Political duopoly gets helped by preferential vote system

CROYDON COMMENTARY: With postal voting forms dropping through letterboxes this week, ANDY BEBINGTON thinks that the preferential voting system being used to elect the borough’s first executive Mayor is flawed

I believe that the electoral method which we have to use for the election of Croydon’s Mayor is flawed. It favours a two-party system and, as such, is perhaps unlikely to be changed any time soon.

For the Croydon Mayor, we all have two votes – a first choice and an alternative choice. When the first choices are counted, unless any one candidate has 50per cent of the vote or more, then the top two go into the second phase.

In that second phase, the alternative votes of the remaining, the rejected, candidates, are then counted if they are for the leading two candidates. Alternative votes which are not for the top two are disregarded.

This is blatantly unfair, as can be seen by an illustrative example. Given six candidates (yes, I know we have more – this illustrative only) who poll first votes at 23per cent, 22per cent, 21per cent and the remaining 34per cent scattered among the “last” three (but with none getting 21per cent or more), the third candidate and the last three are dropped and the alternative votes on “their” papers are counted, but only those for each of the first two.

If all the alternative votes are found to have been cast for the last four only (disgruntled voters effectively saying “a plague on both your houses” to the top two), No1 is declared elected. That could happen despite them getting less than a quarter of the vote (which, given the number of people who don’t bother voting at all in local elections, would probably equate to something like 8per cent of the electorate, tops).

Not much choice: the voting system being used on May 5 favours the political duopoly

Any voter who cast neither of their votes for the “top two” will have been wasting their time: their first vote was for a candidate who didn’t make the cut and their second choice vote is disregarded (as being for a “failed” candidate).

Were the system to be that, if no one secured 50per cent then all alternative votes are counted, it is possible that a third candidate could overtake the “top two”, giving a Mayor who was the least “not-wanted”, who appealed to enough voters as to attract at least their alternative votes.

Were we faced with, say, candidates from the Republican and the Democrat parties, against someone from a minor party and a serious independent candidate, plus two or three no-hopers, it is likely that the current system would lead to a Republican or a Democrat Mayor. A fairer system, as outlined above, might well also lead to one or the other – but could lead to the minor party candidate or the independent leap-frogging them, thus giving us a Mayor with broader support than otherwise.

That, of course, would upset the two-party set-up and that is why the current system isn’t going to change to a more “open” system. Indeed, it’ll be almost the opposite as the government has decided that you and I are confused by the current system – as has been used in London since 2000 for the city’s Mayoral elections – and they seem likely to revert to the old “first past the post” system – which we do understand, and which embeds the two-party system even more into concrete.

Those with long memories may recall the late Bernard Levin commenting that the problem with the two-party system was summarised by an opinion poll some time in the 1970s. One of the results of that poll was that 48% of those responding said they’d vote for the Liberal Party if they thought it had a chance of winning. ‘Nuff said…

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6 Responses to Political duopoly gets helped by preferential vote system

  1. Geoff James says:

    An interesting article but it neglects several VERY important details:
    1) We can build scenarios to highlight flaws in any voting system as no ‘democracy’ is perfect. For example; the first past the post the system (previous system for Croydon) a major party could in the extreme take control of the borough with just 25% of the votes – that is hardly inclusive democracy
    2) This two vote system engages the voters – Under the previous system a red voter in a Conservative stronghold ward would be wasting their time voting as their vote would count for nothing. Similarly , a blue vote in a labour ward was worthless. Now everybody has a vote that counts.
    3) Every mayoral candidate needs to win votes from across the borough. We have stopped the major parties seeking to control the borough relying strong-hold to win – to the detriment of wards that do not support them.
    4) it is now attractive for intendants to step forward to be Mayor and “run the borough”. Previously even the most credible intendant was wasting their time unless they could field dozens of councillors (ie they already had a credible party)
    Engaging more voters to vote is better democracy. Making leaders “accountable” to all residents across the borough is better democracy. Yes it could be improve further – but we should all benefit from the major improvements to democracy that a DEMOC brings.

    • The maxim “If voting could change anything, it would be made illegal” is being updated by the Conservatives. They want to change the law to stop the voting system changing anything they don’t like.

      With their Election Bill, they want to stop Londoners having more than one vote for the Mayor, in the hope of defeating Labour in 2024. If that doesn’t succeed, they’ll do what Thatcher did to the GLC, and abolish the London Assembly.

      They also want to force people to carry ID if they want to vote, as they know this will lead to voter suppression of those least likely to back the Tories. It’s also a pathway to compulsory ID for all citizens.

      The Tories don’t care about democracy or the rule of law, just power, and they will do anything to acquire and retain it and use it to dominate us.

  2. Gavin Palmer says:

    The safety first is voting for an independent candidate for Mayor twice thus keeping out the all powerful two main parties. Thats the only solution as otherwise one or other main party candidate is likely to get in and the ding dong of changing administration, sending a hospital pass or covering up will continue.

  3. Jamie Watson says:

    I saw a guide to the elections in Scotland and their systems appears to be to rank all the candidates you wish. This seems much fairer and I feel would lead to an end of the north/south Lab/Con travesty that is Croydons local elections.

    In my ward we have 3 Tory candidates, I’d vote for any of the others to get them out but for it not to be Labour yet the sheer number of alternate candidates means it would be impossible for the electorate to all make this choice. Ranking would mean this could be achieved. Electoral reform very much needed

  4. The article is informative: I draw the conclusion that being able to state a second preference is better than not being able to, but less democratic than the option suggested by Andy, even though I haven’t yet fully understood it!

    • The important thing to consider is not to waste your second preference.
      Being “kind” to a candidate from outside the political duopoly by donating your second preference vote to them will not help. It more than likely won’t get counted.
      But you can shift things with a first preference vote for someone who bucks the established system.

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