First Past the Post?

 

shutterstock_89599348We don’t have a sovereign and a prime minister, but the one thing we do have in common with our British cousins is the concept of “first past the post,” that is the candidate with the largest vote count in any constituency wins.

This leads to some grumbling among the losers. For example, in the late UK election, the Scottish National Party received 1,454,436 votes or 4% of the total cast. The United Kingdom Independence Party received 3,881,129, or almost 13%. Guess which party got 56 MPs and which one got just one?

Which led to this Tweet this morning:

“PR” stands for “Proportional Representation.” Under this type of system, voting districts are ignored. Large blocks of urban votes are used to wipe out the voices of suburban and rural voters out of “fairness.”

If you were listening, you could hear the same high-pitched whine on these shores last fall when the GOP took 57% of the House seats with approximately 52% of the national vote. A progressive, liberal Democrat front group, FairVote.org started complaining in every media outlet that would give them a platform. And the whine about the Senate was even worse as the media latched on to FairVote’s myth of a 20 million vote majority for the new Democrat minority (subsequently debunked by Sean Trende).

Of course all of these arguments are made using results where parties were using different rules, the very knowledge of which effects the outcome. The idea is to make every election a national election.

And if FairVote and other progressive organizations had their way they would do away with the entire Senate since small states like Delaware get equal representation to a state the size of California. That’s, you know, not fair.

Other things that they think are not fair include anything more than a signature to vote, losing one’s right to vote through committing a felony on your fellow citizens, and well, actually being a citizen.

The idea of any electoral reform is to rig the game for your fellow ideologues. The husband and wife team that runs FairVote — Rob Ritchie and Cynthia Terrell — are longtime Dem operatives (she worked for both Tom Harkin and Douglas Wilder).

All proposals of this type are enthusiastically supported until the moment that they don’t work. Peruse the Twitter feed of UK leftists this morning. Had someone granted their wish before last Thursday, not only would they have awoken to another five years of a coalition government under David Cameron, they would be looking at Nigel Farage of UKIP as Deputy Prime Minister.

Now who’s the swivel-eyed loon?

 

There are 58 comments.

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  1. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    My wife’s UK relatives are up in arms right now, nattering about PR.  But then, as you follow their discussion threads, you see them reach the same conclusions about UKIP…  and there the discussion ends.  I’ve refrained from also pointing out that they would soon have a parliament as dysfunctional as that of Greece or Italy – no need to rub salt in their wounds.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EJHill:All proposals of this type are enthusiastically supported until the moment that they don’t work. Peruse the Twitter feed of UK leftists this morning. Had someone granted their wish before last Thursday, not only would they have awoken to another five years of a coalition government under David Cameron, they would be looking at Nigel Farage of UKIP as Deputy Prime Minister.

    Now who’s the swivel-eyed loon?

    Love it!

    • #2
  3. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    And if you get this non-sense from a “progressive” ask them if they think Ted Cruz (with his 4,440,137 votes) should have four-times the power of Elizabeth Warren (and her 1,678,408 votes) in the Senate.

    • #3
  4. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    skipsul:My wife’s UK relatives are up in arms right now, nattering about PR. But then, as you follow their discussion threads, you see them reach the same conclusions about UKIP… and there the discussion ends. I’ve refrained from also pointing out that they would soon have a parliament as dysfunctional as that of Greece or Italy – no need to rub salt in their wounds.

    I love pointing out that under either system, FPTP or PR, the Right would rule Britain in any case, as under PR, the Tories and UKIP would still be a majority over Labour+SNP+Greens, and the right-wing parties would certainly have done a coalition deal… putting UKIP in cabinet positions of real power.

    • #4
  5. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    In the UK election, all those Scots who voted to be represented in the House of Commons by an SNP member would be disenfranchised under proportional representation.

    Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view.

    Personally, I think being able to vote for your local constituency/riding/district representative rather than voting for the party (or a leader) to run the country as a whole is generally a good thing.

    (Even back in 1993 when the Progressive Conservatives in Canada were reduced from a majority government to a mere two seats, there weren’t very many conservatives whining about proportional representation. They generally understood that it would actually mean weakening accountability of politicians to their local constituencies. I’m a little disappointed that Nigel Farage doesn’t seem to grasp this concept.)

    • #5
  6. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Douglas:

    I love pointing out that under either system, FPTP or PR, the Right would rule Britain in any case, as under PR, the Tories and UKIP would still be a majority over Labour+SNP+Greens, and the right-wing parties would certainly have done a coalition deal… putting UKIP in cabinet positions of real power.

    …this time around.

    Progressives love PR because they know that over the long-term it generally results in more left-wing coalitions than right-wing ones (and also because it makes the party and the leader even more important than local representatives, and it’s not like local reps are hugely important even now).

    • #6
  7. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    EJ, we also don’t a have spellchecker in the first sentence. This is the start of my “rign” of terror. :-)

    • #7
  8. user_129539 Member
    user_129539
    @BrianClendinen

    I think regional representation is critically important because it enables electorit to hold a single individual accountable for their actions and voting. Even though most voters don’t behave that way it does not mean we should prevent a sizable minority from doing this.

