Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR)

First Past the Post ( FPTP ) and electoral reform

A new voting system is central to UK electoral and political reform.
Any new system needs to be better than First Past the Post.

We need a better balance between government, the people, political parties and elected members. We need a form of Proportional Representation.

DPR Voting shows you how

 

First Past the Post (known as FPTP - also known as Single Member Plurality)
FPTP
is used in the UK to elect MPs to the House of Commons. It is used in Canada, the USA and some other countries.

 
 
The First Past the Post (FPTP) system is used to elect MPs to the House of Commons, and therefore determines which party or parties will form the Government in the UK. It is also used in Canada, the USA and some other countries.

It is a simple system. The country is divided into small geographical areas – constituencies - which, in theory, have a similar number of voters. In a General Election there is a vote in each constituency to elect an MP. Each political party can put forward a candidate, (but they may choose not to). Independent candidates can also put themselves forward. In the election each voter has a single vote to cast for one of the candidates. The candidate that gets the most votes is elected.

It is worth noting that in a General Election under FPTP, no one votes directly for a Party, a Prime Minister or a Government. You can only cast a vote for an individual candidate to be elected as an MP. Voting directly for the party is a feature of PR systems such as MMP/AMS, List PR and DPR Voting.

The advantages of FPTP are
Simple Voting - voting is simple to understand and simple for the voter to take part.
Simple Counting - It is simple to count the votes and understand the result, and counting can be done very quickly.
Single member constituency - The single member constituency allows electoral scrutiny of candidates, engagement with a local campaign and encourages a strong link between the MP and the constituents.

More contentiously from a democratic standpoint,
'Strong' Government: FPTP tends to result in an artificially large majority of MPs in parliament for the most popular party at the expense of minority parties. As a result a single party is more likely to be able to form a Government with a majority in the parliament and be able to push through its political programme without the need for coalition, agreement or compromise with the opposition parties.
This is contentious because a large government majority may not appear to be justified by the popular votes cast. Arguably 'weak opposition' is the reverse side of the 'strong government' coin, and it seems doubtful as to whether this is desirable in a parliamentary democracy.
Makes it easier to change from one Government to another with a very small change in the overall popular vote. This is contentious because the result can be a pendulum-like change limited to government by one large party followed by the other.
Keeps extremists out of parliament. An extremist party is less likely to be represented in Parliament. This also applies to other small or new parties, unless they happen to have geographically concentrated support.
This is contentious because some argue that the nature of democracy is that minority opinions should be heard in the parliament, and not excluded by the way the electoral system counts the votes.

The disadvantages of FPTP are
Not a PR system. There is no proportionality between the number of votes a party gets in the election and the number of seats it gets in the parliament.
A clear mandate? A party may form a Government even though it does not have a majority of the popular vote.
Bizarre results: It is possible for a party that did not get the largest number of votes to have the largest number of seats (this happened in 1929, 1951 and 1974).
Unfair to minor parties: Minor parties may have proportionately far fewer MPs than their share of the popular vote would seem to deserve. eg UKIP, Green, and Lib Dem parties in 2015
Regional parties can be over represented eg the SNP in the 2015 General Election, and the parties of Northern Ireland.
Safe Seats: Some constituencies are safe party seats and do not change hands. This can weaken the link between MP and constituents. In such a constituency voters can feel that there is no point in voting, and an MP may feel that election can be taken for granted.
Marginal Constituencies: The converse of this is that the election may be decided by a relatively small number of voters in a handful of ‘marginal’ constituencies.
Sensitive to boundary changes: How constituency boundaries are drawn (combined with demographic changes) may affect the outcome of the election. To maintain the electoral system, boundaries require regular revision by an independent commission.

Alternative Electoral systems
Alternative electoral systems in use include
STV - used in Ireland, Malta, Australia,
MMP / AMS - used in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales etc,
PR list systems - widely used, eg Finland, Latvia, Sweden, Israel , Brazil, the Netherlands, Russia, and elections to the European Parliament.

The disadvantages of FPTP taken in isolation are considered undesirable by many, but the system continues to be used because of its advantages - simple voting and counting, and the democratic accountability and simplicity of the single member constituency. It is argued that both MMP and STV are fairer systems, but they have failed to attract majority support. This is mainly because their disadvantages are contentious, and prevent the formation of a consensus.


