Monday, 15 June 2009

Representation in Democracy (TR - The Total Representation Electoral System)

TR is One Response to the MPs’ Expenses Crisis

TR, Total Representation, is a simplified version of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) It preserves a large element of the Westminster model and infuses it with a dose of PR to ensure a greater representation of voters’ preferences. TR’s appeal is in the way it carries out reform of parliament with minimum upheaval. Its distinctive feature of giving weight to the votes of unsuccessful candidates appeals to the deep sense of fairness of the British people.

Unlike similar mixed or hybrid systems TR is easy to understand and operate. It needs only one ballot and requires all candidates (including those competing in party lists) to start off by running in the constituencies.

The PR element of TR gives an active role and leverage to the runner-ups in the constituencies by keeping their hopes alive in between elections even in “safe seats” Thus TR converts the rival runner-ups into watch-dogs, monitoring the incumbent MPs and guaranteeing their constant accountability. In such situations it could have helped to avoid the present Expenses Crisis thanks to the permanent vigilance and opposition of the rival candidates throughout the duration of a parliament.

How TR works
TR is a constituency-based system. For it to work properly, each constituency needs to have roughly the same number of voters to avoid gerrymandering. The majority of seats in parliament (say 80%) will be awarded to the winners of these races, just as they are under the Westminster system today.

So each party puts up candidates for election in the various seats. Their names appear on the ballot paper in alphabetical order and next to each name is the party he or she represents. However, these candidates also appear on their own party’s national “list” of all its candidates headed by the party leader.

Voters go to the polls and put a cross against their preferred local candidate. Whoever wins a simple majority of those votes becomes that Constituency’s Member of Parliament (CMP) – again, just like today.

From then on, the innovations begin. All the “successful” ballots drop out. So if you voted for candidate X and candidate X wins, your ballot is judged to have already secured representation. As for the “unsuccessful” ballots (for example, if you voted for candidate Y, but candidate Y did not win in your constituency) these are placed in a giant nationwide pool – and it is from these that say the 20% of the remaining seats are decided using the PR method and awarded to the various parties to select Party Members of Parliament (PMPs)

These remaining seats are allocated according to a quota (ie a minimum number of required votes per seat). This is reached by dividing the number of “unsuccessful” votes by the number of the remaining seats. So, if there are 150 PMP seats available, and there were 15 million “unsuccessful” votes in the election, each party needs 100,000 votes to elect one PMP.

Unlike in other list-based systems, the way these seats are awarded depends crucially on how the candidates performed in the constituencies. With the exception of the party leader, who – if unsuccessful first time around – may be given first choice of a PMP seat, all the other PMP seats will end up being awarded either to those candidates who did best in the first-past-the-post election (in other words, the strongest runners-up), or to constituency candidates of minority parties who may have significant support nationwide but lack strength in any particular constituency. Everything depends on the number of votes each candidate secures.

Arguments in Support of TR
- Each voter is required to cast only one ballot
- Few votes are “wasted”, with most going on to secure at least some level of
representation, albeit with different weightings.
- Its PR element is relatively simple, and easy to understand and operate
- All MPs would have to start off as constituency candidates, and all votes are worth fighting
for even in “safe seats” because there is a potential prize for coming second.
- It gives minority views the chance of a voice in parliament without giving them undue
influence, because the system is still weighted towards first-past-the-post.
Arguments against TR
- It creates two classes of MPs (CMP and PMP) thus leading to the possibility of conflict between them. However unlike in other such systems, most of the “Party” MPs would also have to have performed relatively well in the constituency vote and would retain some link with that locality. While the centre of the duties of the CMP is the constituency, that of the PMP is the Party in parliament.
- All existing constituency boundaries would have to be redrawn. However any reform will anyway necessitate redrawing of boundaries.

By way of contributing to the present debate on electoral reform, a book on TR is being published, which will fully describe the TR system and its applications to parliament in Westminster. The book will be up-to-date and takes in recent political events. Dr Ken Ritchie, the Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, is contributing an introduction, which evaluates this new electoral system.

Aharon Nathan, 15th June 2009