These government plans will hit 44m voters with less choice and a weaker voice

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 7th May 2021

Millions of people went to the polls this Thursday in England and Wales to elect PCCs, plus Combined Authority mayors and the London mayor– using the Supplementary Vote system (SV).

SV allows voters to list their first preference, as well as a second choice if their first choice is not successful.  If the top candidate doesn’t secure 50% of the vote, second choices come into play, giving the winner a broader spread of support and a stronger mandate for these crucial roles. Around 44 million potential voters benefited from this on Thursday.

In fact, nearly everyone in Britain had a chance to not use First Past the Post this Thursday, since  – in addition to the PCC/mayoral votes – over 12m Londoners, Scots and Welsh voters used a proportional voting system that ensures seats more closely match votes.

But government proposals, announced in March by Home Secretary Priti Patel, would see the current preference-based Supplementary Vote method replaced with Westminster style First Past the Post – despite voters having never used First Past the Post for these positions.

The move could see unpopular and highly divisive candidates sneaking into city and town halls on low levels of support and being given major powers when the majority of voters opposed them.  The government’s plans to change the voting system for electing Police and Crime Commissioner elections and mayors will all voters in England and Wales with less choice, weaker mandates and reduced accountability.

The plans could be included in next week’s Queen’s Speech – alongside dangerous plans to impose mandatory voter ID. But the ERS is urging the Home Secretary to drop these bizarre and unwanted proposals. Scrapping voters’ ability to pick a second candidate will lead to millions more having to hold their nose at the ballot box. It will result in weaker accountability, with mayors elected on fractions of the vote, rather than being encouraged to secure a majority.

The Supplementary Vote system is far from perfect, but imposing First Past the Post on these major elections will drive down voter choice and turn back the clock.

First Past the Post frequently sees people elected with just a third of the vote. In 2015, one MP was elected on 25% of the vote. That is a major risk when powerful policing and leadership roles are being decided on.

With all the challenges facing the country right now, making it easier for divisive candidates to take mayoral posts should be nowhere near ministers’ to-do list.

We need to be finding ways of increasing accountability for our politicians, improving our democracy and making it fit for the modern age – rather than imposing a discredited and broken voting system.

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

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