MMP needs larger constituencies than FPTP and, as a consequence, boundaries have to be redrawn.This means larger work loads for constituency MPs. The alternative is an increase in the number of MPs, which is usually not acceptable. With this system, there are two types of MP. MPs elected in a constituency, and MPs elected from the party list process.
STV requires large multimember constituencies and this results in a different relationship between voter and MPs. Voting is preferential, and thus more complicated. A particular feature is the very complicated counting procedure. Note: STV is not technically a PR system (and can end up with the party with fewer votes getting a majority - see the Malta experience) but usually gives a result close to 'PR'.
PR List systems which may be open list or closed list have not attracted much support as a system to replace FPTP in the UK.

see Advantages and disadvantages of FPTP (2)
see also Voting systems compared.

Why is FPTP still used?


Two important reasons that people support FPTP are

a) FPTP has some attractions that most PR systems don’t have

b) The opposition to FPTP is fragmented rather than united.

Electoral reformers do not argue a case designed to win over those who would otherwise support FPTP. Rather they split into separate camps to argue the case that their preferred electoral system is the best available, and ignore the reasons why people like FPTP.
The separate camps argue against themselves because electoral reformers cannot agree on which electoral system to support.

The attractive features of FPTP are
1 Simple voting and counting.
2 The single member constituency.

When the alternative (choice of voting system) is complex and unfamiliar, many people prefer to keep the simple system they know.
If you change the single member constituency system it changes the relationship between the MP and the electorate. In addition, the MPs affected feel threatened by any change suggested to the boundaries of their constituency .
Thus either for reasons of self interest or fear of the complex, people accept the status quo.


'First past the post' has advantages and disadvantages. There are problems when it is used as a way of choosing a government.

As a system for choosing a single winner such as a constituency MP, FPTP is simple and straightforward. Voting and counting are very simple and the single member constituency has real advantages. There are good arguments for other ways of electing a single winner in a constituency, but FPTP is the simplest.

But FPTP is not just about electing single winners in each constituency. It is also used to determine which party will govern the country. This aspect of the system makes the result disproportionate and unfair. FPTP works best, but not perfectly, for two party politics. With more than two parties, the largest parties will tend to gain at the expense of the smaller parties whose supporters are widely spread geographically.
Some people argue that if FPTP is used to count the votes a single party is usually able to form the Government, and govern without the complications of a coalition. In a multiparty democracy it is difficult to see how a system that engineers artificially large government majorities at the expense of minority parties can be judged to be fair or democratic.

Choosing a system to replace FPTP
In choosing a voting system to replace FPTP, the problems and benefits of the existing system, and the replacement system need to be examined. Three aspects of the system should be considered.
The electoral process.
The election of the local representative.
The election of a party of Government

The Process
FPTP is liked because it is based around the single member constituency system, and voting is simple. Counting is also quick and straigthforward, so FPTP scores highly on electoral process.

The Representative
On one level it is a simple method of electing a single winner. But party politics complicates the picture. Instead of the simple choice of one vote for the best candidate, the voter is faced with the question 'Do I vote for the best Candidate, or the Party I want to from the Government?' Sometimes these choices coincide for the voter. Sometimes they don't.

Is this a serious flaw? Inevitably some, perhaps most, voters choose Party ahead of Representative. This means some poor quality candidates get elected purely on the strength of the popularity of their party label. Conversely some outstanding candidates do not get elected because they have the 'wrong' party label. It would be better to have a system that encouraged the election of the best available candidates to the parliament.

The Party
The main criticism of FPTP is that it has many disadvantages as a method of electing a Government.

FPTP favours a 'two party' system of politics. (Duverger's Law) A third party with national support spread widely cannot achieve votes in the parliament proportional to its national vote. However a small regional party with strong support in a very limited geographical area can be over represented in the parliament. FPTP can (and has) produced an electoral result where the party able to form the Government was not the party to win the largest number of votes. (UK General election 1951).

The result of the 2010 UK General election was

Con
Lab
Lib Dem
UKIP
BNP
SNP
Green
Sinn Féin
Democratic Unionist
Popular vote
10,703,654
8,606,517
6,836,248
919,471
564,321
491,386
265,243
171,942
168,216
Percentage
36.1%
29.0%
23.0%
3.1%
1.9%
1.7%

0.9%

0.6%

0.6%
Seats won
306
258
57
0
0
6
1
5
8
see full results

Conservative 10.7m votes - 306 seats, Labour votes 8.6m - 258 seats, Lib Dem 6.8m votes - 57 seats.

It took on average approx

35,000   votes to elect one Conservative MP.
33,000   votes to elect one Labour MP
120,000   votes to elect one Lib Dem MP
80,000   votes to elect one SNP MP

Small National parties
1.7m votes - 1 seat
(UKIP, BNP, Green )
Small regional parties
0.34m votes - 13 seats
(Sinn Féin, Democratic Unionist )


Clearly FPTP is not a form of proportional representation. The results are widely seen as unfair, and undemocratic.

