These can be divided into two kinds: majoritarian and proportional representation. Some electoral systems involve aspects of both systems. Voting systems are many and varied and the following is a summary of the most widely used, or discussed:
- PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION
The Act also introduces new measures for dissolving Parliament before the end of the fixed term. According to previous convention, Parliament was immediately dissolved following a vote of no confidence, which required a simple majority in order to be passed. Under the new legislation, a vote for immediate dissolution requires a two thirds majority of MPs, including vacant seats. A simple majority is sufficient for a vote of no confidence but there then ensues a period of two weeks in which the House has the opportunity to pass a vote of confidence in a new government, and so avoid a general election. Parliament will only be dissolved if a new government has not been endorsed in this way within fourteen days.
Previously, the Prime Minister had the power to choose the date of an election. Once the date for a general election had been fixed, there were usually 3-4 weeks of campaigning before election day. By convention, general elections have usually been held on a Thursday. [More+]
A “hung parliament” is the result of no political party gaining a majority of seats in the Commons. In this situation, there may need to be negotiations between political parties to see if they can come to an arrangement which will give them a majority in the House: that is, political parties may band together and form a ‘coalition‘ government. If this fails, one political party or a group of parties may agree to form a ‘minority’ government — one which has no majority in the House. If no agreement can be reached at all, there may need to be a second election.
Hung parliaments are not very common at Westminster; until 2010, the most recent example of a general election resulting in a hung parliament was in 1974. However, there have been a number of hung parliaments at a devolved level.
For example: in 3 constituencies A, B and C, constituency A has 100 electors and constituencies B and C have 60 electors. Two political parties contest an election, Orange and Brown. In constituency A, Orange wins 90 votes, Brown 10. In each of Consituencies B and C Orange wins 29 votes and Brown 31. Orange will have one MP, Brown will have 2 and therefore will form the government, even though, overall it has polled much less than half of the votes cast in all 3 constituencies. If there are more than two parties standing in each constituency, the results tend to be more exaggerated, with an even smaller proportion of the vote being able to secure a victory.
Another issue is the question of so-called gerrymandering – the process whereby constituency boundaries are drawn in order to gain a political advantage, for example by splitting an area known for its strong sympathies to a particular political party into two or more constituencies and mixing the voters together with voters of different political views in adjoining constituencies.
The existence of the Boundary Commission (an ‘advisory non-departmental public body funded by the Ministry of Justice’) is designed to ensure that boundaries will be drawn by reference to a set of impartial rules and thus to ensure fairness in the relative sizes of constituencies and to outlaw gerrymandering.
These impartial rules were changed by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011:
The UK is moving from this system of household registration to Individual Electoral Registration (IER). Details of the transition are published by the Electoral Commission.
Postal voting has been the subject of some controversy after it became available on demand because of the lax security requirements and the potential for voter fraud. In 2005, a judge found that six Labour Party representatives in the 2004 Birmingham local elections had committed systematic fraud with at least 3500 votes cast fraudulently. They were able to do this because the postal voting system had a number of flaws, including:
These flaws led to the enactment of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which in particular set out offences for postal fraud, and gave greater powers to police to investigate such allegations. It also set out new requirements for postal voting, such as requiring that signatures and dates of births to be provided on postal vote applications and statements, so that checks can be carried out (electoral administrators are required to check at least 20% of all postal votes); and introduces a marked register of postal votes received. The Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 also made changes to the postal registration process, including requiring reasons for the re-direction of postal votes and outcomes of applications for postal voting be confirmed in writing.
Parties organise candidates, provide funding and policy support. For most of the post-war period, Parliament and government have been dominated by two major parties: the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. But the last quarter of a century has seen the ascent of the Liberal Democrats as a third political party of influence in British politics. There are other parties: at the 2010 election, these other parties gained 28 seats at Westminster, or just over 4% of Parliament, having polled just under 12% of the vote.
The administration of the general election in 2010 unexpectedly became a highly controversial issue when, in several constituencies, the administrators found themselves unable to cope with the numbers who turned up to vote. This resulted in a number of people being turned away from polling stations and unable to vote, despite having arrived in good time to cast their ballot.
The Electoral Law (Amendment) Bill 2010-12 has been introduced to address this problem. If enacted, it would amend Schedule 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to provide that at the close of the poll in a general election, by-election or local government election, electors who were entitled to vote and within the precincts of the polling station would have to be issued with a ballot paper and allowed to vote.
There are strict limits on the amounts that political parties can spend on electoral campaigning in the 365 days leading up to an election. This is monitored by the Electoral Commission. Generally speaking, a political party can spend up to £30000 per constituency contested; if all seats were contested this would amount to a total spend of over £19 million.
Additionally there are separate limits on the amount that may be spent by individual candidates on their electoral campaigns in the lead-up to an election. These limits were amended by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009.
Note, the vote in the Yorkshire constituency of Thirsk and Malton will not take place until May 2010, as a result of the death of one of the candidates during the campaigning period
- THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
- THE WELSH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
- THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
- THE GREATER LONDON AUTHORITY
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Members of the House of Lords are not elected, but are either hereditary peers or are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The House of Lords Reform Draft Bill was introduced in May 2011 for pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of MPs and Lords. The Bill proposes a move to an 80% elected upper house, with the remaining members appointed by recommendation of the Prime Minister. The new House of Lords would be made up of 300 members, with the 240 elected members sitting for 15-year terms. Membership would not be renewable, which is intended to safeguard the independence of the elected members.
European Commissioners are not elected, but a Commissioner for each member state is appointed by his or her government. In the UK this means that the European Commissioner is appointed by the Prime Minister. The President of the European Commission is chosen by a majority vote of European Commissioners, whilst the 14 vice Presidents are usually nominated by informal agreement without a vote. The President of the European Union is chosen by informal agreement between the heads of the states comprising the European Union, as are the appointments to the other senior positions created by the Lisbon Treaty, such as the EU Trade Commissioner.
Referendums require a direct vote of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by the electorate on a particular issue. Most Western nations have the machinery for referendums, but use them infrequently. Referendums are generally used to resolve issues relating to the constitution, territory and self-determination, and morality.
In Britain, there have been 11 referendums held on ‘constitutional’ issues, involving proposed shifts in power to a particular tier of government. Only two of these were nation-wide: the referendum on whether or not Britain should remain within the European Community and the AV referendum.
The 11 referendums:
Until recently, referendums have been rarely held, the key reason being the belief that Parliament, rather than the people, ought to make major political decisions. In practice, referendums have only been held because the governing political party has been split internally over an issue, although this may be changing.
The use of referendums is arguably becoming more frequent. The Localism Act 2011 includes provisions for Local Authorities to hold local referendums on issues of local concern, including council tax increases.