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Single Transferable Vote in Local Government Elections?

The Issue: Local Government elections in England currently use the first-past-the-post system (the candidate with the largest number of votes wins). Some people believe that the current status quo is unfair and propose an alternative, Single Transferable Vote (STV). 

The Facts

  • Single Transferable Votes involves the electorate voting for candidates in order of preference. If the preferred candidate cannot win, the vote is then transferred onto the next preferred choice and so on. 
  • Candidates do not need to win an overall majority using the Single Transferable Voting system, but need to meet a set quota.
  • STV uses multimember wards (several councillors representing a region) and constituencies cover large areas.
  • STV is currently used in elections in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Scotland. The Republic of Ireland currently has a large number of Independent Councillors; some believe this is a direct result of STV.

The Case For:

  • One of the main advantages of the STV is that it lists candidates, rather than parties. STV emphasises voting for a person, rather than your preferred party candidate.
  • STV gives the electorate a wider choice of candidate, since there are several seats available for an area. The wide choice of candidates available can increase democratic participation, particularly among women and BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups.
  • STV ensures that no votes are wasted. All votes will always contribute to a candidate being elected.
  • STV could dramatically change the political culture in local government. There would no longer be any safe seats and dominance by a single political party. This would also mean that existing councillors would need to campaign hard to retain their seats.
  • As you don't need a large majority to win a seat, but only need to fulfil a quota, Independent candidates and small political party candidates have a good chance of being elected.
  • Some people argue that there is no reason for tactical voting under STV.

The Case Against:

  • Some critics have argued that the STV is too complicated and can confuse voters. But on the other hand, only a small number of ballot papers were spoilt (1.8%) in the first ever STV election in Scotland for local government in 2007.
  • STV elections can result in weak majorities. Some political scientists argue that STV in Scottish local elections in 2007 caused many councils to be under No Overall Control (NOC).
  • An STV system could enable extremist parties, such as the BNP, to gain more seats.
  • STV requires multimember wards and some have argued that this removes the direct link between a councillor and constituents.

What does this mean for Independent candidates?

  • The pressure Group, STV Action, believes that STV will reduce the influence of national political parties and bring power back to the voters.
  • The Electoral Reform Society strongly believes that STV will be beneficial for non-party politicians. They argue that since the STV ballot paper lists candidates instead of parties, this shift of focus away from the political parties could greatly help Independents.
  • The Electoral Reform Society also believes that STV offers a wider range of candidates that could result in voters being more open-minded towards Independent politicians. They also point out that countries which have implemented the STV have a large number of Independent Councillors, such as Wales and Scotland (15% of Councillors in Scotland are Independent).

Supporters of Single Transferable Votes

Have your Say: What are your opinions of STV? Is it a better voting system than first-past-the-post? Are there any viable alternatives to STV? We love receiving your comments, so please tell us your thoughts below.

Watch this light video on Single Transferable Vote by the Citizens' Assembly in Canada.

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