Proportional Representation Using Simple Paper Ballots

(JBH) The following is something that I wrote a few years ago, for a list of supporters of election reform.

Subscribers to this list are likely to already be supporters of proportional representation. The method of PR most commonly used around the world, Party List, uses simple ballots easily counted by hand.

In Party List, each organized political party publishes a list of their candidates, in order of priority. Voters vote for one party. Votes are tallied, and the seats in the legislature are divided among the parties in proportion to the votes each party has received- a party with 20% of the vote gets 20% of the seats. The party then fills these seats from the top of their list. This method is used in some form in many countries, each country tinkering with the details.

The major objection to Party List is that it gives too much power to the organized political parties. The party decides where to rank each of its candidates in its published list, and this fact means that
office-holders are primarily beholden to the PARTY for their seats, rather than to the voters. Independent candidates find it difficult to win seats.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) provides effective PR without party slates. STV is used in Ireland and Australia and a few cities, usually with districts limited to between five to ten seats per district.
Independent candidates compete easily, on equal footing with party-affiliated candidates. But it requires that the voters fill out a ranked ballot, ranking the candidates in order of the voter's
preference. It becomes unwieldy if the number of seats to be allocated gets much beyond 7, because the number of candidates gets too large for voters to deal with. The voters must list their preferences in rank order for 20, 30, 40 candidates, and many don't know what their preferences are for most on the list.

In Australia, such long lists have created a largely "party list" system, in that the parties distribute "voter guides" with recommended rankings, and (I have heard) the ballots offer a place to check if you want to vote the party's preference ranking instead of entering your own. Most people do.

Candidate List is a method that combines the virtues of both Party list and STV.

Candidate List requires each individual candidate to publish a list of all the candidates on the ballot, in order of THAT candidate's preference. This is essentially a "ranked choice ballot" issued by the candidate, instead of by the party or the voter.

In a single-seat election, each voter votes for ONE candidate. In a multi-seat election, they could have one vote for each open seat, with all candidates eligible for all seats (so, for example, if a voter
desired, they could vote for the same candidate for every open seat, or distribute their votes between several favored candidates, in the style of "cumulative voting"). The votes are tallied for each candidate. The candidates' ordered lists, with their vote totals, are then used as the input data for an STV election (for a multi-seat election) or some variety of Condorcet (for a single-seat election).

Selling this idea will probably require explaining STV and Condorcet to the public, but it may be that a lot of people will be satisfied just to know that STV has been in use in several countries for decades, and Condorcet has been vetted by scholars as being the best and fairest method for single-seat elections; "round-robin tournament instant runoff", not that hard to understand, the only complications being in tie-breaking. I'll write some other posts soon explaining these two election methods.

So, Candidate List gives us Condorcet for single-seat elections, and STV-proportional representation for multi-seat elections, with the voters using just an ordinary ballot on which they pick their single
favorite, or their favorite for each open seat. They don't have to deal with ranking 20 or 30 candidates. The administrators of the election don't have to deal with thousands or millions of ranked ballots. The STV or Condorcet calculations will be simple enough (with only a limited
number of different kinds of ranked ballots as input) to be published, and inspected by the public, after the election, so that the public will be satisfied by the logic of the selection.

A commenter has pointed out that we could allow other parties, other than candidates, to put lists on the ballot; for example, the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association could mount whatever was needed (petition drive, filing fee, whatever) to get on the ballot, and post their own list of all the candidates in their organization's order of preference, even if they were not running a candidate themselves.

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