Archive for the 'Voting systems and the electoral process' Category


Conducting elections with the great unwashed during and after a pandemic

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

I’ve seen the future and it’s a world with mostly digital campaigning and only online voting

As someone who expects Covid-19 and variants to be with us for at least the near future our lives we will have to adapt to prevent other pandemics and peaks and for election geeks like ourselves that means changes to how campaigns and voting are conducted, because the relentless optimist that I am I fear pandemics are here to stay.

Campaigning – Like the high streets things will move online

It is likely social distancing will be in place until we find a vaccine which may never come, so the traditional campaigning and going out meeting the great unwashed may not happen, who would want to go meet politicians when you could contract a deadly virus? I’m not sure politicians will be enamoured with the prospect of shaking so many hands. and being up close with so many isn’t attractive. Being stuck on a battle bus for a month long election campaign also doesn’t sound like fun.

For the bloody infantry who do the grunt work in elections going canvassing, visiting people, arranging knock and drops, organising stalls, knocking up the voters on election day look rather unappealing during a pandemic, this sort of hard work over many months and years is how elections are normally won. Does anyone want to take the risk of meeting lots of people who don’t regularly wash their hands?

I suspect during an election campaign, especially if you live in a marginal/target seat, then you won’t be able to go online without seeing political adverts. Social media will be the nexus for politicians to engage whether or not the average voter wants to see such stuff.

Elections – Get ready for online voting

I would sooner ring Deliveroo and order salt and pepper bat wings from a takeaway in Wuhan than endorse online voting in this country but we really won’t be living in a democracy if people are scared to go out and vote so that’s why the way voting is conducted will change.

With the demographic of the Conservative Party’s voters I’m sure the government will make it easier for their older voters to vote. I’m sure the Labour party will support online voting as anything that makes it easier for younger voters to vote they will back it.

Going to the polling station may been as playing Russian roulette with your health. Would you really want to go to place and stand in a confined space that hundreds if not thousands of people have stood in hours before?

Spare a thought for those who actually count the votes and have to touch all those ballot papers, at some venues it will impossible to participate in social distancing, and it might end up making the Californian counting process look prompt, I still think California are still counting the 2016 Presidential election.

Increased postal voting really isn’t an option because if people are shielding going out to post your votes really isn’t viable, and feel sorry for the poor counting staff who have to deal with envelopes with the saliva of the voters used to seal the envelopes as well the ballot papers and said envelopes being touched by thousands of voters.

With some form of social distancing in place we cannot expect people to go to millions of household to collect the postal votes, even before we consider what a nefarious person might do or not do with the postal ballots they are supposed to collect.

This means the end of the exit poll but on the positive side we might have all the results in by around midnight on election night so no more election all nighters.

Whilst the next UK wide general election is scheduled for 2024 there’s no guarantee that Covid-19 or other new similar viruses will not be around then there are some pretty important elections taking place before then.

The one that really could be the defining election is the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election which I expect will become a de facto plebiscite on holding another independence referendum.

The ability of voters to participate will be essential in the defining all four nations of this United Kingdom, but a traditional voting experience won’t be an option if we have another wave of this accursed virus coincides with this election. Perhaps Westminster might follow the approach they used in the 1979 Scottish referendum because that turned out so well.

The political party or parties that adjust to the new reality will succeed, the others probably not.



Today’s Top Tip for Remainers – if there’s a 2nd Referendum demand strict voter photo ID

Monday, October 14th, 2019

And driving licences by age

There’s a case for arguing that the section of the population who’d have most problems with proposed voter ID laws are the elderly who are much less likely to have a passport and/or a driving licence. Given that they were much more likely to vote Leave in june 2016 then you can argue that if the planned changes had been in place then we might have seen a different outcome.

There would likely be provision for those without the relevant voter ID to apply for some sort of document certifying their right to vote. But anything that adds to the complications of voting is surely likely to impact on turnout.

This is from the Electoral Reform Society report on the 2018 voter ID trials

Out of 45 million votes last year, there were just 28 allegations of ‘personation’ (only one was solid enough to result in conviction). And yet the government seems determined to pursue voter ID,a policy we now know could cost up to £20 million per general election. This change to how we vote is a marked departure from the trust-based British way of running elections, and with little evidence to justify it. It’s claimed that mandatory voter ID could boostfaith in the democratic process. Yet according to academic research, 99 percent of election staff do not think fraud has occurred in their polling stations…

If mandatory ID were to be rolled out nationally,it could potentially result in tens of thousands of voters being denied a say. And it would hit the already marginalised hardest: poorer C2DE social grade voters were half as likely to say they were aware of the ID requirements before the trials this May. And despite the costly publicity campaign this time, after election day,an average of around a quarter of residents were not aware of the pilots in four of the council areas – around four in 10 were not aware in Watford.

As we know the C2DE section of population were much more likely to back Leave.

