The Win­ner Takes It All

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

If you be­lieve that Democ­racy has any­thing to do with “one man, one vote” (sorry ladies, it’s just a say­ing) then the Cre­ole Lan­guage might help put you right; I’ll get back to that in a minute, but for now let’s talk about pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which is the main ri­val to plu­ral­ity-ma­jor­ity vot­ing, the sys­tem that is used in Saint Lu­cia.

Pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion is the vot­ing sys­tem pre­dom­i­nantly used among ad­vanced western democ­ra­cies. For in­stance, in Western Europe, 21 of 28 coun­tries use pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, in­clud­ing Aus­tria, Bel­gium, Cyprus, Den­mark, Fin­land, Ger­many, Greece, Ire­land, Lux­em­bourg, Malta, the Nether­lands, Nor­way, Por­tu­gal, Spain, Swe­den, and Switzer­land.

The ba­sic rule of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion is sim­ple: the num­ber of seats that a party wins in an elec­tion is pro­por­tional to the amount of its sup­port among vot­ers. So if you have a 100-seat leg­is­la­ture and one party wins 50% of the vote, they re­ceive fifty of the hun­dred seats. If a sec­ond party wins 30% of the vote, they get thirty seats; and if a third party gets 20% of the vote, they win twenty seats.

As a rule, pro­por­tional vot­ing sys­tems pro­vide more ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of par­ties, bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion for po­lit­i­cal and racial mi­nori­ties, fewer wasted votes, higher lev­els of voter turnout, bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women, greater like­li­hood of ma­jor­ity rule, and lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for ger­ry­man­der­ing, which is the ma­nip­u­la­tion of the bound­aries of an elec­toral con­stituency so as to favour one party – a not un­com­mon prac­tice in many states, though the smaller the pop­u­la­tion, the eas­ier it is to ma­nip­u­late.

Over 80% of the pro­por­tional sys­tems used world­wide uti­lize some form of partylist vot­ing. It re­mains the sys­tem used in most Euro­pean democ­ra­cies and in many newly de­moc­ra­tized coun­tries, in­clud­ing South Africa.

Each party puts up a list or slate of can­di­dates equal to the num­ber of seats avail­able. In­de­pen­dent can­di­dates may also run, and they are listed sep­a­rately on the bal­lot as if they were their own party. On the bal­lot, vot­ers in­di­cate their pref­er­ence for a par­tic­u­lar party and the par­ties then re­ceive seats in pro­por­tion to their share of the vote. So in a 100-mem­ber dis­trict, if a party wins 40% of the vote, it would win 40 of the 100 seats and, in a closed-list sys­tem, their top 40 can­di­dates would be cho­sen.

In a closed-list sys­tem the party fixes the or­der in which its can­di­dates are listed and elected, and the voter sim­ply casts a vote for the party as a whole. Vot­ers are not able to in­di­cate their pref­er­ence for any can­di­dates on the list, but must ac­cept the list in the or­der pre­sented by the party. Win­ning can­di­dates are se­lected in the ex­act or­der they ap­pear on the orig­i­nal list.

Most Euro­pean democ­ra­cies now use the open-list form of party list vot­ing. This ap­proach al­lows vot­ers to ex­press a pref­er­ence for par­tic­u­lar can­di­dates, not just par­ties. It is de­signed to give vot­ers some say over the or­der of the list and thus which can­di­dates get elected. Vot­ers are pre­sented with un­ordered or ran­dom lists of can­di­dates cho­sen in party pri­maries. Vot­ers can­not vote for a party di­rectly, but must cast a vote for an in­di­vid­ual can­di­date. This vote counts for the spe­cific can­di­date as well as for the party. So the or­der of the fi­nal list com­pletely de­pends on the num­ber of votes won by each can­di­date on the list. The most pop­u­lar can­di­dates rise to the top of the list and have a bet­ter chance of be­ing elected.

Sup­pose 100,000 votes were cast for 10 seats, this would mean each seat was worth 10,000 votes. If a party got 37,000 votes, it would re­ceive 3 seats with a re­main­der of 7,000 votes. Af­ter the first al­lo­ca­tion of seats is com­plete the re­main­der num­bers for the par­ties are com­pared and the par­ties with the largest re­main­ders are al­lo­cated the re­main­ing seats. Ul­ti­mately all the par­ties end up with the num­ber of seats that as closely as pos­si­ble ap­prox­i­mates their per­cent­age of the vote. Scarcely a vote is lost.

In St Lu­cia, if one party re­ceives 2,000 votes and another party re­ceives 2,001 votes, then the ma­jor­ity party wins and 2,000 votes re­main with­out a voice. The Cre­ole word ‘vwa’ means both ‘vote’ and ‘voice’ – in St Lu­cia, many can vote but only the vic­to­ri­ous have a voice.

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