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Electoral reform

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Electoral reform

Electoral reform is change in electoral systems to improve how public desires are expressed in election results. That can include reforms of:

Continuous change

There are many such movements globally, in almost all democratic countries, as part of the basic definition of a democracy is the right to change the rules. Political science is imperfect; electoral reforms seek to make politics work a bit better, a bit sooner. The solution to the problems of democracy tends to be "more democracy." Electoral reform is a permanent feature of any healthy democracy.

The United Nations Fair Elections Commission provides international observers to national elections that are likely to face challenges by the international community of nations, e.g., in 2001 in Yugoslavia, in 2002 in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations standards address safety of citizens, coercion, scrutiny, and eligibility to vote. They do not impose ballot styles, party diversity, or borders on electoral constituencies. Various global political movements, e.g., labour movements, the Green party, Islamism, Zionism, advocate various cultural, social, ecological means of setting borders that they consider "objective" or "blessed" in some other way. Contention over electoral constituency borders within or between nations and definitions of "refugee", "citizen", and "right of return" mark various global conflicts, including those in Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, the Congo, and Rwanda.

Electoral borders

Redrawing of electoral constituency (or "riding" or "district") borders should be conducted at regular intervals, or by statutory rules and definitions, if for no other reason than to eliminate malapportionment attributable to population movements. Some electoral reforms seek to fix these borders according to some cultural or ecological criterion, e.g., bioregional democracy – which sets borders to fit exactly to ecoregions – to avoid the obvious abuse of "gerrymandering" in which constituency borders are set deliberately to favor one party over another, or to improve management of the public's commonly owned property.

National reforms

National electoral reform projects tend to be simpler and less focused on life-and-death matters. Australia and New Zealand held Royal Commissions to find the best form of "proportional representation" of parties in the legislature and redesigned ballots to select or elect these Members of Parliament.


The Proportional Representation Society of Australia advocates the single transferable vote and proportional representation.


Several national and provincial organizations promote electoral reform, especially by advocating one form or another of proportional representation. The largest Fair Vote Canada. Several referendums to decide whether or not to adopt such reform have been held during provincial elections in the last decade; none has thus far resulted in a change from the plurality system currently in force. Controversially, the threshold for adoption of a new voting system has regularly been set at a "supermajority", for example, 60% of ballots cast approving the proposed system in order for the change to be implemented.

New Zealand

Electoral reform in New Zealand began in 1986 with the report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System entitled Towards A Better Democracy. The Royal Commission recommended that Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) be adopted instead of the current first-past-the-post system. After two referendums in 1992 and 1993, New Zealand adopted MMP. In 2004, some local body elections in New Zealand were elected using single transferable vote instead of the block vote.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has generally used first-past-the-post (FPTP) for many years, but there have been several attempts at reform. A 1910 Royal Commission on Electoral Systems recommended AV be adopted for the Commons.[1] A very limited introduction of single transferable vote (STV) came in the Government of Ireland Act 1914. A Speaker's Conference on electoral reform in January 1917 unanimously recommended a mix of AV and STV for elections to the House of Commons.[1] However, in a vote that August, the Commons rejected STV by 32 votes in the committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill and, by 1 vote, substituted alternative vote (AV). The House of Lords then voted for STV, but the Commons insisted on AV. In a compromise, AV was abandoned and the Boundary Commission were asked to prepare a limited plan of STV to apply to 100 seats. This plan was then rejected by the Commons, although STV was introduced for the university constituencies.[2]

On 8 April 1921, a Private Member's Bill to introduce STV was rejected 211 votes to 112 by the Commons. A Liberal attempt to introduce an Alternative Vote Bill in March 1923 was defeated by 208 votes to 178. On 2 May 1924, another Private Member's Bill for STV was defeated 240 votes to 146 in the Commons.[3]

In January 1931, the minority Labour government, then supported by the Liberals, introduced a Representation of the People Bill that included switching to AV. The Bill passed its second reading in the Commons by 295 votes to 230 on 3 February 1931 and the clause introducing AV was passed at committee stage by 277 to 253. (The Speaker had refused to allow discussion of STV.)[4] The Bill's second reading in the Lords followed in June, with an amendment replacing AV with STV in 100 constituencies being abandoned as outside the scope of the Bill. An amendment was passed by 80 votes to 29 limiting AV to constituencies in boroughs with populations over 200,000. The Bill received its third reading in the Lords on 21 July, but the Labour government fell in August and the Bill was lost.[5]

Elections to the European Parliament in mainland Britain originally used FPTP, but were switched to list PR following pressure to standardise with the rest of the EU.

When Labour regained power in 1997, they introduced a number of new assemblies, in London, Wales and Scotland, and opted for additional member systems of PR in all of these. They also adopted the supplementary vote system for directly-elected mayors. In Scotland, a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition in the new Scottish Parliament later introduced STV for local elections. However, such reforms encountered problems. When 7% of votes (over 140,000) were discounted or spoilt in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary and local council elections, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond protested that "the decision to conduct an STV election at the same time as a first-past-the-post ballot for the Scottish Parliament was deeply mistaken"[6]

In the Take Back Parliament.[7] There is a move to a largely elected Lords. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government held a referendum on introducing AV for the Commons on 5 May 2011, which was defeated. [8]

A number of groups in the United Kingdom are campaigning for electoral reform including the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Count Coalition, Fairshare, and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.

United States

Electoral reform is a continuing process in the United States, motivated by fear of both electoral fraud and disfranchisement.

See also


  1. ^ a b [Butler D (2004). "Electoral reform", Parliamentary Affairs, 57: 734-43]
  2. ^ Butler DE (1953), "The Electoral System in Britain 1918-1951", Oxford University Press
  3. ^ Butler DE (1953), "The Electoral System in Britain 1918-1951", Oxford University Press
  4. ^
  5. ^ Butler DE (1953), "The Electoral System in Britain 1918-1951", Oxford University Press
  6. ^ Gallop, Nick in The Constitution and Constitutional Reform p.29 (Philip Allan, 2011) ISBN 978-0-340-98720-9
  7. ^ Merrick, Jane; Brady, Brian; Owen, Jonathan; Smith, Lewis (9 May 2010). "Clegg is urged to abandon deal as Tories rule out vote reform - UK Politics, UK". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  8. ^ "AV: voters go to the polls to decide whether to change British voting system". The Daily Telegraph (London). 5 May 2011. 

Further reading

  • Dummett, Michael (1997). Principles of Electoral Reform. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-829246-5

External links

  • A Handbook of Electoral System Design from International IDEA
  • ACE Project
  • AEI-Brookings Election Reform
  • Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project
  • Fair Vote Canada
  • Paul McKeever's Testimony to the Select Committee on Electoral Reform: No electoral system is more "democratic" than any other
  • Electoral Reform Wiki
  • Electoral Reform Society (UK)
  • Electoral Reform Canada
  • Proportional Representation Society of Australia
  • Voting Reform Canada
  • Guide to different types of Electoral Reform
  • Electoral reform - A vote of principle. The Guardian. 2010-07-03.
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