Malta conducts elections using Single Transferable Vote, a system that would be used in urban electoral districts under RUP in BC.
In Malta, STV asks voters to give a preference ranking to as many candidates on the ballot as they would like in numerical order (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th , etc.). To win a seat, candidates must receive a quota of votes which is determined by taking the number of valid votes and dividing them by the number of seats plus one. The citizens of Malta elect 65 MPs to the House of Representatives. There are 5 MPs per electoral district and there are 13 districts. The maximum length of a parliamentary term is 5 years.
The most recent election was held on June 3rd, 2017. There was a voter turnout of 92.1% with the Labour Party getting 37 seas (52.23% of the seats) and 55.04% of the popular vote. The average time that governments are in power is 4.5 years. The current Maltese parliament consists of 67 members from 3 parties, the Labour Party, the Nationalist Party and the Democratic Party (who are allied with the Nationalist Party). The Labour Party has 55.04% of the popular vote and the Nationalist Party has 43.68%.
Since 1945 there have been 19 general elections. 15 of these have resulted in majority governments, 1 has resulted in a minority government, and 3 have resulted in coalition governments. Since 1971, the Labour and Nationalist Parties have dominated the electoral arena with no serious competition from smaller parties. These two parties provide ideological opposites with the Nationalist Party being Conservative and the Labour Party being Socialist. Both parties present an electoral manifesto and run campaigns that are primarily focused on issues and leadership. Their campaigns tend to focus on differences in political aims and focus on how the other parties have performed in the past. They both have their own newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. There is a lot of focus on negative campaigning and advertising and strategic releases of incriminating materials or allegations about politicians from other parties. They are also very specific when choosing candidates and have mechanisms for formal approval of candidates. This enables them to exclude people who are unfit for their party for either personal or political reasons, however it is rare that a party will reject a person who is interested in becoming a candidate. Additionally they both routinely over-nominate candidates. For example, they will run ten or more candidates for a five-member district. Although this could enable them to win four or five seats in the district, the most common result is a 3:2 split of the seats and no major party has ever accomplished a sweep of five seats. The size and the strength of the two main parties have prevented smaller parties from taking any significant power.
The Scottish Parliament is elected using the Mixed-Member Proportional system, one of the three PR systems available to vote for in the BC referendum. If passed, this system would also be used in rural electoral districts under RUP.
Scotland’s Parliament is comprised of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). 73 are elected through FPTP as constituency MSPs, and 56 through Proportional ballots as regional MSPs. The combination of regional and constituency seats ensures the composition of the Parliament closely represents the popular vote. Each individual in Scotland is represented by 1 constituency MSP and 7 regional MSPs.
The very first Scottish election took place in 1999. Despite the precedent of the UK’s elections under FPTP, Scotland’s were immediately established using MMP. This PR system was purposely chosen for its tendency to avoid majority governments, in addition with the notion that coalitions force political parties to work together. Although one election has resulted in a majority government (2011), the remaining ones have produced minority or coalition governments. These governments fulfilled their expectations of collaborating, and there has yet to be a Scottish government that dissolved before its designated term of 4 years (5 years as of the last election). The same 5 parties have continued to form Parliament, with an addition of smaller parties and independents on occasion.
Regional seats have impacted elections by maintaining that Parliament accurately reflects the popular vote. Oddly enough, these seats do not appear to benefit or penalize one party alone. In 2007, the Labour Party won 50% of the constituency seats despite only receiving 32% of the constituency vote. Meanwhile, the National Party had 33% of the constituency vote and held only 29% of the seats. As a result, the National Party received almost three times the number of additional regional seats than the Labour Party. Had only the constituency seats been counted, the Labour Party would have held a majority government. Instead, the regional ‘top up’ seats gave the National Party a minority government which better represented the popular vote. These additional seats benefited the National Party, however, MMP in Scotland has proven not to systematically advance this party.
In 2016, a large disparity in constituency seats compared to popular vote found the National Party was over-represented. With about 47% of the constituency vote, the National Party managed to win over 80% of the constituency seats. This left fewer seats for the other parties, most notably the Conservative and Labour parties who each achieved about 22% of the constituency vote (44% in total), but received only 10% and 4% of seats. The majority of regional seats was therefore awarded to the smaller four parties, and the National Party was only given a handful. Though the National Party still held more seats than any other party in total, they were reduced to a minority government since they held a minority of the popular vote. Unlike the 2007 election, the National Party was awarded a smaller amount of regional seats, given that they had already won an abundance of constituent seats.
