Vote Swapping

There was an article on the BBC Website last week (23 April 2015 : Election 2015: Does ‘vote swapping’ work?) discussing the idea of vote swapping.

In vote swapping two people in different constituencies agree to trade votes in the hope that they can both have more influence on who forms the government.

Even though I intensely dislike the effect of our current First Past the Post¹ voting system, I feel uneasy about mechanisms such as these which “buck the system”.

Example: In a Labour-Tory Marginal, a Liberal vote would have no effect, but in a Tory-Liberal Marginal, a Labour vote would have no effect. So a Liberal voter in the first constituency agrees to vote Labour in return for a Labour voter in the second constituency voting Liberal. That way the Liberal voter potentially sees an extra Liberal MP in parliament and the Labour voter potentially sees an extra Labour MP in parliament. (Other permutations are, or course, available!).

Such swaps are now brokered over social media and are of course non-binding. They seem to offer a win-win. But there are a number of problems.

  1. This is precious close to “selling your vote” – entering into a contract to sell your vote is illegal under the Representation of the People Act. (It is never clear how such a contract is enforceable in a system with a secret ballot, but never mind.)
  2. Whilst it may increase your chances of getting an MP of your particular choice elected – somewhere, it undermines the choice of your own constituency’s representative. If MPs were merely members of an electoral college to elect a Presidential style Prime Minister this may not matter, but they are there primarily to represent their constituents and by vote swapping you are casting an outsider’s vote in your constituency.
  3. Vote Swapping encourages this “Presidential Attitude” to voting and elections, which ultimately will undermine our Parliamentary system of indirect democracy.

The voting system is rotten, but these sort of mechanisms merely seek to buck it rather than reform it.


¹ First Past the Post is actually a misleading name as often no candidate reaches the winning post of a majority of the votes. It is more “Who is nearest the post when everyone is tired of electioneering?”

First Past the Post more accurately describes AV – which candidate can best put together a coalition of preferences such that their total is the first to reach the winning post of 50%!

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