First Past The Post - Features
This is our current electoral system (for general elections within the UK)
The country is split into 650 constituencies. Each constituency returns one Member of Parliament (MP). Only one candidate can be nominated per party, although independents can run too. Voters have one vote each, they chose their preferred candidate by putting a cross in the box next to their name on the ballot paper. Whichever candidate receives the largest number of votes is elected. They only have to get one vote more than the next highest candidate which is known as gaining a simple majority or plurality. They don’t need to get over 50%. What this means is that the majority of MPs have been voted in by a minority of total votes, more of their constituency have voted against them than for them!
First Past The Post - Effect
It does not award seats in proportion to the number of votes cast. The winning party usually receive a far higher proportion of seats than votes. For example: in 1997 Labour won 43.3% of the vote but 63.4% of the seats.
It favours the two main parties, penalising the third party. This is arguably highly unfair as it effectively means that people’s votes aren’t of equal worth. On average it took 27,000 votes to elect a Labour MP in 2005 but 97,000 votes to elect each Lib Dem MPs.
Apart from the last election, FPTP produces strong, single-party governments. Aside from the 2010 election we have not had a non-majority government since the 1978 Lib/Lab Pact and havent had a coalition for over 60 years. Single party governments can be stronger and more decisive and are not produced as often with other electoral systems
First Past The Post - Good or Bad?
There are strong MP-Constituency links. It produces strong, decisive governments which are what is needed during difficult times It delivers a government which has a mandate to govern because the majority of the electorate have voted for them and their policies as outlined in their manifesto. They can stick to these promises as they don’t have to compromise.
Votes are not equal which undermines democratic values. This is ‘unfair’. It does not proportionally reflect the votes and choices of the electorate. Governments are elected on a minority of the total votes cast which means they lack legitimacy. Votes e.g. those for smaller parties are wasted. Voters have only one vote, their choice is narrow. Hard for new parties to enter the political system.
Electoral systems are split into 3 categories:
1)Plurality system – FPTP is the only real example. Only a plurality is needed to win, that is more votes than any other candidate.
2)Majority system – such as the Supplementary vote, second ballot and AV. Ensures the winning party/candidate has a broad majority of support from the electorate. They must receive over 50% of votes.
3)Proportional Representation – like list systems and STV. Tries to convert votes into seats in a proportional way.
Majority system. Tends to be used to elect individuals, not parties. Each voter has two votes, a first and second choice. They will place a 1 next to their first choice candidate and a 2 next to the other. If one candidate has secured 50% of the first choice votes they are elected. Failing that the top two candidates go on to the next round . The 2nd choice votes on all the other candidates ballots are added to the remaining contenders totals. One of them must now have a majority. Used in the London Mayor Elections.
Alternative Vote - AV
Majority system. Used to elect members of the Australian House of Representatives. Voters may place all candidates in order of preference or they may choose just to vote using their first choice. If no candidate achieves an overall majority of first choice preferences, the bottom candidate is eliminated. Their second preferences are then added to the total. If there is still no candidate with a majority, the next lowest candidate drops out and so on until a candidate achieves a majority. Favours small, but not tiny, parties. So would be good for Lib Dems. Preserves constituencies. Is more proportional than FPTP but still not proportional
Single Transferable Vote - STV
A form of proportional representation. Used in the Northern Ireland Assembly and across the Republic of Ireland. There are multi-member constituencies and parties put forward several candidates. In order to be elected a candidate must receive a given number of votes, known as the quota. Voters vote for candidates in order of preference. This can be based on whatever candidate they like the best or they may chose to vote for all the candidates from one party first. Candidates who achieve the quota on first votes are elected. If they have received more votes than needed, the second preference votes from the ballots are redistributed to the other candidates. Candidates continue to be elected once they have achieved their quota in this way. However, if no more candidates can achieve their quota in this way, but there are still spaces to fill, the losing candidate drops out and their second preference votes are redistributed. This continues until the right number of candidates have achieved the quota. It is highly proportional and means there is wide voter choice.
A form of proportional representation Used in European Parliament Elections Tends to produce multi-party systems The country is divided into regions (usually!) In each region the party produces a list of candidates The voters then chose one of the lists i.e. one of the parties If the party receives 40% of the votes, then the top 40% of their candidates are selected. If it a closed system voters have no influence over which candidates come at the top of the list as this is determines by the party leadership. If it is an open list system then voters can show a preference for certain candidates within a party list which influences in what order candidates will be selected. There is normally a minimum threshold of between 1 – 5% to present really small, extremist parties getting seats.
Additional Member System - AMS
This is a hybrid system. It’s a mix of FPTP and a List system. It’s a compromise in that it retains constituencies whilst still being somewhat proportional. Used for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. A proportion of the seats are awarded through FPTP, the rest are awarded through a regional list system, meaning every voter has two votes, one for the constituency candidate and the other from party lists. So some MPs have a constituency whilst others do not. It is also known as a Mixed Member System.