The advantages and disadvantes of FPTP (2)

- is not certain to produce a fair democratic result
- It tends to result in a a two party system
- leads to adversarial politics.
- focuses on the Party, not the Candidate
- leads to Tactical Voting
- is unfair to minor parties
- puts greater electoral value on Marginals
- results in safe 'Party' Seats
- is disadvantageous to Independent Candidates
- gives too much power to the Whips and the Central Party organisation.
 
- maintains the single member constituency
- is simple to understand
- more likely to result in single party Government
- is quick and easy to count
- tends to keep extremists out of Parliament
- avoids small parties exerting undue power
- avoids the ‘appointment' of MPs through a Party list system
 
 

DPR voting has the advantages of FPTP without the disadvantages

FPTP is not certain to produce a democratic result.
FPTP is not a proportional system. The strength of the parties in the Parliament is highly unlikely to reflect the votes cast in the General Election. Third parties with thinly spread support suffer badly. Conversely, parties with concentrated support in a small area can be over represented. If the two largest parties are closely matched, the Government is not necessarily formed by the party that wins the most votes. FPTP can give victory to the party with the fewer votes.

FPTP tends to result in a two party system.
There are no prizes for coming second. FPTP tends to produce a competition between two larger parties with third and other parties being squeezed out. see Duverger's Law.
FPTP leads to adversarial politics.
FPTP tends towards a two party system, and politicians tend to portray complex issues as black and white. Party advantage tends to drive the debate.
FPTP focuses on the Party, not the Candidate
The voter has one vote both to express a preference for one candidate, and at the same time, one party to form the Government. For this reason it is not clear that the results reflect the will of the people . Where there are several candidates from several parties a minority of votes is often enough to elect the ‘winning candidate'. All the voters who did not vote for the winning candidate, often a majority, contribute nothing to their choice of party's strength in the Parliament, or to electing a Candidate.
Leads to Tactical Voting
Frustrated voters inevitably try to exploit the flaws of the system. This can result in voters deliberately voting for a party they do not want to form the Government, as a way of voting against a rival party when it is clear that otherwise their vote will be wasted.
FPTP is unfair to Minor parties
Minor parties with a significant share of the popular vote nationwide but with widespread rather than concentrated support may be under represented in the parliament, or even have no representation.
The value of Marginals.
The result of a closely fought FPTP election is decided by the votes cast in a few marginal constituencies. Parties therefore direct their resources disproportionately to these areas. This can border on the corrupt, or the suspicion of corruption when resources are diverted to a marginal constituency instead of another similarly qualified area.
Safe Seats
FPTP results in safe seats where the incumbent MP appears to be fireproof. This happens where there is especially strong support for a particular party. Even a poor candidate may be elected because supporters of that party feel they must vote for the party. Supporters of other parties may feel their vote is wasted, or that there is no point in voting. If re-election is virtually automatic, the MP may not give the attention to the constituency that it deserves.
Independent Candidates
Under FPTP the vote for the MP is conflated with the vote for the Government. In a General Election, it is very difficult to be elected as an independent because the electorate is focused on electing a party to form the Government. The exception is in a by-election when the future of the Government is not at risk. One advantage of FPTP for the independent candidate is that the single member constituency, being smaller than a multimember constituency, makes it easier for the independent candidate to campaign.
FPTP gives too much power to the Whips and the Central Party organisation.
Under FPTP the party label is crucial to a candidates electoral campaign. If a party should decide to deselect an MP, they have little chance of being re-elected as an independent. Thus the MP's future employment depends on the party, and as a result party whips have a lot of power. Conversely the Party also has the power of patronage. The Central Party organisation, by appointing a candidate to a ‘safe seat' virtually appoints an MP.

Constituency Boundaries and fair elections.

The result of an election will depend on the electoral system employed. In any given constituency voters are not normally distributed geographically evenly so a change of boundaries can exclude an area of high support for a particular party. Because FPTP is a majoritarian system this can, on occasions, make the difference between winning and losing. The redrawing of constituency boundaries also can and does have a significant affect on the result of a general election. A sorry consequence is that political parties can spend great efforts trying to ensure that they obtain maximum advantage from any constituency boundary revision exercise.

The case for redrawing boundaries is usually one of fairness. Constituencies should be roughly the same size, and boundaries should encompass a particular geographical area or natural community. But demographic changes mean that the population in a particular area is constantly growing or shrinking and the problems are compounded by local geography.

