Eurovision is upon us once again with everyone’s favourite celebration of Europe’s questionable musical talent. Certain traditions will no doubt hold: certain acts will be flamboyantly silly, Britain will score badly and after it is all over people will moan about the voting.
The voting at the moment is done by a system of electoral colleges. Each country awards, in total, 58 points which are distributed using the Borda count. The contestant who gets the most votes gets 12 points, the second best votes 10, the third 8 and from then on it declines by 1 point with the 10th placed contestant getting a measly 1 point.
Since 2009 half the points have also been decided by a Jury of Judges in each country. This was brought in to prevent a ‘bloc voting’ effect where countries in close proximity often vote for each other (for example the Nordic states often vote for one another).
There are problems with the Borda Count system however. A country’s favourite song will always get 12 points. Its second favourite will always get 10. This is true if the first placed song beats the second placed by 1 vote or 1 million. What’s more a song may gain significant votes from a minority. For example, 15% of the population of the UK may be great fans of the Irish entry ‘Waterline’ by popular weird haired pop sensation Jedward. This may be enough to net them the full 12 points. However the other 85% of Brits may hate the Jedward song. The people of Britain would therefore be represented as great fans of Jedward even though the vast majority do not like them at all.
So what if the Single Transferable Vote was used for Eurovision? This would produce proportionate, fair results, taking notice of people’s additional preferences, thus creating a better, more interesting and more competitive event.
In order to do this, we would probably need to throw out the outdated telephone voting system and move to a brand new internet voting system (in order to cover certain costs the telephones use premium rate numbers). Internet voting produces a certain problem of its own – it is easier to pretend to be in a foreign country – so I suggest, as a fail safe, charging people a small amount, say, 50p, and using the billing address of people’s debit and credit cards to ascertain their location.
On the website people would rank countries by preference. Each country would continue to have 58 points to distribute.
Once votes are counted up a quota would be set at the number of votes divided by the 59 (number of points, plus 1, to allow for some wastage).
First preferences would then be counted and points would be distributed on the basis of the number of quotas a contestant gets. For example if the quota was 10,000 votes and Ireland got 57,000 votes and France got 31,000 they would get 5 and 3 points respectively. Barring the incredibly unlikely event of all points being allocated on first preferences second preferences would then have to be allocated.
We would then ask who is furthest away from a seat. So in our above example, Ireland is 3,000 votes from a seat, and France 9,000. Let’s assume France is furthest. We would then re-distribute the French votes to their second and third preferences using a formula weighting the second and third preferences of all votes for the French contestant.
If a contestant passes the quota for another seat we would then give them another point. Either way we would continue to eliminate candidates until all points are distributed or until the number of contestants remaining matches the number of remaining points to be awarded in which case they would all get 1 more.
This system would produce more proportionate outcomes and national bloc voting would be reduced as contestants could gain from encouraging higher turnout amongst neighbouring countries instead of just targeting swing voters in swing nations.
Now obviously we have bigger worries on our mind but spare a thought for the misrepresented and disenfranchised voters in the Eurovision this weekend. Good democracy does not just belong in parliaments after all, and the more we get used to using fairer voting systems in other areas of our life the more we may start to question why we put up with First Past the Post in Westminster…
Find out more about the failings of First Past the Post and its impact on British democracy.