How STV would improve voter representation in SheffieldPosted: October 9, 2011
In my previous post “Does everyone matter?” I discussed some of the flaws of the current way we elect Councillors. In this post I seek to demonstrate how adopting the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for council elections (as used in Scotland and Northern Ireland) would benefit voters. STV is superior to FPTP in that it eliminates the problem of Minority Rule (where a minority of the voters are represented by a majority of seats), eliminates tactical voting and encourages a greater diversity of candidates to stand.
I collated last May’s results and tried to model what would have happened had the election used STV with either 3 or 6 member Wards. I found that using STV for the current 3-Member Wards would reduce the over-representation of the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats on the council and would improve the representation of the Green Party and the Conservatives. However greater improvement would result from implementing STV by merging the 28 3-Member Wards into 14 6-member Wards which would ensure greater representation of the voters wishes.
For the purpose of this model I made some assumptions:
- That all votes cast in the election were for each voter’s favourite party (unlikely given the widespread use of tactical voting but we don’t have any other data to go on);
- All parties would stand 1 candidate per seat in each ward;
- All votes cast for a party would go to a single candidate (Candidate A) and their surplus then passed onto Candidates B, C, etc.;
- Voters would all put the B and C candidates as their 2nd and 3rd preferences;
- Votes would be 100% transferred between same-party candidates;
- Votes would be weighted at 70% when transferred between different parties – some people would not express any preferences beyond their favourite party;
- LibDem and Labour voters would both put Greens as their second preference to each other, based on local rivalry and “Coalition resentment”, but would put each other as 3rd preferences in favour of the Conservatives;
- Conservative voters would prefer UKIP, then LibDems (who they’ve been forced to support tactically for many years to keep Labour out).
Ward Level Results
I have illustrated the different outcomes under FPTP and STV with either 3 or 6 Ward members by shading Ward maps to represent which party holds a majority of seats in that Ward and the size of their majority:
- Yellow – 100% Liberal Democrat control
- Pale Yellow – Liberal Democrat majority
- Green – 100% Green Party control
- Pale Green – Green Party majority
- Red – 100% Labour Party control
- Pale Red – Labour Party majority
- Grey – No party holds more than 50% of seats
This image shows the distribution of council seats under the current First Past The Post system. The City is split West/East between Liberal Democrats and Labour respectively, with the Green Party holding Central. The paler colours down the centre indicate shifting support – swing Wards. 18 out of 28 Wards are represented by Councillors of only one party.
STV with 3-Member Wards
This image illustrates the distribution of seats under STV using the existing Wards, with all 3 councillors up for election at the same time and seats distributed proportionally. Here we see 7 Wards have turned Grey as they are now represented by councillors of 3 different parties. We also see areas which were solidly Labour or LibDem have now gained a councillor of a different party. Just 4 wards out of 28 are now only represented by a single party. This is much more representative of the support of the people.
STV with 6-Member Wards
With STV the more seats a Ward has the greater the proportionality of the result. With 3 Members a party needs to get 25% support to get elected. With 6 members that threshold is down to 14% (the threshold is the number of votes divided by 1 plus the number of seats, plus 1). To achieve this we can either add more councillors to a Ward, enlarging the Council, or we can merge Wards with their neighbours as I have done here. I have attempted to merge Wards in as reasonable way as possible, for example uniting East and West Ecclesfield into a single Ward. I then merged their election results and performed the STV algorithm for 6 members. The result is the elimination of single party wards altogether and an expansion of the greyed areas, representing those areas where no party has 50% of the seats available and representation is now much more proportionate.
The Single Transferable Vote has been used for several decades in Northern Ireland and since 2007 in Scotland for Local Authority elections to ensure that those in local government reflect the wishes of the electorate. It is neither difficult for voters to use (rank as many or as few candidates in order of preference) nor is it difficult to implement (we already have multi-member wards and it would be cheaper and more convenient to elect all three members in a single election rather than elect 1 seat per year). I believe that we should follow Scotland and Northern Ireland and adopt STV for elections in England and Wales, or at least allow residents in each council the right to choose the method by which they choose their representatives in their local government.
Richard is a local activist and member of the Steering Group of Sheffield for Democracy and was actively involved in the local Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of other members of Sheffield for Democracy or of the Steering Group.