Report: Vast majority of Northern Ireland voters ignored under Westminster’s ‘warped’ electoral system

Posted on the 2nd March 2020

New analysis of the 2019 general election found that hundreds of thousands of voters ‘systematically ignored’ by Westminster’s broken voting system.

New research into December’s UK election shows that the vast majority of voters in Northern Ireland are going ‘ignored’ by Westminster’s one-party-takes-all voting system. 

Voters Left Voiceless: The 2019 General Election” – a report from the Electoral Reform Society – shows how the First Past the Post system delivered warped results across Northern Ireland.

Of the almost 800,000 votes cast in Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies, 575,412 votes were not decisive to the local result – meaning 72% of voters were effectively ignored.

Of that figure, over 400,000 votes went to non-elected candidates, 135,377 went to party candidates over and above what they needed to win. Under a proportional system like STV, these surplus votes would be redistributed based on their other preferences, to ensure they counted.

Northern Ireland – Decisive vs Ignored Votes

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes 799,035 100%
Decisive Votes 223,623 28%
Ignored Votes 575,412 72%
  • Unrepresented Votes
440,035 55.1%
  • Surplus Votes
135,377 16.9%

The analysis also found that Northern Ireland’s multi-party politics was again, as in 2017, squeezed by the two-party electoral system.
The result saw 83 percent of seats going to the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin –  despite 47 percent of votes going to other parties or candidates.
Northern Ireland also saw MPs elected with some of the lowest shares of the vote in the UK – with two of the three lowest winning vote shares in the election going to Northern Ireland MPs. The ERS say Westminster’s ‘one-winner’ set up leads to MPs slipping in on fractions of the vote.

Northern Ireland faced a starkly disproportionate result, with a disproportionality score (DV) of 30  – meaning nearly a third of seats now held are effectively ‘unearned’ in proportional terms. Northern Ireland’s DV score was the highest out of UK nations bar Scotland, and nearly double the UK-wide score. Northern Ireland also had the lowest turnout in the UK at 62% (compared to 67% UK-wide). 
In the South Down constituency, the winning candidate was elected with just 32.4% of the vote, meaning that over two-thirds of voters voted for a candidate that did not win. Meanwhile South Antrim saw its MP returned to Parliament with the support of just 35.3% of voters.
Writing in the report, Dr Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy at the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said:

“Northern Ireland’s multi-party politics was again, as in 2017, squeezed into a warped two-party shape with 83 percent of the seats going to just two parties despite 47 percent of votes going to others.”

Jess Blair, the ERS’ spokesperson on Northern Ireland, said:

“Voters in Northern Ireland – used to voting with a proportional system for non-Westminster elections – are being cheated out of fair representation. The huge scale of unrepresented votes represents a democratic crisis that has to be tackled. It’s time to ensure seats match how people want to vote. 

“Westminster’s out-dated, bankrupt electoral system is denying people choice and a real voice. The time for one-party-takes-all politics is over. We know proportional representation works – it’s time we backed a system that works for voters.”


Notes to Editors

Full report here:

See report sections on NI and Appendix for graphs and full data for use with accreditation.

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