The delegation of local and regional seats in Scotland’s elections has allowed proportionality to be balanced with representation. Constituency seats have prevented the forfeiture of local representation while regional seats have ensured that no individual party undermines the power of the others. This system has created an environment where minority governments are prevalent and instability can flourish, however Scottish politicians have overcome this threat thus far to avoid deadlocks and early elections.
New Zealand conducts its elections using the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system. This system is one of the three proposed proportional representation systems in the BC referendum. The MMP would also be used in rural electoral districts under the proposed Rural Urban Proportional (RUP).
Under MMP, voters in New Zealand have 2 votes: one vote is for Members of Parliament from single-member electorates (called district seats in BC’s proposed system of MMP) and the other to elect MPs from a party list (called regional seats in BC). There are 71 single-member electorate seats, each representing one member of parliament (MP) who is elected using a first past the post (FPTP) system. The 49 remaining MPs are elected from a party list. Electing MPs from a party list ensures that the total number of seats each political party gets in parliament reflects its total number of votes. The party list vote also requires a five percent threshold for parties to get its share of the seats in Parliament.
From 1938 to 1993, New Zealand conducted elections using FPTP. The country only saw majority governments during this time which produced stable and efficient parliaments. Despite this stability, there was a growing discussion around electoral reform due to the results of past elections. In 1939, the National and Labour parties made up 96% of the popular vote and they made up 98% of the seats. They remained relatively uncontested until the seventies and eighties when New Zealand saw a rise in support for smaller parties. Parties like the Social Credit were gaining the popular vote, but were hardly represented in government. This peaked in 1981 when the Social Credit Party received 20% of the popular vote and won 2% of the seats.
In response to demands for electoral reform, the government held a referendum in 1992. Voters were asked if they wanted to keep FPTP or switch to a different system. A second question let voters choose which system they would consider switching to. 85% of voters chose to change the electoral system and 65% prefered MMP over 3 other types of PR. The government decided to hold a second referendum during the next general election in 1993 before changing the system to try to get a higher voter turnout. 54% of voters chose MMP over FPTP, a slim majority but enough for the government to change the system.
Electoral reform has seen between 5 and 8 parties running the New Zealand Parliament compared to 2 to 4 under FPTP. While this means that the disproportionality between votes and seats is lower and there is more party representation, it also means that governments are forced to make alliances. Since the implementation of MMP, New Zealand has only ever seen coalition governments. This creates a potential for more instability and deadlocks in the government. The new system caused some confusion during the formation of the first government, however ever since, the government has formed fairly quickly.
New Zealand holds its general election every 3 years. Since the implementation of MMP, there has been only one instance where the Prime Minister decided to hold an early election, which was merely 4 months earlier than the designated election time. The official reason for the early election was because the governing party lost the confidence of its coalition partner, however there was some speculation that an early election could have favoured the Prime Minister.
There was another referendum in 2011 which asked voters whether they wanted to keep using the MMP system or change to another system. It also asked which system they would prefer if not MMP. The most favourable non-MMP system was FPTP but 58% of voters chose to keep MMP so switching to a second option was not considered.
FPTP worked well in New Zealand under a two party system. Two or three parties made for simple elections that produced stable majority governments. However the consequence of FPTP was that it didn’t support the rise of smaller parties. MMP has given New Zealand the opportunity to turn into a multi-party system which has brought more voices to Parliament, however it has also provided a potential for more instability.
On October 10, 2007, the same day as the provincial election, the province of Ontario held a referendum on electoral reform. On election day voters were given two ballots: one to elect their Member of the Provincial Parliament and another to choose an electoral system.
The Ontario government began the process toward electoral reform by creating The Citizens’ Assembly of 103 ordinary citizens. The assembly was given a mandate to propose which electoral system would replace the First Past the Post (FPTP) system if Ontario voted against keeping the current FPTP system. The Citizens’ Assembly proposed the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. On the ballot voters were asked to decide whether they wanted to retain the current FPTP system or replace it with the MMP system.
The adoption of the MMP system required that MMP receive a “supermajority” of the votes. To obtain a “supermajority” of the votes, requires the support of 60 percent of the voters across Ontario, plus at least 50 percent of the voters in 64 of the 107 ridings. If the MMP system recieved a “supermajority” then the MMP would replace Ontario’s FPTP system and the legislature at Queen’s Park would expand. The legislature would grow from 107 members to 129 members, and the number of ridings would decrease from 107 to 90. The remaining 39 members would be selected by the parties and become “list members” distributed among the political parties to reflect each parties percentage of the vote.
