Ewan Kennedy on the Single Transferable Vote

Like almost everyone else I spoke to before the election I found the single transferable voting system difficult to understand.

It didn’t help much when an old pal explained that it was the system used at the Union in our university days, partly because I remember little of the 1960s and partly because I don’t think I ever bothered to vote. It also didn’t help much when candidates, some of great experience, gave wrong advice, one hopes unintentionally.

It’s always easier to understand things if you can see a worked example and after the event this is now available, courtesy of the Argyll & Bute website, so here goes.

In general stv voting seems a bit like on-line shopping with outfits like Amazon, where you get the message “people who liked this also liked …” or “out of stock, try this …” because as each stage of counting is reached the surplus of a successful candidate or the total vote of an unsuccessful one is divvied out to their voters’ second or subsequent choices, provided of course at least one further name has been listed.

In our own Ward 5, Oban North and Lorn, there were 3677 papers received, of which only 46 were spoiled (contrast the fiasco at Holyrood a few years ago) and the quota required for election was 727, there were four vacancies and ten candidates, Elaine, Wilma, George, Louise, Gwyneth, Neil, Roy, Donald, Duncan and Iain, whom I have listed in the order of their eventual success or failure.

At stage one Elaine cruised home with 807 votes so her surplus of 80 (all transferable) was distributed. On this occasion people who liked Elaine also mainly liked Duncan, who picked up 15. Interestingly, Louise fell short by just 20 at this stage but didn’t get elected until stage 4.

Stage 2 saw Wilma ejected from the Big Brother House, liberating 44 transferable votes which went pretty evenly with George getting most at 9.

At Stage 3 George went out as a result of which 113 votes were distributed. People who liked George also mainly liked Iain (31) Duncan (28) or Donald (25), were less keen on Louise and Roy (10 each) and didn’t really go for Gwyneth (5) or Neil (4).

Stage 4 saw Louise elected at last, freeing up 5 votes, of which virtually all went to Donald.

At Stage 5 Gwyneth went out, liberating 138 votes which mainly went to Duncan (37) and Roy (30) with the rest pretty evenly shared.

Next came the departure of Neil, whose initial tally of 222 had by now crawled up a bit, so that 264 votes were released, 211 transferable. These mainly went to Duncan (101, what a surprise), followed by Donald (46), Iain (39) and Roy (25).

The departure of Roy saw Duncan picking up 115, Iain 66 and Donald  25. This left Donald in last place, freeing up 188 transferable votes, 103 of which went to Iain and 85 to Duncan, electing them both with final totals of 645 and 811 votes respectively.

It’s interesting that by this last stage there were 355 non-transferable votes, i.e. where voters had listed less than four on the paper or all their choices had been elected or rejected by then. The final majority was not all that close, but had it been the effect of listing a fourth choice or stopping earlier could have been significant.

I won’t offer a view on the merits of stv voting in general, but on this occasion, in this ward and with a good spread of candidates it seems to have worked reasonably well. As for the fun I had analysing the results, in future I’ll just stick to Amazon.

Ewan Kennedy

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3 Responses to Ewan Kennedy on the Single Transferable Vote

  1. I am not convinced that this method returns a result a lot more representative of the voters intention than a process in which the electors merely chose three candidates.

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    • Its a b###dy mess. Far too complicated for an important event like local(binding) elections. In this case Donald Melville surely suffered and just seems wrong, and this would doubtless be replicated the length and bredth of the country.
      Time to get back to individual councillors for each ward as more folk standing these days due to reasonable salary and expenses. For democracy to be seen to be done it must be understood, and currently its far from that.
      I daresay no particular party suffered more than others but thats not to exonerate this daft system.
      thanks for your explanation mind you Ewan.

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  2. I am not a fan of any system that is not intelligible to your typical voter. And this one is not. But we’re stuck with it for a while, is my guess.
    For a fantastic explanation you should check out the blog of “Lallands Peat Worrier”. He has produced a really helpful analysis of the Glasgow seats – and this link is an example. The charts are so helpful, and his commentary, albeit from an SNP perspective, interesting.
    He also provided a quasi-academic explanation of the whole STV system prior to the elections here: http://lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/rank-local-election-wonkery-glasgow.html

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