Nailing Single Transferable Vote myths

I wrote a fortnight ago about how Single Transferable Vote works. I was asked then why I don’t like it. To be clear, I can see its merits, particularly at Council level (where actually it is my preferred system), but my problem with it is its complexity, and therefore the potential for parties to mislead voters when it comes to “tactical voting”.

In fact, with Single Transferable Vote, there is no “tactical voting”! The voter simply places the candidates in order of preference, until they have no more preference.

To be clear:

  • there is no tactical voting – if your first preference candidate does not get elected, your vote transfers fully to your next preference, and if that candidate doesn’t get in, to your next preference and so on;
  • just to repeat that another way around, if you vote for someone who is not elected, your vote transfers fully – at the last European election in Northern Ireland in 2009, a vote 1-Nicholson, or 1-Parsley 2-Nicholson, or 1-Agnew 2-Parsley 3-Nicholson all ended up counting entirely for Nicholson because neither Parsley nor Agnew were elected and the vote thus transferred fully (it does not lose value!); and
  • there is no reason whatsoever to “plump” – some voters seem to believe they should vote only for their party’s candidates and on one else so their vote goes 100% to their party, but it is a preferential system (i.e. your vote will go 100% to your first preference candidate unless that candidate is unsuccessful or is elected easily, in which case your vote can then influence who next gets elected).

So it is important to forget about so-called “tactical” considerations, which only apply (in Northern Ireland) at Westminster Parliamentary elections (and not at all in the Republic of Ireland).

By the way, in Northern Ireland the requirements for holding deposit are now particularly stringent – a candidate must exceed 6.25% of the vote at time of elimination (which almost certainly means first preference, as candidates are eliminated as soon as they can no longer be elected, but may conceivably include later preferences this year due to the number of candidates likely congregating below that figure). This is another reason for forgetting “tactics” and simply voting for your preferred candidates in order of preference.


7 thoughts on “Nailing Single Transferable Vote myths

  1. W Duff says:

    I think the transfers between UKIP & TUV will decide which of them will keep their deposits, its unlikely NI21, Conservatives & Greens will transfer enough between each other to save any of their £5000s. Personally I like STV and when looking at results compare parties at elimination rather than 1st preference, I wish we could ban both the media and politicians from talking about “topping the poll”, unless they mean it as an insult, because that is just a sign of poor vote management.

    • I wholeheartedly sign up to that campaign!!

      It is ludicrous. In fact, sometimes they will even free to a party topping the poll, when all that has happened is that *its candidate* topped the poll and that was meaningless anyway.

      I think TUV could retain its deposit, but none of the others you mention. Like you say, it is theoretically possible that initial surpluses and eliminations could see TUV over the line when first preferences left it just short.

  2. factual says:

    Does the order of elimination matter and might that not suggest a role for tactical voting?

    • No, effectively – at least not in terms of who you *want* elected.

      It can matter only if you have a particular obsession with having someone *not* elected.

      For example, if you had only the objective of *not* having a Sinn Féin MLA elected in East Antrim in 2011, you would have voted tactically for Alliance candidates over Unionist.

      But then, that’s a bit like suggesting Alliance sympathisers in West Tyrone should vote SF to keep the SDLP out in the race for Ministerial places. It’s a freak of maths – the type of tactics which can easily rebound!

  3. andyboal says:

    GB uses closed party lists for European Parliament Elections, which has two disadvantages: first of all, you’re not voting for a person so it involves a disconnect from your representative (where STV involves voting for individuals, and gives a considerably improved chance that you will have a representative to your liking!) and secondly, as far as I can tell, it simply allocates votes according to d’Hondt. I must run d’Hondt on first pref votes in NI and see where it would have got us.

    I like STV. It’s not perfect, but it ensures that all but the last person elected have the support of at least a quarter of the population (for European elections) and a seventh of the population (council and Assembly – yes, some council DEAs are five members, so it’s a sixth)

    I don’t intend to go beyond four parties on the 22nd, although I will check independents out. I doubt that I’ll have much to transfer to be honest after it has gone towards my first and second preference candidates, but I really would rate all of the other parties as equally undesirable, albeit for various different reasons.

    Incidentally, I was elected to a website site management team by STV the other week, using transfers from previously elected candidates – Reopen Nominations didn’t get any transfers. Interestingly, that variant recalculates the quota so as to ignore exhausted votes, but the impact of this is certainly minimal in the context of a double figure voting electorate, and in a bigger scheme such as a public election it might not that often affect who takes the last seat.

  4. andyboal says:

    Converting North Down to d’Hondt, I came up with Anne Wilson being elected over Steven Agnew. 2007 would have been no change.

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