At the time of the referendum the politicians at Queen’s Park were also preparing for a provincial election. The governing Liberals were split as to which system to support, and Premier Dalton McGuinty refused to give an official government stance. The Conservative Party of Ontario took no position either, maintaining a neutral stance on the referendum. In contrast, the New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP) and the Green party of Ontario both supported electoral reform and the adoption of the MMP system. NDP leader Howard Hampton stated, “I think what we’ve seen in Ontario is a government wins a majority and then want to behave almost as a four-year dictatorship”. This claim made by Hampton supported the NDP and Green party desire of electoral reform as a means for a greater balance of power through a better distribution of the seats in the Legislative Assembly.
Outside of Queen’s Park the citizens of Ontario were divided into opponents of MMP and proponents of MMP. Proponents of MMP supported the system because it would lead to an increase in small grassroots parties and better representation of women and minorities. The opponents of MMP opposed the system because they feared that MMP would splinter the legislature and put the balance of power in the hands of fringe parties.
Elections Ontario, a non-partisan organization of the Ontario government, was given a mandate to inform the citizens of Ontario about the referendum. Elections Ontario launched a 6.8-million-dollar public education campaign that started in August of 2007. During the campaign’s final phase in the weeks before October 10th, Elections Ontario held hundreds of community presentations, sent out 5 million flyers and placed advertisements in the province’s newspapers, radio station and on websites to inform the electorate of the electoral reform referendum.
Days before the referendum date an article written by Steve Rennie of the Canadian press discussed findings that 3 million of the 8.4 million eligible voters were unaware of the referendum. The other 5.4 million voters were aware of the referendum, but slightly more than half of these voters described themselves as somewhat or very knowledgeable about the referendum. This lack of public knowledge lead to criticism of Election Ontario’s job of informing voters about the referendum. Ryerson University political scientist Daniel Rubenson stated that the referendum “ [had] the potential to have pretty big consequences … on the political landscape” and that “[Elections Ontario] should have been out much earlier…with much more information.”
The voters of Ontario rejected the proposed electoral reform, with 63.15 percent of voters casting their ballots in favour of the current FPTP system, and only 36.85 percent of voters in favour of MMP.
Italy conducts its elections using the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system. This system is one of the three proposed proportional representation systems in the BC referendum. The MMP would also be used in rural electoral districts under the proposed Rural Urban Proportional (RUP).
In Italy there are 630 members in the chamber of deputies and 321 members in the senate. In both the chamber of deputies and senate one-third of the seats are elected using the First Past the Post system (FPTP). The other two-third of the members are allocated proportionally using a party-list. The Chamber holds slightly more power but approval from the Senate is required for major legislation.
Italy has a long and complicated relationship with PR, and although they have gone through many different electoral systems, they have seemingly yet to find ‘the one’. The system used after World War II had a very low threshold for the required number of votes that a party needed to win a seat. This meant that while the parliament was mainly composed of the Christian Democrats and the Communists, there were always a variety of small parties that would win some of the seats. In the decades that followed, other parties started to gain power and governments were usually formed by a coalition of socialist parties that opposed the Communists. Even though together these parties held a majority, they were often divided in their policies. The result was a trend of short-lived governments who failed due to a lack of cooperation in the socialist coalition. When the government did last, it was often thanks to corruption. After the Cold War, the Communist Party completely changed its platform and a massive investigation found every major party to be guilty of some form of corruption. The people blamed the electoral system and adopted a form of MMP in 1994.
This new system was similar to MMP in that a portion of the seats were awarded in accordance with the popular vote. However the system was very unique in that proportional seats were counted without considering the makeup of the district seats. This meant that the system relied heavily on the results of district seats that were awarded using FPTP. The new system failed to reduce instability and coalition governments often still dissolved fairly quickly, however it was made worse with the inability to control both levels of the government. The Senate and the Chamber counted votes slightly differently and as a result, the composition of the two were never the same. This meant that even if a party did control the Chamber, they were often prevented from passing any major legislation because they did not control the Senate.
