Conservatives and Exhaustive Transferable Voting

Tory MPs are going through a laborious process to whittle five candidates for leadership down to two – who the membership will then vote on.

They are doing it by “exhaustive balloting”. Today we have a poll of five, after which the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, before a poll of four on Thursday another elimination and then a poll of three next Tuesday.

This opens up scope for all sorts of machinations and sub-optimal results. Is there a quicker and possibly cleaner way?

Clearly between each ballot there will be appeals to the supporters of the eliminated candidate. Likewise the candidate that came “last but one” will be desperately trying to shore up support whilst under attack from other candidates.

There is also scope for support for the leading candidate to leak away as some of that candidate’s supporters try to secure the success of their second choice. In theory you could win the first round, but then see your supporters thinking you are “bound to win” switching to their second choices in such numbers that you lose the second round.

There must be a better way.

If trying to elect two from a group of candidates, as a minimum each successful candidate must get just over a third of the vote – then the third place candidate cannot get even a third of the vote if they hoover up all other support. So there is a number, let’s call it a quota – in this case a third of votes +1, and if a candidate gets that amount of support they go on the members ballot.

But what if a candidate easily gets the quota – say double the support needed? Clearly there is a degree of wastage of the support of that candidate’s faction. Well, what if the surplus support was transferable to each voter’s second preference?

So if the leading candidate got say (to keep the numbers easy) twice the quota? They would retain half of each vote cast for them (thereby ensuring that they are “elected”) and the other half of each vote goes to each voter’s next preference?

This avoids the situation described above where the leading candidate could see their support leaching away as their supporters in subsequent ballots cast their entire vote for someone else convinced that their first choice was safe.

What if no one achieves the quota? Well as in exhaustive balloting, the loser is eliminated and their votes are transferred – not by means of a further ballot but according to each voter’s originally expressed preferences.

So by using transferable preference voting with quota counting, the Tories could decide on two candidates to put before the membership in a single ballot today. All they would have to do when voting is rank the candidates in their order of preference (1,2,3,4 rather than X).

Less scope for accidental sub-optimal results – but also less scope for politicking, back-biting and back stabbing. Perhaps that is why they do it the way they do – it’s in the Party’s DNA.

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  • enfranchiseme  On 5 July 2016 at 7:16 pm

    First Round Results (for better or worse)

    Name Votes Surplus
    May 165 64
    Leadsom 66
    Gove 48
    Crabb 34
    Fox 16 Elim
    Total 329
    Quota 111

    We don’t know about voters’ preferences so we cannot predict how a transferable preference vote would go. but

    • May would be declared selected as she has achieved the quota – 111
    • 64/165ths of each of her 165 votes would be surplus and transferable to second preferences
    • Doing this may have made a difference to the order of other candidates- and Fox may not have come bottom of the poll
    • (In the extreme case) if all the surplus had gone to Leadsom, she would be 1 vote short of achieving the 111 quota!

    We shall have to see how subsequent rounds in this exhaustive process goes.

  • enfranchiseme  On 5 July 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Now we hear that Crabb has withdrawn and both he and Fox have said they will support May.

    Given that bar accidents May is home and dry, it would have been more useful if they had expressed a preference between Leadsom and Gove for the second position on the members’ ballot.

    Their future careers however are probably more important; so throwing your support behind the probable next leader is more important than giving the best choice to the membership.

    If Crabb and Fox’s supporters follow “their candidate’s” lead – and there is no leaching of support, we might predict the result of the ballot of three.

    Name 1st Vote Surplus Predicted 2nd vote Surplus
    May 165 64 215 104
    Leadsom 66 66
    Gove 48 48
    Crabb 34 Withdrawn
    Fox 16 Eliminated
    Total 329
    Quota 111

    In effect the second place on the members’ ballot is being decided by a very small number of MPs.

    • enfranchiseme  On 7 July 2016 at 8:44 pm

      So now we know:

      Name 1st Vote Surplus 2nd vote Surplus
      May 165 64 199 88
      Leadsom 66 84
      Gove 48 46
      Total 329
      Quota 111

      So Gove suffered a net loss of two votes, and Fox and Crabb’s supporters did not all follow the eliminated candidates recommendations to support May. We might have expected her to gain 50 votes (assuming Leadsom and Gove held on to their vote); she achieved a net gain of 34, whilst Leadsom achieved a net gain of 18.

      They may have selected the “most popular” two candidates – but they may not have due to the distorting effect of May’s surplus vote. 88/199 th of each May vote was effectively wasted – is it right that those MPs were partially disenfranchised because they supported May? Who knows who was the second choice of all those May supporters?

      And I thought the Tories believed that all votes should have equal value – hence equalisation of constituencies and the fluidisation of the constituency link?

  • Anon  On 6 July 2016 at 8:43 pm

    So we are likely to see “Remainer” May with the overwhelming support of the MPs and one of Leadsom or Gove (“Leavers”) being put before a generally Eurosceptic membership.

    Looks like we will see the party membership electing someone who does not have the support of the MPs. Now where have we seen that before?

  • enfranchiseme  On 11 July 2016 at 8:58 pm

    So in the end it was all decided by Andrea Leadsom deciding that she did not really want to pursue the leadership.

    Perhaps “as a mother” she decided it was not worth the aggro or perhaps she was worried about becoming a Tory Corbyn – supported by the members by without the confidence of her parliamentary colleagues.

    But we are a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential one.

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