Mike Smithson


New adventures in electoral systems. Approval voting

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Settle down at the back, I can tell you’re getting overexcited. The midterm elections in the US have been endlessly pored over. One result, however, may have more far-reaching effects than most. Or not.

Politics does not want for different voting systems. We have first past the post, the method used to elect MPs. We have the single transferable vote, the method used to elect TDs in Ireland. Around the world you find a variety of systems of proportional representation for selecting legislatures, such as the D’Hondt method, the Webster method and the Imperiali method. The Labour party selects its leader by the alternative vote. London selects its mayor by the supplementary vote. The Conservative party selects its leader by an exhaustive ballot (with a different electorate in the final round).

A new contender has emerged from Fargo, North Dakota. Previously most associated with a series of cinematic and televisual grisly murders (unfairly, since none of these murders actually took place in Fargo), that town has just voted to adopt Approval Voting in future elections.

What is Approval Voting? The successful campaigners explained it here. Simply, you vote for all the candidates that you approve of. The candidate who receives the most votes wins.

You can hear the game theorists sharpening their pencils from here. The permutations are much more complex than with most systems. For any given number of candidates n, you can cast your vote in (2n-1) different ways (casting your votes for all candidates and no candidates is substantively identical). So if there are seven candidates, there are 127 different ways of voting. Let no one complain about voter choice.

Candidates will do best who are acceptable to the widest number of voters. That should favour pragmatists over purists in most circumstances. It also blows up the party system. The party machine can’t impose an apparatchik on a constituency because a popular local candidate can simply stand anyway as an independent. Parties are going to have to pay attention to what the electorate wants as opposed to what the party wants them to have. More likely, parties are probably in due course going to put more than one candidate before the electorate and let them choose their preference, or anyone with an agenda that has a substantial body of support is going to chance their arm anyway.

Different groups of voters will have different challenges. Hardliners are going to need to consider how far they compromise their principles. If they decide to vote only for the ideologically pure, they could well see their vote rendered irrelevant by more flexible citizens. So they might need to hold their noses and give the nod to other candidates in order to try to exclude the really unacceptable choices.

Voters near the centre of the political pendulum, on the other hand can afford to be picky in the knowledge that many voters will be having to make greater compromises. They can encourage candidates with similar positions to stand and then choose on nuances.

There looks to be a danger that alternative voices will tend to be shut out even more firmly than under first past the post.  This is unhealthy if the consensus needs challenging. One of the key features of any effective electoral system is that it is able to move with changing political opinions. If approval voting takes too long to adapt to changed circumstances, we can expect in due course to see it fed through the wood chipper.

Alastair Meeks


Tuesday may see the biggest change to the electoral process in Florida since the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

Video above: The WSJ’s take on Florida allowing felons to vote.

On Tuesday Floridians will vote on whether to allow one and a half millions felons the right to vote, the polling shows that it is likely the voters will back restoration of voting rights for felons. Several respected observers have said felons being allowed to vote might have no impact in the results in the sunshine state, although some say it will benefit the Democrats, some say it may well benefit Trump and his party.

But look at the table below about the winning majorities in the last five Presidential elections in Florida, an extra one and half million voters has the potential to be a game changer.

The fact that pollsters might have to factor in such a substantial change to the demographics of the voters in Florida means we might have to be even more cautious about state polling. It might also lead to a different campaign strategies by the Presidential candidates in 2020 and beyond.


PS – It might be a very difficult time for pollsters in Maine on Tuesday as voters there will be using the finest voting system known to man, the Alternative Vote. Note the Americans call AV either the instant run-off method or ranked choice voting. The era of first past the post in America might be ending if others follow Maine’s lead. Voters in Maine voted for this change


A big question today is how many voters can’t cast their ballots because they don’t have the required ID

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

In none of the test areas has there been a case of personation in past decade

Today sees the start of what is being seen by critics as a move by the Tories, the party that lost its majority last June, to impede people’s ability to take part in elections.

There’s a trial taking place in five areas where those who cannot produce a valid ID will be barred from voting. The is taking place at all polling stations in Bromley, Watford, Woking, Swindon and Gosport.

The weird thing is that there hasn’t been a case of personation in any of these areas of England in more than a decade. Critics are describing the trial ‘a solution in search of a problem’.

    A huge problem is that quite a significant proportion of the population do not have any form of identity because, of course, unlike many other countries there is no national identity card system.

Of course those with a driving licence or a passport have something that is instantly available and in at least one of the test areas a bank card will suffice. But not everyone will be able to comply.

The real problem is that this could be seen as a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Some critics have asserted that this is the Tories seeking to impede non-Tories from voting the assumption being that blue team voters are more likely to find it easy to meet the ID requirement.

Whether that is right or not I do not know. No doubt there will be a huge amount of scrutiny of election patterns in the 5 areas with comparisons in similar authorities where normal voting is going on.

