The Single Transferable Vote (STV) and how perfectly it will work in the United Kingdom

N.B. Some of the text below has been drawn from other sources, including the Electoral Reform Society.

Proportional representation voting (PR) is the main rival to so-called first-past-the-post systems. Among advanced western democracies (a term which cannot be applied to the United Kingdom) it has become the predominant voting system. For instance, in Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use proportional representation, including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

PR systems were devised to solve the many problems caused by first-past-the-post systems. As a rule, PR voting systems provide more accurate representation of parties, better representation for political and racial minorities, fewer wasted votes (hardly any in fact), higher levels of voter turnout, better representation of women, and greater likelihood of majority rule, i.e. greater likelihood of truly democratic outcomes.

The most suitable system for the United Kingdom is the one favoured by the Electoral Reform Society and this website. It is called Single Transferable Vote, STV for short. In America it is called Choice Voting. So, what does it mean to the end-user, i.e. the voter?

STV – Democracy for the British People

Let’s keep this simple. So, instead of a small constituency where the people elect one Member of Parliament, as things are now, let’s say we go for something bigger, e.g. a district, and it has four positions available, i.e. four MPs can be elected, and there are seven candidates. So, we have a ballot paper with seven candidates’ names and photographs on it, as shown above.

Then, instead of putting a tick in a box, we put a number, so put 1 for your first choice, 2 for your second, 3 for your third, etc. That’s it! That’s all you have to do. The system does the rest. Who said that PR was too complicated and would turn people off? And, here’s another thing – you don’t have to rank all of the candidates if you don’t want to. You can just rank one, or two, as shown in the example above – it’s up to you!

Now, for those interested in what’s going on under the covers, here’s what the system does for us. It sets a “quota” of votes candidates have to reach to get the gig. Again, let’s keep it simple. So, if in our district 100,000 voters cast their votes, and remembering we have four positions to fill, our quota is simple arithmetic – 100,000 divided by 4, so, 25,000 (this is the Hare Quota System, there are two others in use around the world).

So, if when your ballot paper is picked up from the table and checked it turns out that your first-choice candidate has enough votes already, i.e. they have 25,000, your vote is transferred to your second choice candidate. It is a win-win situation for the voter. Your preferred candidate is elected and your vote can contribute also to the election of your second-choice candidate. STV thus ensures that very few (if any) votes are wasted, unlike the current system, where only a small number of votes actually contribute to the result and where millions of votes are simply thrown in the bin and ignored.