the candidate who comes second would have the choice of deducting their final tally from the winning candidates votes in parliament or distributing their final tally to strengthen other representatives, e.g. of their own party from other seats.

EDIT: Just to sharpen my second point, I think this system would nullify attempts at gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is all about drawing electoral boundaries such that the artifact of most electoral systems (that one citizen's vote doesn't translate directly into voting weight in parliament) can override the natural outcome of a vote. You divide seats so there's a small number of seats that are almost purely, e.g., Blue and the create a larger number of seats that are 51% red, and even though the popular vote might favour Blue, the artifact of seat boundaries elects Red. If a citizen's vote translates directly to votes in parliament it doesn't matter which way you carve the seats, the party in power will be the one with the most citizens supporting it.

  • Since we'd have an increase in number of elected representatives to reflect the will of all the constituencies no longer losing out by "winner take all," how would the salaries of those people be allocated? How about budgets for staff and operational resources? I'm not a small-government conservative or any kind of libertarian, but I'd think there would have to be an explosion in the population of elected members and and the size of the bureaucracy of the legislative branch. – PoloHoleSet Jun 5 '17 at 20:39
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    Liquid/Delegative democracy is somewhat similar, where you delegate your vote to a representative, and they now have your voting power. – endolith Mar 5 '18 at 20:52
9

A system fairly similar to his does actually exist, it's called proportional representation and is used to varying degrees in many parliamentary systems like Ireland, Spain, and Germany. The idea is that each party gets representatives proportional to the share of the votes they received.

Systems like these, however, don't solve the problem that voting is irrational from an economic raionality perspective. Even if you as an individual are able to give a candidate one extra vote, that's still giving the candidate a tiny sliver of power. The chance that that tiny sliver of extra voting power in the legislative body itself will be the deciding factor on an issue you care about is incredibly small. Multiply the probability of your vote mattering in a vote on a bill by the benefit of that bill to you (in dollars or an estimation of happiness) and you get a trivially small number. Add up that expected payout for a few hundred bills, and you still have a trivially small number. From the perspective of expected value theory, it still won't make sense for you to vote if you could productively use the time better by say earning $6 at work, spending quality time with your child, or playing a video game you greatly enjoy. Of course, if you reject this calculus in favor of something like "if everyone did that then society would collapse" or "voting makes me feel like I have power and that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside (even though I know I don't)" then you might as well vote in an election with districts anyways.

Like all majoritarian systems, the Condorcet Paradox and the issue of majority tyranny will still be things to look out for. Moving towards simply needing a majority of the population to have power could make majority tyranny worse, since separated powers wouldn't slow down the process or stop bills that hurt a minority with disproportionate power in one part of government.

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    I'm aware of proportional representation (PR), we have it in the Australian Senate (with some complexities). But my proposed system isn't that similar. It's more like a cross between STV and PR. My system would have a local representative like STV, but (I think) bypass the inequity both STV and PR introduce by rounding off votes to the nearest seat. PR is better than STV for the latter but still, the last seat decided could easily have almost as many votes for the winner as against. – jim Oct 29 '14 at 1:24
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    I've heard the arguments about voting being economically irrational and I know my proposal doesn't solve that. I'm more concerned about the way people actually make decisions. It's much easier to reason that voting is futile when your vote will only be counted once per election than when it will be counted hundreds of times in different permutations. It may still be economically irrational, but I think a substantial number of people would find it persuasive. – jim Oct 29 '14 at 1:28
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    @jim so, the way I see it, pretending that half a thimble of water or a full thimble of water will put out a fire is still just pretending, and it takes some serious pretending to make the system work either way. Perhaps the individual votes system would play to some behavioral bias and make people more likely to vote. I'm not aware of any such evidence, but it's certainly an interesting thing to consider and study. – lazarusL Oct 29 '14 at 1:42
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    @jim Re Re majority tyranny. Having all one's parliamentary houses elected in this manner, even if their powers were separated, would reduce friction of the system and move it more towards direct majoritarian rule. I don't think moving a body like the Australian House of representatives to this system alone would decrease friction and risk more majority tyranny, but moving both houses at once might. Regardless, it's not apparent that any institutions can stop majority tyranny in the long run, and certainly having disproportionate representation isn't perfect. – lazarusL Oct 29 '14 at 1:48
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    @Keith fair enough. It's slightly more granular than proportional representation. I talked about proportional representation since they seem almost the same in terms of who ends up with power and proportional representation has real world examples. – lazarusL Mar 5 '18 at 18:07
5

I fail to see the point in your system. You weaken the advantages of plurality systems (e.g. clear majorities in parliament, simplicity) while still not really creating a fully representative parliament (if the second candidate/party gets no vote in parliament at all, there are still winner-takes-all effect and some potential for gerrymandering). It's also unclear how that would affect the dynamics in parliament.

