Electoral reform

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Electoral reform is change in electoral systems to improve how public desires are expressed in election results. That can include reforms of:

Continuous change

There are many such movements globally, in almost all democratic countries, as part of the basic definition of a democracy is the right to change the rules. Political science is imperfect; electoral reforms seek to make politics work a bit better, a bit sooner. The solution to the problems of democracy tends to be "more democracy." Electoral reform is a permanent feature of any healthy democracy.

The Electoral Reform Society is a political pressure group based in the United Kingdom, believed to be the oldest organisation concerned with electoral systems in the world. The Society advocates scrapping First Past the Post (FPTP) for all national and local elections arguing that the system is 'bad for voters, bad for government and bad for democracy'.


In less democratic countries, elections are often demanded by dissidents; therefore the most basic electoral-reform project in such countries is to achieve a transfer of power to a democratically elected government with a minimum of bloodshed, e.g. in South Africa in 1994. This case highlights the complexity of such reform: such projects tend to require changes to national or other constitutions, and to alter balances of power. Electoral reforms are often politically painful.

Role of United Nations

The United Nations Fair Elections Commission provides international observers to national elections that are likely to face challenges by the international community of nations, e.g., in 2001 in Yugoslavia, in 2002 in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations standards address safety of citizens, coercion, scrutiny, and eligibility to vote. They do not impose ballot styles, party diversity, or borders on electoral constituencies. Various global political movements, e.g., labour movements, the Green party, Islamism, Zionism, advocate various cultural, social, ecological means of setting borders that they consider "objective" or "blessed" in some other way. Contention over electoral constituency borders within or between nations and definitions of "refugee", "citizen", and "right of return" mark various global conflicts, including those in Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, the Congo, and Rwanda.

Electoral borders

Redrawing of electoral constituency (or "riding" or "district") borders should be conducted at regular intervals, or by statutory rules and definitions, if for no other reason than to eliminate malapportionment attributable to population movements. Some electoral reforms seek to fix these borders according to some cultural or ecological criterion, e.g., bioregional democracy – which sets borders to fit exactly to ecoregions – to avoid the obvious abuse of "gerrymandering" in which constituency borders are set deliberately to favor one party over another, or to improve management of the public's commonly owned property.

Electoral borders and their manipulation have been a major issue in the United States in particular. However the ability to respect 'natural' borders (meaning municipal or community or infrastructure or natural areas) has been cited often in criticisms of particular reforms, e.g. the Alternative Vote Plus system proposed for the UK by Jenkins Commission.

National reforms

National electoral reform projects tend to be simpler and less focused on life-and-death matters. Australia and New Zealand held Royal Commissions to find the best form of "proportional representation" of parties in the legislature and redesigned ballots to select or elect these Members of Parliament.


The Proportional Representation Society of Australia advocates the single transferable vote and proportional representation.


Several national and provincial organizations promote electoral reform, especially by advocating more party-proportional representation, as most regions of Canada have at least three competitive political parties (some four or five). A large non-party organization advocating electoral reform nationally is Fair Vote Canada but there are other advocacy groups (see below). Several referendums to decide whether or not to adopt such reform have been held during provincial elections in the last decade; none has thus far resulted in a change from the plurality system currently in force. Controversially, the threshold for adoption of a new voting system has regularly been set at a "supermajority", for example, 60% of ballots cast approving the proposed system in order for the change to be implemented. The four provincial level referenda were:

During the last federal election all three opposition parties promised some measure of electoral reform before the next federal election. The NDP promised to implement Mixed Member Proportional with regional party lists, based on the 2004 recommendations of the Law Commission,[1] while the Liberals simply promised to form an all-party committee to investigate various electoral reform options "including proportional representation, ranked ballots, mandatory voting and online voting".[2] Liberal leader, and now prime minister, Justin Trudeau is believed to prefer a winner-take-all, preferential voting system known as Instant Runoff Voting; however, there are many prominent members of his caucus and cabinet who openly support proportional representation (Stephane Dion, Dominic Leblanc, Chrystia Freeland, and others).[1] In 2012 Dion authored an editorial for the National Post advocating a variation of Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable Vote dubbed "P3" (proportional, preferential and personalised).[3] Regardless, Trudeau has promised to approach the issue with an open mind. Conservative interim leader, Rona Ambrose, has indicated a willingness to investigate electoral reform options, but her party's emphatic position is that any reform must first be approved by the voters in a referendum. The Liberal government's position is that a referendum is unnecessary as they clearly campaigned on making "2015 Canada's last First Past the Post election." The Green Party of Canada has always been supportive of proportional representation, but has not specified a preferred model.

Also, the Province of Ontario recently permitted the use of Instant Runoff Voting, often called the "ranked ballot," for municipal elections.[4] It should be noted that IRV is not a proportional voting system and is opposed by Fair Vote Canada for provincial or federal elections.[5]


There is continuous talk in Israel about "governability" ("משילות" in Hebrew). The following reforms were carried in the last three decades:

  1. Between 1996 - 2001 the PM was elected directly, while keeping a strong parliament. Direct election for the PM was abandoned afterwards, amid disappointment with the change. The earlier Westminster system was reinstated like it was before.
  2. The minimum threshold a party needs to enter parliament was gradually raised. it was 1% until 1988; it was then raised to 1.5% and remained at that level until 2003, when it was again raised to 2%. On March 11, 2014, the Knesset approved a new law to raise the threshold to 3.25% (approximately 4 seats).
  3. The process of throwing off an existing coalition government was slowly made harder, and now it is nearly impossible to impeach a government without triggering a new election. As of 2015, one needs to present a full new government with a majority support in order to impeach a government. This too, was done gradually between 1996 and 2014 הצעת אי-אמון

