Multi-seat Wards (English Election style)

Councils (in England – the Scots know better) have two main ways of electing their councillors (both using the dreaded “first past the post” method).:  “All-up elections” where every councillor is up for election, or “by thirds” where a third of the councillors are up for election each year – usually one councillor from each three-seat ward.

Multi-seat wards are an oddity.  It would appear that this should allow for a greater scope of representation, but because of the way that the voting system works (electors are given one vote for each seat to be filled) it is very rare for a ward not to elect a slate of candidates all from the same party, because voters tend to vote for just one party and not mix their allegiance.

Multi-seat wards elected “by thirds” (typically over a four year cycle: ⅓, ⅓, ⅓, 0), may occasionally allow for mixed representation because in a marginal ward, if the incumbant party takes a temporary dip and a member from another party gets elected one year, they may hold it four years later due to an “incumbancy factor”.  The elect by thirds approach used to prevent violent swings in control; however the move from a committee system to a cabinet system now means that rather than seeing a slow change in the balance of committees, there is a sudden change of control of the cabinet.

All-up First/Second/Third past the post in multi-member wards is not just undemocratic but also subject to chance especially if for some reason your party does not put up a full slate.

(Suppose you put up two candidates in a three seat ward – but fail to put up the third (can’t find a candidate, or a slip-up in the nomination process). You then have to persuade your supporters not to use all their votes because their third vote is potentially a vote against their first and second choices. An idiotic situation. And if the voter has a strong preference for a particular candidate, it is arguable that they should use only one vote for that candidate and not risk any of their other votes causing another candidate to beat their preferred candidate. A doubly idiotic situation.)

Of course with multi-seat wards/constituencies, some form of PR makes more sense – unless you believe that minorities have no right to representation. (And voters expressing their preferences as to how they want their vote used (by STV) will also keep selection committees in their place.) If you still want to keep the “evening out” effect of election-by-thirds, you can still have multi-candidate elections (i.e all-up in a particular ward in an STV election), but you phase elections so that particular wards come up at staggered intervals (a third of wards each year).

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