The shortcomings of a majoritarian system like FPTP system are compounded by the way we count the result.
We elect a number of individuals, and once elected, we form a parliament from the elected individuals, and arbitrarily give them each equal elected status, ignoring all the votes cast in the election for both winning and losing parties/candidates. A majority of one counts equally with a majority of 10,000. Similarly 10,000 votes cast for a losing candidate are completely ignored.

DPR Voting avoids this problem. Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR Voting) is a PR system which incorporates a party vote (to determine the party of Government) that is aggregated nationwide, and a Representative vote (to elect the local constituency MP). Because all the party votes are added up nationwide it doesn't matter where the vote is cast. As a consequence in DPR Voting the Party vote is not sensitive to constituency boundaries. Furthermore every vote makes a difference to the result.
 

The perceived benefits of FPTP (compared with some forms of PR)

FPTP maintains the single member constituency
A single member constituency is smaller than the constituencies required by other systems eg STV (multimember constituencies), and AMS (larger single member constituencies). The size of a constituency (and number of MPs) has an impact on the relationship between the MP and the electorate. Where there is a single MP the responsibility for the constituency is clear cut.
FPTP is simple to understand
FPTP is a very simple system, both to vote, to count, to administer, and to understand.
FPTP tends to result in single party Government
FPTP tends to result in single party Governments with exaggerated majorities able to push through programmes of legislation despite opposition (although this may not be an accurate reflection of the levels of party support).
FPTP is quick and easy to count
'On the night' results make for election excitement. Immediate results engage the electorate in the process.
FPTP keeps extremists out of Parliament
FPTP keeps all smaller parties out of parliament, until recently, even the Green party.
FPTP avoids small parties exerting undue power
FPTP avoids a proliferation of small parties which are then able to exert undue influence within a ruling coalition.
FPTP avoids the ‘appointment' of MPs through a Party list system
While FPTP does not use Party Lists, candidates appointed to ‘safe seats' become ‘appointed MPs.
 
 

In some countries Electoral Fraud is endemic ......

 
.... if those who gain power and benefit from a broken electoral system take no steps to put it right, it starts to look like corruption.
  ‘Which Party do you want to form the Government?’
If an opinion poll was conducted on the day of a General Election, and instead of polling a small sample, every voter was polled, you would expect the result of the opinion poll to match the result of the voting in the General Election. You would expect the party getting the largest number of votes to be the largest party in the parliament, and the number of votes the different parties get in the parliament would match the votes they won in the election. After all, this is a democracy. That is how the people voted.

If the results of the election turned out to be wildly different and this happened in a far away country you might conclude that the electoral process was corrupt.

In effect this is what happens in the UK. We may not carry out the all embracing opinion poll, but no-one can claim that the number of votes each party gets in the election matches the votes they get in the parliament.

Is this corruption? It is certainly a failure of the electoral system. But then if those who gain power and benefit from a broken system take no steps to put it right, it starts to look like corruption.


 
 

Electing a single winner in a constituency is one thing – Electing a Government is another.

 
   
 
In an election there are two objectives for the voter:
Firstly, to vote for a party to form a national government.
Secondly, to elect an individual to the parliament to represent the people who live in the local constituency.
In the FPTP system these two objectives are conflated in one vote. Support for a party is inextricably linked to support for a candidate. This restricts voting freedom, and allows too many MPs to be elected in safe seats.

As a way of choosing a government, FPTP is inherently flawed, erratic and unfair. It works best, but not perfectly, for two party politics. It is not designed as a fair system for multi-party politics. With more than two parties it displays bias against third or smaller parties whose supporters are widely spread geographically. This undermines the democratic credentials of our system of government.

The shortcomings of the system are partly caused by the way we count the result.
We elect a number of individuals, and once elected, a parliament is formed from the elected individuals. As part of this process we confer on them equal elected status, ignoring all the votes cast in the election for both winning and losing parties/candidates. An MP with a majority of one vote counts equally with a majority of 10,000. Similarly 10,000 votes cast for a losing candidate are completely ignored.

If we conflate the questions of party and representative, and then confer one equal vote on each elected MP, we ignore the total numbers of votes cast in the election and the result is almost inevitably unfair, unrepresentative and undemocratic.
 
DPR Voting is a direct replacement for FPTP in the UK. It would involve only the smallest change to our current FPTP system. It would preserve the relationship between MPs and their constituents on the basis of a method of constituency election which is familiar. DPR Voting would achieve greater equality for the voter, greater voter choice, and a significant increase in proportionality at minimum cost and disruption. It could be simply and powerfully presented to the electorate as a fairer electoral system for Westminster.

DPR Voting - simple, practical electoral reform


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