As a general rule it is far better for moves about changing the way democracy operates to be based on cross party consensus. No doubt we’ll hear the ID issue being cited as a factor tonight where parties don’t meet expectations.

Mike Smithson


If there is a second referendum Remain should demand that all voters show photo ID

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Financial Times

Last time those without passports were most likely to vote leave

At this stage last year the Tories were riding high. The party had just taken Copeland from LAB and all the polls had the Tories in the 40s with LAB in the 20s.

In spite of her quite narrow CON majority Mrs. May was assuring the country that there would be no General Election until 2020 as laid down in the Fixed Term Parliament Act. That did not stop her in April calling what proved to be a disastrous election for the Tories on June 8th losing Cameron’s hard won majority of two years earlier

So the PMs statements that there will be no second referendum have to be treated as not watertight. You can see the circumstances under which this was the best option for the Tories If the Brexit process created something that was going to require some form of mandate then a referendum would be better than a general election that could risk Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.

    And if there was a new vote on Europe a smart move from those wishing to stay within the EU would be too demand that all voters be required to show photo ID in order to cast their ballots.

The reason is shown in one of the charts above from the FT analysis of the referendum that was published shortly after the vote in June 2016. As can be seen one of the greatest indicators of a Leave voter was them not having passports.

The data suggests that 3.5m people, or 7.5% of electorate do not have any form of visual ID. Other figures from the Electoral Commission show 11m (24% of the electorate) do not have a passport or photographic driving license.

We also know that there is a sharp cut back in the numbers of the 70+ group who do not renew their driving licences as they are required to do once they reach their 70th birthday.

So I’d argue that the groups least likely to back the EU are the ones who are likely to be more troubled by photo ID requirements for voting – something that the government is testing in five areas in the May local elections.

Mike Smithson


CORRECTED: The Electoral Reform Society attacks the government’s planned voter ID trials as “unnecessary and over-bearing’’

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Do the figures show that the government has got this wrong?

New figures on electoral fraud from the Electoral Commission show the tiny scale of the problem of personation which the ERS says raises major questions about overbearing ID restrictions to be trialed at elections this May,

The analysis by the Electoral Commission of votes conducted in 2017 revealed there were just 28 allegations of ‘personation’ in polling stations – where someone is accused of assuming another’s identity to cast a vote.

Just one of these allegations resulted in a prosecution – out of nearly 45 million votes cast in total throughout 2017.

Despite the scale of the problem, the government is requiring voters in five areas to have ID with them when they attend a polling station for local elections in May.

The Electoral Reform Society are arguing for the government to reconsider its trials and instead look at other means of improving the electoral process – including better training and funding of Electoral Registration Officers and police on election day.

    A big problem with the government’s plan is the total number of voters who don’t have access to any form of photo ID. The EC puts this at 3.5m or 7.5% of the electorate. A total of 11m voters (24% of the electorate) do not have a passport or photographic driving license.

This is a delicate balance. To make the process of voting significantly more difficult for quite a large segment of the population could be regarded as voter supression.

Note. An earlier version of this post said, wrongly, that it was the Electoral Commission that was attacking the Government’s plan – in fact it was the Electoral Reform Society.

Mike Smithson


If CON, LAB, and the SNP each got 30% of the Scottish vote Sturgeon’s party would be down to just 6 MPs

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

The Times

Why the SNP could be in trouble

There’s a fascinating analysis in the Times by James Kanagasooriam of Populus of what would happen in Scotland’s 59 seats if the hree main parties there CON, LAB and the SNP each secured 30% of the vote. The projected seat totals are in the chart.

The balance of the 59 Scottish seats would go to the LDs which would once again return to its historical position as the third party st Westminster.

The reason is, of course, the first past the post voting system which favours those with large variations in support in different seats and penalises those parties whose support is more evenly spread.

Kanagasooriam notes:

“..Labour’s “youthquake” delivered surprising levels of support for the party. This was especially true in Glasgow and Edinburgh; particularly when comparing the Labour 2017 general election performance (27 per cent) with the Scottish parliament election the previous year (19 per cent on the constituency vote). It’s clear that younger voters, and those more inclined to want an independent Scotland defected to Labour in large numbers during the general election campaign. The Tory surge was, to a degree, expected. The return of Scottish Labour less so. Both together lead to losses that SNP politicians and advisers could scarcely believe on election night.

… a large number of 2015 SNP supporters simply stayed at home this year. Areas with the highest SNP vote share in 2015’s general election experienced the biggest decline in turnout in 2017…”

Back at GE2015, on 26 months ago the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats north of the border which was reduced to 35 at GE2017. Given the volatility of UK politics big changes can happen in short period as we saw with UKIP between 2015 and June 8th.

With so many rich picking apparently available in Scotland with the SNP’s decline the UK parties, as I was suggesting last week, should select leaders who are Scottish. LAB under Gordon Brown increased its Scottish vote share at GE2010 while falling back sharply elsewhere.

Mike Smithson