Proportional representation is a simpler, more direct way to achieve the same goals. If the electoral districts are large enough (possibly nationwide), a party does get a weight in parliament roughly equivalent to the number of votes they received in the election. You cannot form a government without involving parties that represent a majority of the electorate, every vote counts and gerrymandering also becomes a non-issue.

Besides, from a procedural point of view, I don't see where and how such a system would be adopted. It's unlikely to be attractive to countries that already have PR and in countries that have plurality voting systems, it would break with tradition and obviously upset those who like their safe seats and gerrymandering. Even without your addition, STV is already quite complicated and rather uncommon for this reason. No matter what your starting position is, if the circumstances allow for radical reform, you might as well go for proper PR instead of some complex new variant on STV.

The two things you lose with simple PR is the link between a district and specific representatives (all MP represent the whole electorate) and the ability to choose exactly who gets elected (you vote for a party, not a person).

If the goal is to maintain some form of local representation or connection between a member of parliament and a district (personally, I am not convinced it's a good thing) with a more proportional representation, Germany has another (rather complex) way to achieve that, called “personalized proportional vote” but even that only gives voters control over some of the seats.


To clarify my answer, here a few examples of gerrymandering in this system:

  • Say we have two parties, one with 70%, the other with 30%. If all districts faithfully reflect these proportions, the majority party can end up with 100% of the votes in parliament, the minority is not represented at all. This is the “cracking” strategy (distributing minority votes in multiple districts where they are outnumbered by the majority).
  • Say we have three districts of equal size and two parties, one with 55% of the vote and the other one with 45% of the vote. In two districts the second party has 51% of the votes, in the last one, the first party gets 67% of the votes. In parliament, the second party has about 60% of the votes, the first one 40%. A minority has been turned into an majority using the “packing” strategy (putting all the votes from the dominant party in a “lost” district).

In both cases, many votes are wasted and there are massive distortions between the make-up of the parliament and the popular vote so the added complexity does not solve any of the problems you set out to address.

  • There would still be a clear majority in parliament - the party with the most votes - and while getting a bill passed would become more complex for representatives, the system would be far simpler for the lay voter - they just add or subtract their vote from the local representative. There's no winner-takes-all-effect or traditional gerrymandering because the winner is always and only the party that wins the popular vote, unlike plurality, STV or PR systems. – jim Oct 31 '14 at 1:19
  • PR is not simpler at all. We have PR in the Senate in Australia at a state level with group voting. The ballot for the Senate is frequently referred to as a 'tablecloth' because it needs to offer 70 - 100 candidates. The only way to do actual PR rather than group voting is to number every candidate from 1 to 70 without mistakes. While PR at a national level would reduce seat based artefacts it would also be nearly unworkable. In practice in Australia in the Senate most people vote by group and their vote is distributed by the preferences of the one party they vote for. – jim Oct 31 '14 at 1:24
  • With on the order of 300-500 candidates for the Senate across the country, each running for a seat covering an entire Australian state, media relevance becomes a problem. Senate candidates face the least amount of media scrutiny of any elected office probably in the country. The chamber was famously called "that unrepresentative swill" by a former Prime Minister. OTOH the more localalised you make PR the more the artefact effect of seats/quotas disenfranchises minor party supporters. We've had major party majorities in the Senate even though they rarely exceed 43% of the popular vote. – jim Oct 31 '14 at 1:35
  • What I'm getting at is that PR is theoretically more fair but sometimes fails in practice due to the human factor. Re Germany: MMP seems like one of the better systems in active use, but just from the wikipedia page there are clear examples of minor parties not being properly represented. My idea is to disconnect power in parliament from any reference to seats. We know there is a problem because the popular vote never matches up to seat distribution as well as we'd like. So make the popular vote definitive and make seats a second-order question. – jim Oct 31 '14 at 1:52
  • @jim There are others, much simpler, PR systems than the one you describe. You can simply allow voting for one party, tally the votes and allocate seats based on a nationwide list (as simple as it gets) or have some manageable open party list (see e.g. the Netherlands). Votes in parliaments directly represent the popular vote, modulo some rounding error. It's not unworkable, many countries already do it. – Relaxed Oct 31 '14 at 6:52
4

Why not give representatives as many votes as they received in the election?

Short Answer: Tacit historical parochialism.


Long Answer:

Proportional representation requires a voting district to have multiple representatives, allocated on the amount of votes received. Voting districts with a single winner-takes-all billet produces inherently geographical representatives.

