‘Votes-Weighted PR’ can win the argument for electoral reform — and heal our democracy

Democracy is in retreat globally, hastened by multiple dysfunctions. To reduce the UK’s own democratic deficit, support is growing for some kind of proportional representation (PR). And, still, key Labour politicians remain unconvinced. 

But the argument can be tipped towards PR by fixing easy-to-attack flaws in current models — including complexity, disproportionality, too many wasted votes, excessive party boss control and loss of local links. Frankly, these are flaws which many PR enthusiasts do not sufficiently address. 

We propose a straightforward solution: existing versions of PR can be greatly simplified and improved on by giving each representative voting power in the assembly proportional to the number of votes they actually received from the electorate. Let’s call it ‘Votes-Weighted Representation’ (VWR) — a system that sees representatives vote the votes that elected them.

Under VWR, a country/region would be divided into multi-member constituencies. Each voter is granted a single vote; and ballot papers list each party, followed by its candidates in that constituency. 

As with Single Transferable Vote (STV), voters rank candidates and/or parties. If a voter only ranks a party, its local candidates are deemed to be ranked in the order listed. (To spread its votes between more of its representatives, a party can list its candidates in different orders in different parts of a constituency). 

Again, like STV, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated; their votes are in turn transferred to next preferences, to avoid wasting votes. This is repeated until the number of candidates left equals the number to elect (6 or 7, say).

But — in a significant improvement and simplification to STV — rather than donating ‘spare’ votes to less-matching lower preferences, each elected representative keeps all their votes (including transfers to them), and ‘carries’ them into the assembly as their ‘vote weight’ or voting power. (We can total these up more easily by counting in ‘round thousands’: e.g. 35,499 votes gets a weight of 35).

VWR will thus allow a much closer, multi-dimensional matching of candidates to voters, with far fewer ‘wasted’ votes than systems with some kind of electoral threshold (explicit or implicit), but that lack vote transfers from unsuccessful candidates. VWR with 6-member constituencies will typically yield moderately high effective electoral thresholds, but below the equivalent STV ‘quota’ of 14.3% (1/7). 

In this way, VWR will achieve better proportionality (of voting power in the assembly) than existing PR systems, while still avoiding excessive party fragmentation and associated difficulties in forming coalitions.

VWR will also improve local links, given voters with particular preferences are free to override parties’ candidate orderings. Moderately popular independents will be readily electable (based on Ireland’s STV experience). If several representatives from the same party are elected, they can be linked to different sub-constituencies for casework. Voters will be more able to approach a representative they actually voted for than under current systems.

‘Complexity’ is a pretext used to attack all current forms of PR. VWR is simpler to understand, explain and justify. Compared with existing systems, VWR will allow more accountable, more responsive and finer-grained coverage of multi-dimensional political space. And, significantly, VWR is the only PR system satisfying all the criteria in the Make Votes Matter Good Systems Agreement. 

VWR will help democratise democracy and stem the destructive rising tide of strongman ‘leaderism’, party and government ‘capture’, and de-democratisation. More details are in this recent peer-reviewed article.

Proportional Representation

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