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Reapportionment - The UK Way

by Gary J Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 05:59:51 AM EST

Since my diary Electoral Reform - The UK Way, the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act 2011 has emerged from Parliament. Royal assent was granted on 16 February 2011.

For the first time in British history we now have something resembling a fair system for apportioning Parliamentary seats.

The number of House of Common single member constituencies is to be reduced from 650, at the 2010 general election, to 600. Apart from a small number of special cases, seats are to be allocated to the four parts of the United Kingdom using the Saint-Lague method (using successive divisors of 1, 3, 5 etc). This is an innovation for the UK as allocating list seats proportionately, as in British European elections, has used the D'Hondt method (successive divisors of 1, 2, 3 etc).

The Boundary Commissions (one for each nation in the UK) have agreed the apportionment. This is based on the number of registered electors.

The special cases include the two groups of Scottish Islands, with preserved constituencies, the Western Isles (held by the Scottish National Party) and Orkney & Shetland (a Liberal/Liberal Democrat seat since 1950). During the course of Parliamentary passage the Isle of Wight (off the coast of southern England) was allowed two seats within its boundaries, to avoid having to attach part of the island to the mainland for Parliamentary purposes. The current single member for the Isle of Wight is a Conservative. The four seats will have smaller electorates than standard.

The apportionment for the seats is England 500 (plus the two for the Isle of Wight, total 502 (minus 31 from 2010); Northern Ireland 16 (a drop of two); Scotland 50 (plus the two island seats), total 52 (minus seven from the current total); and Wales 30 (a reduction of ten).

The 596 standard new constituencies are to have an average electorate (the UK quota) of 76,641. A 5 per cent plus or minus variation is permitted, so each seat must have between 72,816 and 80,473 voters.

The English Boundary Commission is suggesting producing an apportionment based on the nine European Parliament electoral regions rather than, as has been the case since the thirteenth century, on counties and boroughs.

The suggested regional apportionment, using the same method as for the division between the four parts of the UK; is Eastern 56, East Midlands 44, London 68, North East 26, North West 68, South East 81 (plus 2 for the Isle of Wight), South West 53, West Midlands 54 and Yorkshire & the Humber 50.

What rules do other countries use to apportion legislative seats to different geographical areas?


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European Tribune - Comments - Reapportionment - The UK Way
What rules do other countries use to apportion legislative seats to different geographical areas?

Sweden uses population numbers for the base seats (on county level), but in the election about 10% is allocated last on a national basis to make sure the seat distribution matches the vote distribution.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 11:42:46 AM EST
I get the impression that most countries use population and that the UK system of using registered electors is unusual.

One of the better arguments, used by the Labour Party during the consideration of the new British law, was that there were perhaps three million people eligible to be voters but who had not registered. This group, together with people not entitled to vote, were thought to be disproportionately concentrated in urban areas.

by Gary J on Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 02:06:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The very act of voters having to actively register for vote is not universal (and this led to problems for EU citizens wanting to vote in other countries; see earlier discussion).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 05:25:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link. The rules about how people get on to voters lists are an important factor in turning a theoretical right to vote into a practical ability to cast a ballot.

A particular British problem is that when Thatcher imposed a poll tax, significant numbers of people avoided the electoral register in the hope that Council's would not identify them for tax charging purposes. There may also have been some popular confusion about poll (an archaic word for head, signifying that the poll tax was one on each individual) and the modern use of the word for election voting. Unlike the historic use of poll taxes in the American south, where the payment of the tax was a precondition of being able to vote, the UK had no legal link between the tax and voting.

In any event a group of people got out of the habit of registering to vote and some of them have never done so since.

by Gary J on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 06:01:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sweden uses its people registry (managed by the Swedish Lutheran church from the 16th century to the 1990ies, then the tax authority) to see who can vote, there is no seperate election registration.

The additional seats are handed to the counties in order of relative strenght vs lack of representation, so there is an indirect factor of handing seats to counties that has higher voter percentages, though that is not considered an important feature. Sweden using party lists and a very weak preference vote for candidates, most people are not aware of county distribution and such. You vote for a party and then there is counting which gives a proportional parliament.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 06:29:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gary J:

What rules do other countries use to apportion legislative seats to different geographical areas?

In Hungary, the total number of constituencies is fixed, and the division is population-based, with a blanket special note on local characteristics to be respected:

1997. évi C. törvény a választási eljárásrólLaw C of the year 1997 on the Election Method
9. § (1) A választókerületeket úgy kell kialakítani, hogy választókerületenként a lakosság száma megközelítően azonos legyen. 9. § (1) Election districts have to be apportioned in a way that the population of the election districts be about the same.
(2) A választókerületek kialakításánál figyelemmel kell lenni a nemzetiségi, vallási, történelmi, földrajzi és egyéb helyi sajátosságokra is.(2) During the apportionment of the election districts, ethnic, religious, historical, geographical and other local characteristics have to be taken into account.

In Germany, the principle is similar, but regulated in more detail.

