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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 58

Proportional representation: a practical proposal

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Proportional Representation

A Practical Proposal

Isbister and Company, Limited London 56, Ludgate Hill

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Proportional Representation :

A Practical Proposal.

I Do not intend on this occasion to repeat the arguments in favour of proportional representation, which have been urged with conclusive force by so many writers, from Mr. Hare to Mr. Seebohm's article in the December number of this Review. The actual situation is this: First, that while the greatest interest centres in the parliamentary question, in which the principle is under controversy, a minor, but important, application of the principle to School Board elections is well established, but needs reform in detail; secondly, that if such reform can be effected in the minor case, the spectacle of its working must influence the controversy as to the parliamentary application.

I have ventured to say that in School Board elections the proportional principle is well established, for just consider what are the alternatives. There are but two. One is that the members of each School Board out of London, and those for each London division, should be elected in one list by the majority. But no one will seriously propose that the working of the boards should be handed over bodily, as the majority in any place sways to and fro—for three years to the partizans of secular education and for the next three to those of religious; for three years to Churchmen and for the next three to Dissenters; for three years to the friends of industrial schools and for the next three to those who disapprove of them or who think they should be disconnected from the School Boards, and so forth. The other alternative is that each London division, and each other large town, should be divided into districts electing single members. But whatever may be the chances of the one-member system for parliamentary elections, there is a fatal difficulty in its way for School Board purposes. The task of dividing, and of remodelling the scheme of division as the rapid expansion and shifting of population within town areas would page 2 continually require, would have to be entrusted to the Education Department. Now neither Lord Carlingford, nor Mr. Mundella, nor any other man enjoying common sanity, would undertake to meet the howl which any possible scheme of division would excite. Imagine the outcry which would be raised on all sides that the boundaries had been gerrymandered in order to swamp this church, that chapel, this rich district, that poor district! Parliament might make such a division, and for the purposes of parliamentary elections, for which such frequent remodelling would not be necessary, it perhaps may; for Parliament would disperse and leave no one in particular to face the odium. But that the head of a department should consent to offer himself up as the sacrifice is inconceivable.

Assuming then that the proportional principle will have to be maintained for School Board elections, let us consider what, as now applied in them, it has done, and what it has failed to do. At this point it will be worth while to quote the rule for the cumulative vote as it stands in the Elementary Education Act, 1870:—

"At every such election every voter shall be entitled to a number of votes equal to the number of members of the School Board to be elected, and may give all such votes to one candidate, or may distribute them among the candidates as he thinks fit"(sect. 29). There is a similar rule in sect. 37 (5), for the election of the members for the London divisions.

The cumulative vote, applied even with this rudimentary simplicity, has furnished each large School Board with a representation of all shades of opinion held by any numerous body of electors. Taking the frequent case of parties, AB and AC, more like each other than either is to party D, and of which, though all are numerous, we will suppose AC to be less numerous than AH, the mere majority system has one of two results. If party AC is weak in spirit, it is effaced, being dragged at the heels of AB to make up the majority over D. But if party AC is strong in spirit, it imposes its candidates on AB as the price of its aid in making up the majority over D, and it is AB that is effaced. The cumulative vote has given separate representation to all three, and on the boards AB and AC have acted together so far as they agreed, which is as far as it was right or desirable for them to act together. Under the cumulative vote there has been no lack of committees which have run candidates, as, indeed, it would be a pity that there ever should be a lack, for co-operation in such committees is a necessary feature of healthy public opinion. But there has been also another no less healthy feature, which must otherwise have been very rare—namely, candidates who have originated committees—persons who have come forward in the belief, justified by the event, that large bodies of opinion would rally round them, which would not have found adequate expression in the usual committees. And the net result has been that the working of the page 3 School Board system has been much more stable than it could have been if the shifting majority of every three years had had its way uncontrolled.

