Direct Party and Representative Voting – a democratic alternative?

By Stephen Johnson

Could DPR-voting improve democracy?

What is the best way to rig an election? Do you steal blank ballot papers and fill them in? The more sophisticated way is to fix how the ballots are counted – and that is why, if you care about democracy, you should care about electoral systems.

In the 2010 UK General Election, using FPTP, Labour got 29% of the votes in the election, but 40% of the votes in the Parliament. The Liberal Democrats got 23% of the votes in the election, but 9% of the votes in the Parliament. Fraud? Conspiracy? Arguably, but those who benefit hide behind a rotten electoral system known as ‘First past the post’.

Direct Party and Representative Voting – a form of Proportional Representation that could replace the ‘First past the post’ voting system

Direct Party and Representative Voting is a form of Proportional Representation based on single member constituencies intended as a replacement for ‘First past the post’ (FPTP) voting used in the UK and some other democracies. In this article, I will argue that a change could be relatively simple, and show the advantages this system has, both in terms of process and outcomes, over FPTP and other systems.

Brief outline
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 representative – 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.

Thus 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, and although different, perhaps that is simpler in concept and more intuitive than FPTP.

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’s share of the party vote will have a decimal value which may be more or less than one. On ‘non party political’ issues, each MP has an equal vote.

For more on decimal voting in Parliamentary divisions follow the link to the website http://www.dprvoting.org/DPR_in_practice.htm#parliament

How different would a DPR Voting election be?

The mechanics of a DPR Voting election are very similar to an FPTP election, but different from most other PR systems. Voting is not preferential, multimember constituencies and party lists are not used.

Each constituency elects a single member. The number of MPs does not have to be changed, constituency boundaries do not have to be redrawn, and no significant changes are necessary to the election day routine. The retention of the familiar voting system would be a benefit to the election administrators, and would reduce the cost of the changeover.

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. Quick counting means even Election Night TV programmes would not be threatened.

The Democratic implications of DPR Voting

The consequences of the Party vote and the Representative vote are important benefits for democracy.

1            Proportional Representation

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.

2            Wasted Votes

In a DPR Election each ‘Party’ vote in every constituency makes a difference to the result of the election. This addresses the issue of wasted votes. Not only are no votes wasted but every vote make a difference to the election result. It’s a small difference but mathematically, one extra vote changes the vote percentage of each party and this translates through into votes in the parliament. This might well have the effect of boosting voter turnout. 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 is that an election can no longer be decided by the voting in a few ‘marginal’ constituencies.

3            Safe Seats or better MPs

Separating the vote for the MP from the vote for the party has several implications. It 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. Similarly the central party organisation has less power over their MPs, and, for example, would be less likely to foist an unpopular candidate onto the local party organisation.

4            The makeup of the Parliament

DPR Voting results in a parliament of elected representatives. They are individuals elected for their personal characteristics to represent the interests of local people and make decisions in the Parliament, and as such they represent all their constituents, not just those who voted for them.

This parliament would not necessarily be a microcosm of British Society. Some want a parliament with a balance of politics, age, gender, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation etc to reflect society as a whole. DPR Voting can deliver this, but there is no bias in the system. Such political objectives have to be achieved by conventional political campaigning, and then it is up to the voter.

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.

For more details about this go to www.dprvoting.org

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2 comments
  1. RPaines said:

    An interesting idea, but two difficulties –

    – Parliament isn’t all about voting. Let’s say that the Lib Dems were in the same position under DPR as they were after the last election – 9% of MPs but 23% of the Party vote. If a Lib Dem’s vote, in this situation was worth 2 1/2 times the “mean” vote, would the Lib Dems also get 2 1/2 times as much speaking time, representation on select committees, etc? And would this work the other way around as well? So a Labour vote (which if they were in the same position would be worth 0.75% of a “mean” vote) would equate to a distinctly limited amount of speaking and representative time. The concept of a “silent majority” might become all too literal…

    – You state that on “non-party-political” issues all MPs would have an equal vote. How would these be defined? I’m not sure this confidently asserted demarcation works in practice.

    • To RPaines
      The first thing to say is that as regards this aspect of the system, compared with the current position of election by FPTP we would not be worse off. I believe the situation would be better for the following reasons.

      At present the vote for the party is conflated with the vote for the individual. Many candidates get elected because of their party label rather than their own personal merit. Under DPR Voting people can vote for the party of Government, and then vote for the best candidate, which need not be from their preferred party.

      If party label is no longer so significant, minor parties will do relatively better than they do at present at getting their (high quality) candidates elected. Sadly the other side of the ‘safe’ party seat is that, at present, really good candidates do not get into parliament because they have the wrong party label for their constituency.
      Success in the representative elections will depend on having high quality candidates, and this will tend to improve the overall quality of our MPs in parliament.
      I accept that voters might take some time to take this aspect of the system on board and modify their voting behaviour.

      Another consideration is that some parties who have no representation in the house at present may manage to pass the threshold level of Party votes and thus have one MP to speak for their party.

      On the question of the party political issues and decimal voting, the default position is that all issues are party political and thus decimal voting would be the norm. However an issue (or even a particular division) might be deemed to be ‘non party political’ if, and only if, all parties formally agree to treat the issue as non party political and invoke ‘one MP one vote’ voting. On occasions this might be controversial, but each party would have to make a decision and stand by their policy in the face of criticism in the house or in the country.

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