    There is a simple election reform which should happen both in the U.S. and U.K. You should have to get at lest 50.00001% of the vote, otherwise you should have to be in a run off. The real problem is the fact we have regional representatives in which they don’t have to get a majority of the vote to win.

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    10 cents: EJ, we also don’t a have spellchecker in the first sentence. This is the start of my “rign” of terror. :-)

    When I drink, I slur. Fixed. Thanks.

    • #9
  10. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @MattBalzer

    EJHill:And if you get this non-sense from a “progressive” ask them if they think Ted Cruz (with his 4,440,137 votes) should have four-times the power of Elizabeth Warren (and her 1,678,408 votes) in the Senate.

    Well, it was the Texan who proposed that better people get more votes, so it seems only fair.

    • #10
  11. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Yup … the minute “fairness” results in an advantage for conservatives, we’ll just get a redefinition of what it means to be fair.  You know, dissent is the highest form of patriotism [until Obama is elected] and all that?  Filibuster, anyone?  Or maybe we should do away with the electoral college … well … some years, anyway.

    The left has no conception of irony.  They’re that guy at the party who doesn’t understand sarcasm and takes himself extremely seriously… actually, that guy is almost always the liberal of the group, isn’t he?  We may be on to something, here.

    • #11
  12. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    On the other side, it’s interesting that Nigel Farage resigned as head of UKIP… as a result of coming in a respectable second place in many counties across the country. Considering the short time UKIP has been around, I would think those results would be seen as progress toward future victories.

    • #12
  13. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    EJHill:And if you get this non-sense from a “progressive” ask them if they think Ted Cruz (with his 4,440,137 votes) should have four-times the power of Elizabeth Warren (and her 1,678,408 votes) in the Senate.

    Perfect!

    • #13
  14. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Aaron Miller:On the other side, it’s interesting that Nigel Farage resigned as head of UKIP… as a result of coming in a respectable second place in many counties across the country. Considering the short time UKIP has been around, I would think those results would be seen as progress toward future victories.

    I think it had more to do with the fact that he lost his seat and couldn’t be the head of UKIP.

    • #14
  15. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Farage is back at the head of UKIP. Their executive board rejected his resignation. It’s not necessary for a party head to be an MP, unless of course they expect to be the PM or other Minister of the Crown.

    Nicola Sturgeon, head of the SNP is First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. Her predecessor, Alex Salmond is heading to Westminster. All sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:On the other side, it’s interesting that Nigel Farage resigned as head of UKIP… as a result of coming in a respectable second place in many counties across the country. Considering the short time UKIP has been around, I would think those results would be seen as progress toward future victories.

    According to my news feed, he’s the leader again today.

    • #16
  17. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    EJHill:Farage is back at the head of UKIP. Their executive board rejected his resignation. It’s not necessary for a party head to be an MP, unless of course they expect to be the PM or other Minister of the Crown.

    I gotcha… I don’t know all that much about the ins and outs.  My impression had been that he “couldn’t” be the head if he lost his seat; apparently, that is just a more practical thing?  Interesting, at any rate.

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    EJHill:Nicola Sturgeon, head of the SNP is First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. Her predecessor, Alex Salmond is heading to Westminster. All sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

    Yes!  And to extend things a bit I see that Norman Lamb has thrown his hat into the ring for the Lib Dem leadership.  And David Lammy has said that he will consider a bid for Labor leader . . .

    • #18
  19. She Member
    She
    @She

    I think it all depends on whether you believe that ‘all politics is local.’

    If you do, then isn’t every single local outcome the result of Proportional Representation for that district?

    If you believe that all politics in national, or even global, then throw all the votes in the pot, add them up, and locality be damned!

    Or, am I missing something?

    • #19
  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    She: I think it all depends on whether you believe that ‘all politics is local.’

    That’s an old Tip O’Neill line that basically meant that nobody ever elected their Congressman on anything other than what they could do for the district. In my lifetime perhaps two off-year Congressional elections were “nationalized,” both by the Republicans.

    In 1994 Newt’s “Contract” did it and in 2010 the reaction to ObamaCare.

    Some of these proportional schemes that are floating out there are race and gender based pursuant to the last census.

    • #20
  21. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I wish somebody would inform the “Fairvote” people that a) no democratic system can ever be universally fair, and b) nobody who drafted our system of government ever claimed it was meant to be fair. In fact, in a sense it is explicitly unfair. So deal with it.

    • #21
  22. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    At the same time, I think it’s worth asking whether an electoral system is appropriate for its setting. And I’m not sure first-past-the-post still fulfills that criteria.

    The main sentiment behind first-past-the-post is one district, one representative. This makes sense if districts are somewhat cohesive units. But our American districts are starting to lose any meaning.

    House districts are now so gerrymandered that most people do not know the boundaries of their own district. They are not drawn to group together communities with any kinship as much as to win future seats for the party doing the drawing. That counteracts the spirit of first-past-the-post.

