20 April 2010

The Big House of Lords Ballot

The Guardian on reform of the House of Lords:
The paper says a reformed second chamber would be 300-strong, with the Commons retaining primacy, and members elected by an open list, proportional system


They would be elected from 12 electoral regions, with nine in England and the other three in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The regions would be drawn up by May 2012.
For those who aren't as interested in the minutiae of electoral systems as I am and aren't aware, this is how open list systems generally work:
  • Each party submits a list of candidates to stand in the seat.
  • Each voter votes for a specific candidate.
  • The total votes for each party are added up and the parties win seats in proportion to their share of the vote.
  • The elected candidates for each party are the candidates with the most votes for that party.
So, as a very simplified example, in a constituency returning 10 representatives, if party X's candidates got 30% of the votes, the 3 candidates from party X with the most votes would be elected.

For those familiar with the mechanics of the European elections in Great Britain, which use closed lists, it produces the same results in terms of the number of seats won by each party, but it puts the decision about who gets elected for each party in the hands of the people voting for that party, rather than allocating them in the order of the list submitted by the party.

In general I prefer open lists to closed lists, but looking at the proposal on offer here, I see a potential problem - the constituency size.

If we're talking about electing 300 people (the initial proposal that the article refers to is to elect two-thirds of the members as a first step, but the implication is that a fully elected house is the end goal) from 12 electoral regions, that means an average of 25 members from each region. On that basis, even if you required a deposit from each individual, rather than the party as a whole, I'd expect the larger parties to average at least 10 candidates, a number of smaller parties averaging at least 5 and a wealth of minor parties fielding 1 or 2 candidates. It wouldn't be exceptional to see constituencies with 80 or more candidates, each requiring space on the ballot paper and a box to put a cross in. That would mean either very small boxes or very big ballot papers.

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