Two common reasons why geographical representation exists are:

  1. A legislature that originated as a consultative council of nobles that controlled the king's budget and hence policy initiatives. As revenue was primarily land-based in the Middle Ages, membership on such councils was to nobles holding large swaths of land. As power devolved over time to the populace, geographical allotment of representation was retained.
  2. Federated countries that required geographic representation into order to either entice territories into the federation or to reduce internal tensions by explicitly providing a channel for geographic grievances.

This parochialism made a certain level of sense up until the advent of telecommunication, rapid transport and trade globalisation. Nowadays, especially as candidates represent ideological positions instead of a given allotment of land, the unfairness of rolling up a diverse populace under a single winner-takes-all representative has become quite noticeable.

The electoral structure of governments are defined in their constitutions. The ease of altering a constitution differs from country to country but almost always fails without the support of at least half of the major political parties; preferably all. Which is unlikely for parties that feel they may lose out in the short term in a shift towards proportional representation - putting party interests ahead of the health of their democracy.

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    I'm not proposing proportional representation (PR). We have that in the Australian Senate. My proposed system would actually retain a local representative but adjust their voting power in parliament to match the support they have from their constituency. I don't doubt it would be very difficult to actually put in place, for the reasons in your last paragraph, but my question was more about whether their are flaws in the system I propose. I've heard a lot of discussion of various voting systems as being superior to what we have but never the system I'm suggesting, which seems even better to me. – jim Oct 29 '14 at 1:37
  • @jim Mixed Member Proportional is what you are thinking of; an increasingly popular variant of proportional representation where geographical representation is "mixed" in. For it to work, it still requires multiple representatives elected for the same overall voting district or electoral watershed in order to provide the proportionality. – LateralFractal Oct 29 '14 at 4:24
  • @jim Most voting systems abide by one-representative one-vote for logistical and historical reasons. Primarily the expectation that representatives are only likely to be reliable advocates for their own party or policy platform. Allocation of voting power to a fixed amount of people in a legislative chamber is typically a variation of party-list voting (using a localized list in your example). – LateralFractal Oct 29 '14 at 5:05
  • I'm familiar with MMP too, but it's also not what I'm proposing - though it no doubt has similar aims. I'm proposing one rep per seat but with that rep's voting weight once in parliament adjusted based on the election result. It seems no one else has proposed such a system, or at least it hasn't been widely considered. – jim Oct 29 '14 at 21:50
  • I agree the logistics involved in working up the numbers to pass a bill would become much more complex under my system, and it's hard to know how it would play out. Although it's possible that by making it hard to have a "lock" on passing a bill that parliament might become more accepting of just putting forward a range of bills and seeing what passed. OTOH it might just result in gridlock. – jim Oct 29 '14 at 21:54
3

A system somewhat like what you are describing was briefly considered in the UK by the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform, which referred to it as the "weighted vote" system.

The 'Weighted' Vote

  1. It should however perhaps be mentioned in passing that there is another system operating entirely on existing constituencies, apart from those systems which have already been discussed and rejected, which has been advocated by a number of those providing us with written submissions. It is what might be called the "weighted vote member system". Members would be elected exactly as now, but where their party was under-represented nationally this would be corrected by giving them an additional voting strength in the division lobbies of the House of Commons. Thus, to take an extreme example, a Liberal Democrat (then Alliance) member in the 1983 Parliament would have been entitled to cast 7 1/2 votes in any division, and more typically, in the present Parliament a Conservative member would be entitled to 1 1/4 votes.

Whether they would carry these numbers round their necks or on their backs, rather like prize bulls at an agricultural show, is not clear, but what is clear is that there would be great problems if one of these vote-heavy beasts were to find himself in a lobby different from his party leader and whips, or worse still, if he were permanently to lumber off across the floor. There would inevitably be the most excited attempts to re-corral him. And the ability sometimes to take independent action must surely be preserved, even encouraged, if MPs are not to become party automata.

  1. Therefore, while we respect the ingenuity and conviction with which this weighted vote solution has been put forward, we think that it would arouse more mockery than enthusiasm and be incompatible with the practical working of a parliament.

I think the idea deserves more serious consideration than the rather cursory and mocking treatment given to it by the Commission. But sadly, such is often the quality of debate on electoral reform in the UK.

(Source: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20131205123200/http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm40/4090/chap-5.htm#c5-d)

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This system could lead to the death of party politics.

In a parliamentary system, party affiliations are not locked. An election where most seats are won by narrow majorities would result in most of the elected (on both sides)having only negligible voting power. Collect enough landslide winners (again, on both sides) to outvote the powerless majority, get them to agree in a"marriage of convenience", and they can form their own ruling group.

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