Up: Issue 8 Next: Paper 3 Previous: Paper 1

Voting matters - Issue 8, May 1997

Quotation Marks

Dear Sir,

There are one or two matters I would like to comment upon.

In his article Large Elections by Computer, Dr Wichmann says there is strong evidence that the traditional method of STV counting produces the 'wrong' result. I would suggest that even with the use of quotation marks this is an unfortunate comment. The result is surely correct within the rules which have been used, and to suggest otherwise is to imply that there is something inaccurate, or wrong, with the count. It might lead to defeated candidates thinking they were defeated as a result of some procedural error by the Returning Officer, which would not be the case. It would be wiser to say that the election result might be different. I do not think we would wish to appear to cast doubts upon our own ballot organisation to count an election by STV.

The real problem with elections of this kind is the proportion of candidates to the number of places to be filled. In the UKCC example there were over 18 times more candidates than the 7 places to be filled. 129 candidates appears to offer those voting the widest possible choice, but the choice is unreal. Unfortunately few of the voters have sufficient knowledge about the candidates to be able to put more that a small number of candidates in preferential order. The candidates are allowed to provide information about themselves but there is still a great deal of information to read. One answer might be to re-examine the nomination process, with a view to there being more assentors to the nominations. The organisation may, of course, not wish to do this because it might create an unreasonable hurdle to nomination.

Dr Wichmann is under a misapprehension when he says It can hardly be considered a criticism of Newland and Britton, since it is doubtful whether they ever conducted an election of the size considered here. Major Britton and Mr Newland were closely involved with drafting the electoral arrangements for the UKCC and took a very close interest in the first two elections at Chancel Street to see how the counts went. The report of the first UKCC election records that 441 candidates were nominated and that 61,715 people voted. Therefore it would appear that there has been a decline in the number of candidates nominated. I can recall both Major Britton and Mr Newland being somewhat concerned at the number of candidates nominated for the first election, but thought the number would decline when it was realised that most of those nominated had no real hope of being elected. At the first two elections no candidate achieved the quota, the whole election consisting of exclusions, candidates being elected with a reduced quotient as votes became non-transferable. It was not until the third or fourth UKCC election that I recall being told that for the very first time a candidate had attained the quota during the count. My recollection is that Major Britton and Mr Newland would probably have recommended that the nomination procedure be amended if the number of candidates had not declined to a more manageable number for the voters.

E M Syddique, ERS

A reply

I owe readers an apology if they were under any misapprehension on the use of the quotation marks. Of course, there was no implication that the rules were not correctly applied; indeed the simulations I made assumed that. It is also worth noting that since I used artificial ballot papers, the implications for any specific election (like the last UKCC one) are unclear.

I cannot apologise to Major Britton and Mr Newland for not realising their involvement in the early UKCC elections which were even bigger than the one I analysed.

I believe that a major contributory factor to the results I obtained was that not only was one candidate elected with the quota, but that the others were elected with very much less than the quota. The re-computation of the quota undertaken by the Meek method therefore makes a bigger difference than would typically be the case.

Lastly, it seems to me that an advantage of STV should be that many candidates can compete. Hence introducing barriers to nominations seems against the spirit of STV.

B A Wichmann.

Up: Issue 8 Next: Paper 3 Previous: Paper 1