Let us turn now to what the rudimentary cumulative vote has failed to do. Each shade of opinion held by a numerous body of electors, though represented, has not had its proportional representation. It is evident that a party which runs more candidates than in proportion to its numbers risks returning fewer candidates than in proportion to its numbers, and not only has this risk been often realized, but often also the fear of it has prevented a party from running its due number of candidates. Again, even when the due number, and that only, has been run, all have not been returned, because the votes of their supporters have not been evenly divided among them. It would seem as if those who established the cumulative vote had greater faith in the power of organizing than the event has justified. I will give a few instances of the waste of votes, drawn from the last two general elections for the London School Board, because nine years' practice had preceded even the first of the two, and it may therefore be supposed that the power of organizing had reached as full a development as can be expected. In order to appreciate them thoroughly, it is necessary to explain what is meant by a quota. If 10,000 votes are given at an election, and three members are to be elected, the proportional principle requires that any candidate who has received 2,501 votes should be elected because the remaining 7,499 votes cannot he so distributed as to give as many as 2,501 to more than two others. A little reflection on this example will show the truth of the following rule:—Divide the number of votes given by the number of members to be elected, plus one : the quotient, plus one, is the quota, that is, the number of votes which on the proportional principle will entitle a candidate to be elected. If the quotient is fractional, the quota is the next higher integer.

Now, in the City of London, in 1879, there were four members to elect, and 23,591 good votes were given. Therefore the quota was 4,719; but the highest on the poll got 7,153 votes, and one member was elected with 2,089, or considerably less than half the quota.

In the Hackney division, in 1879, there were five members to elect and 60,992 good votes were given. Therefore the quota was 10,166; but the highest, on the poll had 13,727 votes, and one member was elected with 4,728, or again less than half the quota.

In the Lambeth division, in 1882, there were eight members to elect, and 153,142 good votes were given. Therefore the quota was 17,010, but the highest on the poll had 34,896 votes, or more than twice the quota, while two members were elected with 8,888 and 8,190, or about half the quota.

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It is important to observe that the wasteful accumulation of votes on some candidates leads to the election of others with a very small number of votes, because this is the second point in which the working of the actual School Board system is open to objection. It is desirable that each shade of opinion held by a numerous body of electors should be represented, but it is not desirable that very small bodies should have the power of returning candidates. If a very small group is composed of the partizans of a real shade of opinion, their exclusion will not shake public confidence in the representative assembly, as that of a large group would do, and they can still propagate their views in the press and at meetings. More often, however, a very small group is composed of the partizans of a candidate; and he, again, is often one whose personal qualifications have not recommended him for selection to the great body of those with whom his opinions, so far as he has any, would connect him. Now few who know anything of the working of assemblies will doubt the importance of keeping bad members out, if possible. Their power for mischief is increased by their election tenfold more than the power of an average candidate for good is increased by his election, while an exceptionally good candidate can generally impress himself on a large body of supporters. It is therefore an additional evil, incidental to the wasteful accumulation of votes on some candidates, that it facilitates the success of small combinations in favour of others. I must not be misunderstood as hinting that all members who have been returned to School Boards by small fractions of quotas, or even most who are in that case, have proved themselves to be objectionable members. Many worthy candidates, who represented considerable bodies of opinion, have been left with small fractions of quotas through the undue accumulation of votes on other "representatives of the same opinions; and in the instances I have quoted I have had no reference at all to the worthiness or otherwise of the persons concerned. I have selected them only to show, by striking examples, that election by too few votes is the necessary accompaniment of election by too many; and then I leave it to every one's knowledge of human nature to assure him that, among the elections made by too few votes, many must be such as he would regret.

The direction, then, in which the actual School Board system of election has to be improved is that of giving some assistance to the power of organizing, which has been found insufficient, while adding as little as possible that is novel to a system which has the great advantage that all are now familiar with it. Let the reader imagine that the rule of cumulative voting, which has been quoted on page 2, from the Elementary Education Act, 1870, is numbered (1), and, without changing it at all, let him consider the following rules proposed as additional :— page 5
(2.)Any two or more candidates may be nominated together as a list, in which their names appear in a certain order. The name of no candidate can appear on more than one list.
(3.)Any voter may give all or any of his votes to any list so formed, and may also give all or any of his votes to any candidates on any list, just as if they had stood separately.
(4.)The number obtained by dividing the whole number of good votes given at the election by the number of members to be elected, plus one, and increasing the quotient, or the integral part of the quotient, by one, shall be called the quota.
(5.)The votes given to any list shall be attributed to the first candidate on it until thereby, together with any votes given to him singly, he has obtained the quota. They shall then be attributed to the second candidate on the list, until he has similarly obtained the quota, and so on.
(6.)Any residue of the votes given for a list which is insufficient to make up the quota for the last candidate on it reached under the preceding rule, shall be attributed to the next lower candidate on the list, if any, for whom it can make up the quota, until his quota is made up, and so on. Any final residue, which is insufficient to make up the quota for any candidate remaining on the list, shall be attributed to the candidate remaining on it to whom the most votes have been given singly, and, in case of equality, to the first such candidate.
(7.)Those candidates shall be declared to have been elected to whom the largest numbers of votes shall have been given or attributed.

