An Analysis of the UK’s Voting Systems

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An Analysis of the UK’s Voting Systems

Kainat Rao

A voting system, often known as an electoral system, is a set of regulations that specify how elections and referendums are conducted and how their outcomes are determined. Peopleadapt electoral processes to select their governments, but commercial, nonprofit and informal groups may also hold non-political elections. These rules govern all aspects of the voting process, including when elections are held, who is eligible to vote, who can run for office, how ballots are marked and cast, how they are counted, how the votes are translated into an election result, the amount that can be spent on campaigns and other factors that may influence the outcome. Political electoral systems are established by constitutions and electoral laws, typically overseen by election commissioners and can employ various election formats for different purposes.

While some electoral systems elect multiple winners, such as members of parliament or boards of directors, others select a single winner for a specific office, such as governor, president, or prime minister. Areas may be divided into constituencies with one or more representatives for the purpose of choosing a legislature. A political party or coalition may present a list of candidates for voters to choose from, or they may vote directly for individual candidates. Among the various types of electoral systems, the most popular ones include ranked voting (also known as STV or instant-runoff voting), Party-list proportional representation, plurality block voting, first-past-the-post voting and two-round (runoff) voting. A few additional electoral systems, such as mixed systems, aim to combine the advantages of proportional and non-proportional systems.

Voting Systems in the UK Voting systems, or electoral systems, are the means by which we elect representatives. A voting system establishes the rules for electing parties and candidates.

The House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and UK local authorities utilize different voting systems.

First-past-the-post voting is used in the House of Commons and local councils in England and Wales.The United Kingdom is divided into constituencies, which are further subdivided into wards. Voters indicate their preferred candidate on a ballot paper by marking an ‘X’ next to their choice in a general or municipal election. The votes are counted, and the candidate with the most votes represents the constituency or ward.Alternative Vote (AV) The Alternative Vote system is used to choose the Lord Speaker, the heads of the majority of House of Commons committees and in by-elections for hereditary peers.Voters rank candidates by marking 1, 2, and 3 and so on to indicate their preferences. Voters can choose to rank as many or as few candidates as they like, or they can support only one candidate. Votes based on first preferences are counted first. A candidate is declared elected if they secure over 50% of the first preference votes. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. The remaining candidates receive second preference votes, and a candidate is declared elected if their total votes exceed the total number of remaining contestants.Supplementary Vote (SV) The Supplementary Vote system is used in elections for Police and Crime Commissioners as well as mayors in England and Wales.

The SV system is similar to the AV system, with voters choosing both a first and second preference. Voters indicate their top choice by checking a box in one column and can add another cross in a different column for their second preference. A candidate is declared elected if they secure over 50% of the first preference votes. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes remain in the race, and other contenders are eliminated. The eliminated candidates’ second preferences are counted and the votes are redistributed to the final two candidates.

Single Transferable Vote (STV) STV is used in elections for the House of Commons deputy speaker, Scottish and Northern Ireland municipal elections and Northern Ireland Assembly elections. From 1979 to 2019, STV was also used in Northern Ireland to elect European Parliament members.STV is used in constituencies where multiple representatives are elected. Voters rank candidates by marking 1, 2, 3, and so on to indicate their preferences. Voters can choose to rank as many or as few candidates as they like, or they can support only one candidate. Each candidate has a quota to meet, which is determined based on the total number of seats and votes cast. The first preference votes for each candidate are tallied.The Additional Member System is used by the National Assembly for Wales, the London Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.Voters are provided with two separate ballots. One vote is cast for a party list and another for a constituency member. List members in Wales and Scotland are selected based on regional representation, while there is a single London-wide list available. First-past-the-post voting is used to elect each constituency’s MPs, with constituency votes counted first. Following that, the votes from the party lists in each area are tallied to elect additional members. The number of list members elected is determined by the proportion of votes cast and takes into account the number of constituency members already elected in the area.The Closed Party List method was used in England, Scotland and Wales to choose representatives for the European Parliament.Under this approach, voters select a party by marking the party’s name on the ballot paper. Parties are allocated seats based on the number of votes they receive in each constituency. In this system, voters choose parties, not individual candidates and the order of candidates on the list is determined by the parties.

This diverse voting system demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to conducting elections. Each system serves distinct purposes and reflects the values and priorities of the electoral process it governs. As such, the choice of a voting system is not merely a technical decision but a reflection of a society’s political culture and democratic aspirations. The UK’s array of electoral systems illustrates the flexibility and adaptability of democracy, as it allows for different methods to be employed in various contexts, catering to the specific needs and preferences of each electoral arena.Ultimately, the effectiveness and fairness of a voting system depend on how well it serves its intended purpose, upholds democratic principles and ensures that the voices of citizens are accurately represented in their government. The ongoing debate over electoral systems underscores the significance of continually evaluating and refining these systems to strengthen the democratic process and maintain the trust of the electorate.

At the end,I think it is very important to acknowledge the contributions of teachers and mentors because they help students and researchers to develop their skills and knowledge. I thankful to Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer who provided me guidance to write on this topic, it is a testament of his commitment to academic and scholarly pursuits.

Kainat Rao. Student of BS Political Science, University of Okara