In an attempt to prevent governments from falling apart, and possibly in an attempt to gain more power for his own party, the Prime Minister introduced a new type of system in 2005 for the Chamber. Instead of electing representatives using districts, this new system would count the entire country’s popular vote, however, to avoid minority governments the party with the most votes would automatically be given 55% of the seats. While a party could now control the Chamber, it was still prevented from easily passing major legislation because of the Senate. As well, Italy’s highest court ruled the new system unconstitutional and therefore the system was required to change yet again. After much debate, the new system was finally enacted in 2017 in time for the most recent election. This is the system of MMP that Italy uses today and resulted in three months of negotiations before a government could be formed.
Italy has struggled to find an electoral system that works for its country. The past few decades have left the Italian people with governments that generally fail to last more than a few years. There has been debate over adopting the FPTP system with the idea that it could produce stronger majority governments but people worry that it would change Italian politics too much by abandoning their multi-party system to favour two or three parties. The new system appears to have changed very little in Italy and the threat of instability is still very much alive. That being said, only time will tell whether or not the new electoral system will last or if the current system will yet again be given the Italian boot.
Sweden conducts its elections using the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system. This system is one of the three proposed proportional representation systems in the BC referendum. The MMP would also be used in rural electoral districts under the proposed Rural Urban Proportional (RUP).
Germany conducts its elections using the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system. This system is one of the three proposed proportional representation systems in the BC referendum. The MMP would also be used in rural electoral districts under the proposed Rural Urban Proportional (RUP).
Ireland conducts its elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. This system is one of the three proposed proportional representation systems in the BC referendum. The STV would be used in urban electoral districts under the proposed Rural Urban Proportional (RUP).
Since Ireland’s independence in 1922, members of the Irish Parliament (Dáli Eireann) have been elected using STV. Irish TDs (Teachta Dálas or Representatives in the Dáli Eireann) represent 40 constituencies and are elected at least once every five years. Each constituency elects between 3-5 TDs with a total of 158 TDs elected to the Dáli Eireann. The Constitution of Ireland sets a ratio of one TD per 20,000 - 30,000 people and electoral boundaries must be reviewed at least once every twelve years to accommodate changes in the population.
Since 1945 there have been 20 parliamentary elections. Most of these resulted in minority or coalition governments however, a few did end with one party taking a majority of the seats. Majority governments were more likely earlier in Ireland’s electoral history because elections were mainly only contested by two parties. Despite the same two parties still being the main contenders today, more parties have gained popularity which has resulted in more coalition and minority governments. Coalition governments have been relatively successful in recent years but have also faced some challenges. The most extreme case of parties failing to collaborate in Ireland’s multi-party system goes back to the 1980s. A general election was held in June of 1981 but the government lost its support and an election was forced to be called for February of 1982. Problems didn’t stop there and another election was held in November of the same year with the Irish people seeing 3 elections in just 18 months. The results in the three elections hardly changed and by the third election the government finally realized that they would have to work together if they wanted to get anything done. This case was extreme and recent elections have been held every 4 or 5 years, however it shows that the possibility of instability is present.
In the last election, which was held on February 26th, 2016, there was a voter turnout of 65.1% and no party got more than 26% of the seats. The minority coalition government that was formed was made up of the Fine Gael party, Independents, and one Labor party member. It took two months of negotiations for the TDs to vote for a Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Enda Kenny won with 59 votes to 49, while the 43 Fine Gael TDs abstained. As a result, he only got the support of 59 votes in a Dáli of 158 members which created a government that was considered to be very unstable and people worried that they would have to call another election.
The country held referendums in 1959 and 1968 to replace STV with First Past the Post. This was in response to concerns with proportional representation, however others accused the Fianna Fáil party of holding the referendums in the hope that their party could achieve a majority under a different system. A referendum is required to be held to change the Irish constitution which includes their electoral system. The referendums were unsuccessful both times with less than 50% of voters supporting a change to FPTP.
The United Kingdom conducts elections using the First Past The Post system, the system that is currently used in BC.
HOW THE UK VOTES
The UK is divided into 650 constituencies, which all have a similar number of people. There are 533 constituencies in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland. Candidates who get the most votes in their constituency obtain a seat in the UK’s lower chamber of parliament, the House of Commons. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords are appointed (rather than elected) by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister.
THE CURRENT PARLIAMENT
The most recent election was held on 8th June 2017 and resulted in a hung parliament with no single party winning an overall majority. The Conservative Party (315 seats) formed a minority government and signed a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (10 seats), a Northern Irish party. The Labour Party obtained the second highest number of seats with 257 and the Scottish National Party, third most with 35 seats.