New Zealand

Electoral reform in New Zealand began in 1986 with the report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System entitled Towards A Better Democracy. The Royal Commission recommended that Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) be adopted instead of the current first-past-the-post system. After two referendums in 1992 and 1993, New Zealand adopted MMP. In 2004, some local body elections in New Zealand were elected using single transferable vote instead of the block vote.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has generally used first-past-the-post (FPTP) for many years, but there have been several attempts at reform. A 1910 Royal Commission on Electoral Systems recommended AV be adopted for the Commons.[6][7] A very limited introduction of single transferable vote (STV) came in the Government of Ireland Act 1914. A Speaker's Conference on electoral reform in January 1917 unanimously recommended a mix of AV and STV for elections to the House of Commons.[6] However, in a vote that August, the Commons rejected STV by 32 votes in the committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill and, by 1 vote, substituted alternative vote (AV). The House of Lords then voted for STV, but the Commons insisted on AV. In a compromise, AV was abandoned and the Boundary Commission were asked to prepare a limited plan of STV to apply to 100 seats. This plan was then rejected by the Commons, although STV was introduced for the university constituencies.[8]

On 8 April 1921, a Private Member's Bill to introduce STV was rejected 211 votes to 112 by the Commons. A Liberal attempt to introduce an Alternative Vote Bill in March 1923 was defeated by 208 votes to 178. On 2 May 1924, another Private Member's Bill for STV was defeated 240 votes to 146 in the Commons.[8]

In January 1931, the minority Labour government, then supported by the Liberals, introduced a Representation of the People Bill that included switching to AV. The Bill passed its second reading in the Commons by 295 votes to 230 on 3 February 1931 and the clause introducing AV was passed at committee stage by 277 to 253. (The Speaker had refused to allow discussion of STV.)[9] The Bill's second reading in the Lords followed in June, with an amendment replacing AV with STV in 100 constituencies being abandoned as outside the scope of the Bill. An amendment was passed by 80 votes to 29 limiting AV to constituencies in boroughs with populations over 200,000. The Bill received its third reading in the Lords on 21 July, but the Labour government fell in August and the Bill was lost.[8]

Elections to the European Parliament in mainland Britain from their start in 1979 used FPTP, but were switched to list PR in the 1999 elections following pressure to standardise with the rest of the EU.[citation needed]

When Labour regained power in 1997, they introduced a number of new assemblies, in London, Wales and Scotland, and opted for additional member systems of PR in all of these. They also adopted the supplementary vote system for directly-elected mayors. In Scotland, a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition in the new Scottish Parliament later introduced STV for local elections. However, such reforms encountered problems. When 7% of votes (over 140,000) were discounted or spoilt in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary and local council elections, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond protested that "the decision to conduct an STV election at the same time as a first-past-the-post ballot for the Scottish Parliament was deeply mistaken"[10]

In the 2010 UK general election campaign, the possibility of a hung parliament and the earlier expenses scandal pushed electoral reform up the agenda, something long supported by the Liberal Democrats. There were protests in favour of electoral reform organised by Take Back Parliament.[11] There is a move to a largely elected Lords. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government held a referendum on introducing AV for the Commons on 5 May 2011, which was defeated.[12]

A number of groups in the United Kingdom are campaigning for electoral reform including the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Count Coalition, Fairshare, and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.

The 2015 UK general election was expected to deliver a hung parliament. In the end the Conservative Party won a narrow majority, winning 51% of the seats on 37% of the national vote, but the Green Party, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats were under-represented and the Scottish National Party over-represented in the results compared to a proportional system.[13] As a result, both during the campaign and after, there were various calls for electoral reform.[14] Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, declared support for AV+.[15] Baron O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary from 2005 to 2011, argued that FPTP is not fit for purpose given the move towards multi-party politics seen in the country.[16] Journalist Jeremy Paxman also supported a move away from FPTP.[17]

United States

Electoral reform is a continuing process in the United States, motivated by fear of both electoral fraud and disfranchisement.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 http://www.macleans.ca/politics/the-case-for-mixed-member-proportional-representation/
  2. https://www.liberal.ca/realchange/electoral-reform/
  3. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/stephane-dion-canada-needs-a-new-voting-system
  4. [1]
  5. http://campaign2015.fairvote.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/FVC-Tabloid.pdf
  6. 6.0 6.1 Butler D (2004). "Electoral reform", Parliamentary Affairs, 57: 734-43
  7. Royal commission appointed to enquire into electoral systems (1910). Report with Appendices. Command papers. Cd.5163. London: HMSO. p. 37, §139. Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Butler DE (1953), "The Electoral System in Britain 1918-1951", Oxford University Press
  9. "REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE (No. 2) BILL.". millbanksystems.com. 
  10. Gallop, Nick in The Constitution and Constitutional Reform p.29 (Philip Allan, 2011) ISBN 978-0-340-98720-9
  11. Merrick, Jane; Brady, Brian; Owen, Jonathan; Smith, Lewis (9 May 2010). "Clegg is urged to abandon deal as Tories rule out vote reform - UK Politics, UK". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  12. "AV: voters go to the polls to decide whether to change British voting system". The Daily Telegraph. London. 5 May 2011. 
  13. http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/05/britain-s-election-2015-seats-votes-calculator?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/square_pegs_round_hole
  14. "The new government’s constitutional reform agenda – and its challenges - The Constitution Unit Blog". The Constitution Unit Blog. 
  15. "Politics Live - 20 March - BBC News". BBC News. 
  16. "Grandee casts doubt over electoral system". BBC News. 
  17. The Last Leg, 30 April 2015, Channel 4

Further reading

External links


United States



United Kingdom