Bundeswahlgesetz - § 3 Wahlkreiskommission und WahlkreiseinteilungFederal Election Law - § 3 Election District Commission and the apportionment of election districts
(1) Bei der Wahlkreiseinteilung sind folgende Grundsätze zu beachten:
  1. die Ländergrenzen sind einzuhalten.
  2. Die Zahl der Wahlkreise in den einzelnen Ländern muß deren Bevölkerungsanteil soweit wie möglich entsprechen. [...]
  3. Die Bevölkerungszahl eines Wahlkreises soll von der durchschnittlichen Bevölkerungszahl der Wahlkreise nicht um mehr als 15 vom Hundert nach oben oder unten abweichen; beträgt die Abweichung mehr als 25 vom Hundert, ist eine Neuabgrenzung vorzunehmen.
  4. Der Wahlkreis soll ein zusammenhängendes Gebiet bilden.
  5. Die Grenzen der Gemeinden, Kreise und kreisfreien Städte sollen nach Möglichkeit eingehalten werden.
Bei Ermittlung der Bevölkerungszahlen bleiben Ausländer (§ 2 Abs. 1 des Aufenthaltsgesetzes) unberücksichtigt.
(1) The following principles have to be respected during the apportionment of election districts:
  1. the borders of the states have to be maintained.
  2. The number of election districts within each state has to be proportional to their share of the population [of federal Germany]. [...]
  3. The population number of an election district should not differ by more than 15 percent above or below the average for all election districts; in case the deviation is more than 25 percent, a re-apportionment has to be performed.
  4. The election district has to form a contiguous area.
  5. The borders of communities, counties and cities not subordinate to counties have to be maintained if possible.
In the evaluation of population numbers, foreigners (§ 2 P. 1 of the Law on Residence) aren't taken into account.

There are similar rules at state level.

In Austria, there are multiple-member electoral districts, with fixed geographical area. What can change is the number of MPs sent by each election district; this is again bound to the population number. The population number concerned is specified as citizens, including expats.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 06:34:49 AM EST
The exact boundaries of single member districts are less critical when there is a proportional representation top up system, as in Germany.

Again the examples you mention use population rather than registered electors. The UK system seems out of line with international comparisons.

by Gary J on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 08:44:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Note: all three of my examples are similar in authorities compiling voter rolls on their own rather than requiring the electorate to register to vote, too. I wonder what's the system in other European countries with declarative voter registration.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 03:41:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Reapportionment - The UK Way
For the first time in British history we now have something resembling a fair system for apportioning Parliamentary seats.

Well colour me unconvinced on this, I wait to see how the new constituency boundaries turn out, but am somewhat suspicious how this will result in anything that approaches fairness while we remain with a first past the post system.

The reduction in constituencies can be seen as a shallowly disguised attempt to move Parliament to the right, rather than any huge hunt for fairness.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 12:00:40 PM EST
What you have described, Gary, is perhaps the end of the last vestiges of the arbitrariness which could lead to "rotten borough" gerrymanders.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 02:20:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The changes are likely to have the effect of slightly reducing, but by no means eliminating, the pro-Labour bias in the electoral system. Unless there are major changes in how people vote, Labour will continue to win more seats than it would in a proportional system and more seats for a given percentage of votes than the other parties.

The Labour Party has the advantage, in a first past the post system, that its support is more efficiently distributed than that of the other national parties. In other words more of its votes are clumped in seats it wins and fewer are wasted in good (but not good enough) second places.

Surely you do not want a particular party to win more seats, than it would be entitled to in a fair electoral system just because you favour it?

The new reapportionment rules are a small step towards the democratic principle of one person, one vote, one value. The alternative vote, if that is approved by referendum, will be another small step.

It is only by adopting a system with a proportional element that we will make major steps to fairness. However I see our present position as being comparable to the 1832 Reform Act, at the start of change, not the end destination (which only reached universal manhood suffrage in 1918 and universal adult suffrage in 1928).

by Gary J on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 03:19:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Im saying that if you're insistent on a FPP system, as a vast part of the Tory party are, then any change as to boundaries to alter a perceived unfairness in the system without altering the voting system to something truly proportional cannot work, and is just going to appear to be a form of electoral fraud, unless you can guarantee that people will be equally supported.

If im going to get a change I want to see where we're going, have everything thrown in as one move, not just a half hearted first step, much as we had with the Blair changes to the House of Lords, which ground to a halt. A change that just appears to benefit the current party in Power seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 04:36:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Tories refusal to embrace proportional representation prevents them fully eliminating the systematic bias against them. It is not possible to go any further than the current legislation does, without abandoning a non-proportional system. It is impossible to create a proportional system with only single member constituencies, with each voter only able to affect the result in one of a number of individual seats.

The Conservatives opposed proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament, despite it giving them far more seats than a purely first past the post system would.

However if we make the best the enemy of the good, the advance to the best would be stopped dead in its tracks.

It is 93 years since a dispute between Lords and Commons, about whether to go for the Single Transferable Vote or the Alternative Vote, preserved the first past the post system. It is 80 years since a half-hearted attempt, by the Labour Party, to legislate for the Alternative Vote fell with the formation of the National government. How long will the next attempt at change take, if the current attempt fails?

by Gary J on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 05:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I fear that if  the current changes go through, it will be an excuse to do nothing for the next 93 years though.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 05:23:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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