To illustrate these rules, suppose that nine members are to be elected, and that 100,000 good votes are given. Then the quota is 10,001, and every candidate who gets that number of votes is entitled to be elected, because not more than eight others can get as many each out of the remaining 89,999. We may suppose that there are the three parties or bodies of opinion which have been above designated as AB, AC, and D; and that on behalf of each a list is nominated containing the full number of nine names, while there are other candidates who stand singly. Each elector will have nine votes, which he may dispose of in a great variety of ways. He may give them all to any one of the lists. If his predilections are not only confined to one of the lists, but do not even extend to all the candidates on that list, he may give his votes to those alone of the candidates on it of whom he approves. He may divide his votes among certain candidates on different lists, and indeed it is probable that many will select candidates from each of the two cognate lists, AB and AC; or he may give all or any of his votes to one or more candidates standing alone.

In whatever way an elector votes, the returning officer will have to perform no operation on his voting paper but that of counting it. All the operations necessary for bringing out the result of the election will be arithmetical ones, performed, after the counting, on the numbers of the votes given for the several lists and candidates. They will therefore be performed in a few minutes, and may always be easily verified.

For example, suppose that 30,000 votes have been counted for the page 6 list AB, and 1,000 separately for the first candidate on it. That candidate requires 9,001 of the list votes to make up his quota, and 20,999 of them are left. The second candidate may have no separate votes, and the third 500, so that these two take between them 19,502 of the list votes, and 1,497 are passed on, which we will suppose are insufficient to make up the quota for the fourth name. But the fifth name may be that of a candidate who has received a large number of separate votes, either for personal reasons, or because his opinions may verge on those designated as AC, and many electors may consequently have split their votes between him and certain names on the list AC. He may therefore require only 1,000 votes to make up his quota, and these he will get under rule 6. The remaining 497 we will suppose to be the final residue mentioned in the same rule, which cannot make up a quota for any of the five candidates who remain on the list—namely, number 4 and numbers 6 to 9. Clearly they must be attributed to that one of the five who has the most separate votes, in order that they may have the best chance of not being thrown away. If numbers 4 and 6 have the most separate votes, and are equal as between themselves, number 4 will get the 497 from the priority of his position on the list. And when this process has been gone through with all the lists, the members remaining to be elected will be taken, by the simple majority of votes, from those candidates who stood alone, and those candidates on the lists who have not obtained quotas.

The amendment thus proposed, which may be described as combining free lists with the cumulative vote, appears to secure that each great body of opinion shall have a representation nearly proportional to the number of its adherents, as tested by the total number of votes given for the list nominated on its behalf and for the several candidates on that list. It frees parties from the necessity of running fewer candidates than there are members to be returned, on pain of missing their due share of representation, and consequently also from the uncertainty attending the estimate of the number they should run. And it does this while preserving the liberty of any candidate to stand alone, and the liberty of every elector to vote only for those candidates of whom he approves. The list, for those electors who approve it, operates as a mode of transferring their votes to those who need them, in accordance with Mr. Hare's principle. With regard to the election of the remaining members by simple majority, after the quotas have been made up, this will be confined within narrow limits by the completeness with which the several parties will be able to make up the quotas they are entitled to. There will seldom, in any constituency, be more than one or two members to be so elected. And since the independent candidates will have to compete for those places with the remaining names on the lists, for page 7 which all the list votes will have been given, in fact, though it may not have been possible to attribute many to them, the combination of a small number of electors in favour of an objectionable individual will rarely succeed.

The necessary adaptation of the voting-paper is of the simplest kind. We all know its present form, a column of names with ruled spaces on the right for the numbers of votes given to them respectively. This may remain unaltered, but the names composing each list must follow one another and be united by a bracket on the left, with a space on the left for the number of votes given to the list. All the figures written by an elector, whether on the right or on the left of the column of names, must not together exceed the number of members to be elected, just as is now the rule for the figures which he places on the right only.

I will close this paper as it was begun, by pointing out that if the amendment is found to work well in School Board elections, for which I conceive it to be necessary, the scheme it embodies will also enable large parliamentary constituencies to elect all their members without the gerrymandering of boundaries, and the loss of a large public spirit, which must accompany the one-member system.

J. Westlake.

Printed By Ballantyne, Hanson and Co.

London and Edinburgh