Democracy is in retreat globally, hastened by multiple dysfunctions. To reduce the UK’s own numerous democratic deficits, support is growing for some kind of proportional representation (PR), but key Labour politicians remain unconvinced. We propose a straightforward solution: existing versions of PR can be greatly simplified and improved on by giving each representative voting power in the assembly proportional to the number of votes they actually received from the electorate: Votes-Weighted Representation (VWR).
In other words, representatives ‘vote the votes’ that elected them, rather like proxy voting. This model can tip the argument towards PR by fixing easy-to-attack flaws in current models, including complexity, disproportionality, far too many wasted votes, excessive party boss control, and loss of local links – which many PR enthusiasts do not sufficiently address.
How Votes-Weighted Representation works
Under Votes-Weighted Representation, a country/region is divided into multi-member constituencies. Each voter has a single vote. Ballot papers list each party, followed by its candidates in that constituency. Voters rank candidates and/or parties, as with the Single Transferable Vote (STV). If a voter only ranks a party, its local candidates are deemed to be ranked in the order listed. To spread its votes between more of its representatives, a party can list its candidates in different orders in different parts of a constituency.
As with STV, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated; their votes are transferred to next preferences, to avoid wasting votes. This is repeated until the number of candidates left equals the number to elect (six or seven, say).
But, in a significant improvement and simplification to STV, rather than donating ‘spare’ votes to less-matching lower preferences (often even in a different party), each elected representative keeps all of their votes – including transfers to them – and ‘carries’ them into the assembly as their ‘vote weight’ or voting power. We can total these up more easily by counting in ‘round thousands’; for example, 35,499 votes gets a weight of 35. There are more details in this recent peer-reviewed article.
Votes-Weighted Representation is a better model
Votes-Weighted Representation will allow a much closer, multi-dimensional matching of candidates to voters, with far fewer wasted votes than systems with some kind of electoral threshold – explicit or implicit – but lacking vote transfers from unsuccessful candidates. VWR with six-member constituencies will typically yield moderately high effective electoral thresholds, but below the equivalent STV ‘quota’ of 14.3% (1/7): the more votes have been concentrated into popular candidates, the lower the effective threshold.
For all the reasons above, Votes-Weighted Representation will achieve better proportionality of assembly voting power than existing PR systems, while still avoiding excessive party fragmentation, and thus difficulties forming coalitions.
Voters with particular preferences are free to override parties’ candidate orderings. Moderately popular independents will be readily electable, based on Ireland’s STV experience. If several representatives from the same party are elected, they can be linked to different sub-constituencies for casework. Voters will be more able to approach a representative they actually voted for than under current systems. Video calls can help circumvent any geographical barriers.
VWR can democratise democracy – and save it
‘Complexity’ is a pretext used to attack all current forms of PR. Votes-Weighted Representation is simpler to understand, explain, and justify. Compared with existing voting systems, VWR will allow more accountable, more responsive, and finer-grained coverage of multi-dimensional political space, including between elections.
Votes-Weighted Representation is the only PR system satisfying all of the criteria in the Make Votes Matter Good Systems Agreement, agreed by proportional representation supporters from across all the major political parties. VWR will help to democratise democracy, and stem the destructive rising tide of strongman ‘leaderism’, party and government capture, and de-democratisation.
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