    And Senate districts – the states – are also losing cohesion. Most states consist of (liberal) urban areas and (conservative) rural areas which have almost nothing in common. The outcome of Senatorial elections says less about the “spirit” of that state and more about whether there are currently more voters in the city or the countryside of any particular state.

    • #22
  23. user_494971 Contributor
    user_494971
    @HankRhody

    The problem with first past the post in general is that it ensures the status quo. You can’t form a third party without losing elections, not just for yourself, but for your second choice guys who from whom you’re pulling most of your votes.

    Proportional representation isn’t the only other option out there.

    • #23
  24. She Member
    She
    @She

    EJHill:

    She: I think it all depends on whether you believe that ‘all politics is local.’

    That’s an old Tip O’Neill line

    Let’s pretend that we don’t already know who said it.

    that basically meant that nobody ever elected their Congressman on anything other than what they could do for the district. In my lifetime perhaps two off-year Congressional elections were “nationalized,” both by the Republicans.

    I think you’re agreeing that it’s  true, then.  People don’t vote for their congressman based on what he can do for the country, they vote based on what he can do for their district.  They usually don’t see a connection between the two.  And maybe they shouldn’t.

    Some of these proportional schemes that are floating out there are race and gender based pursuant to the last census.

    Of course.  Changing the boundaries of what qualifies as ‘the district’ can change the proportional representation of the district, and therefore the outcome of the election.  That’s why they do it.  And that’s why they’re trying to change the process now.  Because they believe that a ‘national’ election that ‘proportionally represents’ the citizens, without the annoying complication of the Electoral College, would work to their advantage.

    And, as you say, it may work for a cycle or two.  But eventually, there will be an outcome that someone doesn’t like.  Then it’s back to gerrymandering either the geography or the process again.

    I do find it puzzling, in the current presidential election process, that most states are “winner take all” in the electoral college, and that two states allocate electors based on “proportional representation” by the winner of each congressional district.

    It seems to me that the inconsistency there does not help an argument based either on one principle or on the other.

    • #24
  25. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I remember in 2000, that either Scientific American or Discover magazine (both nominally science-oriented) ran an article on how we needed to change our voting system.  Various schemes were discussed, including having voters rank the candidates.  I started noticing that all of the schemes were being evaluated according to how easy they’d have made it for McCain to win the general election.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Deleted, because i missed the point.

    • #26
  27. user_129448 Inactive
    user_129448
    @StephenDawson

    First past the post is badly flawed in places with more than two significant parties. The flaws of multi-party electorates have been outlined in comments here. As Brian Clendinen above notes, the best system is single seat with a requirement for >50% to win.

    It could be by run-off, as he says. The problem is that the electorates which require a run-off could be unduly influential given that they’ll be deciding the direction of the whole polity some time after everyone else.

    Instead, I’d suggest the system we use here in Australia for our House of Representatives: Preferential Voting. In this system you have single member electorates as in FPTP. At each election a valid vote consists not of selecting one person, but of numbering from 1 through whatever every candidate on the ballot.

    When they are counted, if any candidate secures at least 50% of 1s, he or she is declared winner. If not, the candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated and all their ballots are reallocated to the candidates voted second on each ballot. Repeat until someone has 50%.

    That way you could vote, say, Libertarian 1, Republican 2, Independent 3, Democrats 4, Greens 5 (I always put Greens last). If the Libertarian scores lowly, your vote won’t be wasted, it will be allocated to the Republican.

    With such a system, Bush 1 may have been elected against Clinton thanks to Perot’s preferences.

    • #27
  28. user_129448 Inactive
    user_129448
    @StephenDawson

    But, then again, Gore may be been elected against Bush 2 thanks to Nader’s preferences.

    • #28
  29. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    First past the post has nothing to do with what happened in Scotland–the rules for over-representing the countries not called England are an old political opinion that seems to have been reversed in part by devolution. It will happen again soon–the UK is going to redo the seat allocation by 2018.

    The problem with First past the post seems to be that the political parties are not as serious as they used to be. That’s a real problem. England has a serious voting system. Most voting systems are not thought out by people who understand politics, but let’s say by mathematicians. The sort of systems used in most European countries are designed to isolate the political class from the people. Coalition rule does that. You end up even with this magical world they have in Germany, where they have found a way to outlaw voting without laws. Voting is about making changes through an act of will–but when you have a grand alliance, voting has become meaningless, because you cannot change anything & voting for this party means that the party you have opposed will be in power. This is considered political progress. That is the tendency. People are the kind of people the right kind of people consider too silly to be represented when they have made their will known through an act of will-the vote. Instead, they do the coalition shuffle.

    America & England are not like that; but may become in futurity.

    • #29
  30. BThompson Inactive
    BThompson
    @BThompson

    It seems like re districting so that there were more equal numbers of constituents per district would be the solution. That would probably mean there would be a lot less seats in Scotland.

    • #30
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