The UK’s electoral system has a tendency to favour large parties. The Labour Party became the main opposition party to the Conservatives following a Conservative-Liberal coalition in the 1918 General Election. Ever since World War II the Labour and Conservative parties have been the only two parties to achieve power. First Past The Post has regularly led to majority governments, however the 2010 election saw the first hung parliament since 1974. An election resulting in nobody taking a majority of the seats was not a surprise and it took the Conservative leader less than a week to secure a coalition and form government. A similar result occurred in 2017 when the Conservatives had to again form a coalition with a smaller party to maintain power. Throughout the UK’s history, there has only ever been a handful of minority governments. While some were successful, these governments were unstable and not all of them ended in success.
One benefit of FPTP in the UK is that it has generally produced majority governments that have been able to focus on their party’s agenda. However the consequence is that it does not always accommodate for smaller parties in the UK’s multi-party Parliament. The Labour and Conservative parties are often the two groups that benefit the most from the difference between votes and seats. Being the two biggest parties, they usually win at least 10% more seats than their overall share of the vote. Meanwhile, smaller parties that are becoming stronger often receive little or no seats. The United Kingdom is very large and their Parliament elects people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Because of this, it is not unusual for the UK to see around 10 parties holding a seat, however most of them are usually very small in the overall makeup of the Parliament. The issue around majority governments is that these smaller parties fail to have a substantial voice in the overall political process. Frustration with under-representation in the UK likely caused Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to all adopt a form of PR when they formed their own Parliaments in the 1990s. Oddly enough, favouring one party to form a majority can also harm the major parties as well. In 2005, the Labour Party took 55% of the seats with 35% of the popular vote. Meanwhile, the Conservatives who had 32% of the vote only won 31% of the seats. This demonstrates that both of the major parties do not always benefit from the FPTP system at the same time. Instead, one of the two parties tends to be awarded most or all of the power. While majority governments can run smoothly, they often have only a minority of the support of the people which can mean that a majority of the population’s concerns are not being met under their government. Members of smaller parties are starting to advocate for electoral reform to better represent their multi-party system but it is not a major focus in UK politics at the moment.
The UK has over-represented its main two political parties to achieve a stable trend of majority governments. As a consequence it gives less power to smaller parties and has failed to recognize their increasing support. Minority governments in the United Kingdom’s history have not been entirely successful therefore a system that supports majority governments may seem to be beneficial. However, with two of the last three elections ending with no party taking a majority, and the third ending with a slim majority, it has to be considered whether or not coalitions will become more common, even under the guidance of FPTP.
From October 29 to November 7, the province of Prince Edward Island held a non-binding referendum on electoral reform.
The government of Prince Edward Island began the process towards electoral reform by proposing five electoral systems for the referendum. The five voting systems proposed were First Past the Post (the current system), First Past the Post Plus Leaders, Dual Member Proportional Representation, Mixed Member Proportional Representation and Preferential Voting.
The referendum asked the electorate to rank each system according to their preference. Voters did not have to include every system in their ranking and could rank as many as five systems or as few as one. If one of the systems received more than half of the votes, it would automatically be considered the winning system and would be adopted as the new electoral system. If no system received more than fifty percent of votes, then the system with the fewest votes would be eliminated from the ballot. The second choices of voters who selected this last-placing system as their first choice would then be redistributed to the other four systems. If still no system received a majority of votes, the system with the lowest number of votes would be eliminated. Counting would continue in this manner until a system received a fifty percent majority.
The provincial government allowed citizens aged sixteen and seventeen years old to vote in the referendum. Elections PEI allowed for voting to be held online. Electronic voting was used by Elections PEI to make voting more accessible to the electorate. The online voting began October 29 at noon and continued until November 7 at 19:00. Regular polling stations were also open on November 4 and 5.
It took five rounds of counting for one system to receive a majority. After the fifth and final round of counting, MMP received 52.4 percent of the vote while FPTP received 42.8 percent of the vote. Only 36.4 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot and the largest age demographic that voted was people aged 65-74.
The low voter turnout was one of the reasons contributing to P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s decision not to implement the MMP system. MacLauchlan claimed that the vote did not reflect the majority of Islanders due to the low voter turnout. Another referendum on electoral reform will be held during the next General Election in 2019.
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