Electoral Reform for Eurovision?

Chris Terry, Former Research Officer

Posted on the 24th May 2012

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 song by 1 vote or 1 million in the popular vote. 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 Jedward, but be split on who they do like. 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In order to do this, we would probably need to throw out the outdated telephone voting system and move to a brand new internet or app voting system. Internet voting produces a certain problem of its own – it is easier to pretend to be in a foreign country – but, you could charge people a small amount, say, 50p, and use the credit card billing address to ascertain their location.

On the website, music lovers would put as many of the euro-songs as they wanted in order. Their favourite would be number one, the second favourite at number two, etc.

Each country would continue to have 58 points to distribute. Once all the votes are cast, a set number of votes a song needs to beat to win a point would be set. This is the number of votes cast divided by the number of points up for grabs (plus one, as some people are going to vote for terrible songs). Say 590,000 people voted, a song would need to beat 10,000 votes to get a point.

Eurovision HQ would count up how many votes each song won and distribute the points. For example, if you needed to beat 10,000 votes to get a point and the UK gave Waterline by Ireland’s Jedwood got 57,000 and Echo (You And I) by France’s Anggun 31,000; Ireland would get 5 and France 3 points.

Songs that got the same amount of votes would get the same amount of points. Not enough songs would get over 10,000 votes to use up all 58 points, so this is where the numbering comes in.

We would then ask who is furthest away from getting next point. So in our above example, Waterline by Ireland’s Jedwood is 3,000 votes from another point (they need 60,000 to get 6 points), and Echo (You And I) by France’s Anggun is 9,000 (they need 40,000 to win their 4th).

We would then re-distribute the French votes to their second and third preferences using a formula weighing the second and third preferences of all votes for the French contestant.

If a contestant passes the quota 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…

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