Independent minds — more on voting
In my last article on ranked choice voting or the single transferable vote, I mentioned some advantages to that system. I forgot to include one, which requires some further elaboration. Here it is.
RCV encourages independents (and minor party candidates) to run in and influence an election without spoiling it. Since voters rank individual candidates, regardless of affiliation, independent and minor party candidates can, subject to ballot access rules, stand in an RCV election in the same way as candidates from larger political groups. The system does not discriminate between any candidate as a result.
The political effect might be different depending on whether one post is to be filled or several simultaneously. I will focus on how it will work for multi-member elections, which are usually for councils or assemblies. In this case, independents (and minor party candidates) can win seats if they receive at least the minimum number of votes to be elected.
The formula for this minimum, otherwise known as a quota, is the number of valid votes cast, divided by the number of seats to be filled plus one, and one vote is usually added to the resulting quotient. Votes in excess are allocated according to the next available preferences, and votes for candidates at the bottom are distributed in the same way. This process continues until the count results in choosing the required number.
The question then arises: isn’t having many parties or independent candidates represented going to result in chaos in an assembly or council? This objection is a common one raised by PR’s opponents. It is often a sweeping generalization that doesn’t consider the political culture of a particular place or group.
One possible answer for RCV’s advocates is that the multi-member variant is not prone to the perceived problem. The reason is that, depending on how large the district or council is, the quota can be high enough to prevent smaller groups and some independents from entering the body. What counts is that candidates who have that level of support from voters overall in a given area will make it without the system imposing a threshold of some sort below which parties can’t get in. This is the case in countries like Germany and New Zealand, where the threshold is usually 5% of the party vote.
Therefore, most advocates for multi-member RCV favor keeping the district size as small as possible, usually between three to five seats, as a “natural threshold” to prevent the election of parties or independents without a significant level of local support. The result will still be broadly representative of the views and interests of a given set of voters.
Despite this natural threshold, though, independents and minor parties can influence the outcome. If voters rank independent candidates, for instance, and are in a losing position, all their votes will go to other candidates according to the next usable preference. This situation incentivizes candidates in a stronger position to appeal to voters of that eliminated candidate. These candidates can urge voters of an unsuccessful independent candidate to give them their second or subsequent preferences.
At the same time, an independent candidate who receives at least a quota has an incentive to encourage voters to give their subsequent preferences to other candidates. These candidates, in turn, will benefit from the surplus votes. This allows independent candidates to garner enough community support and build “coalitions” with other candidates and their supporters.
What matters for me, in the end, is that this system encourages the election of respected local candidates who may not have ties to a political party at all. I think this development is a positive one. There should be room in the policy-making process for people who can think outside the box and work against ideological polarization.
That’s it for now about electoral systems. I will return to other things later or tomorrow because I’ve got good news to announce by then.