What are the alternatives to First Past the Post?

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 19th January 2023

Westminster’s First Past the Post system means we don’t get a parliament that fully represents the voting public.

Millions of people can support one party and get a single MP, while a few hundred thousand people who support a different party can get ten times as many. This means that the issues that are important in Westminster aren’t always the same as the issues the public feel most strongly about.

Parties can win the argument and increase the number of people who vote for them, but lose seats, and visa versa – actually winning more seats when they lose voters.

All this makes it hard for voters to tell politicians what they think – what matters is the seats in the House of Commons, not the voters in the country. Thankfully there are lots of options for upgrading the system to make Westminster more responsive to voters.

What does proportional representation mean?

Proportional representation is not an alternative system to First Past the Post in itself, but the idea that parliament should match the political make-up of the country. If half of the voters are left-wing, half of the MPs will be left-wing. It’s a basic idea, but one that First Past the Post has failed to provide. Around the UK though, we have been using alternative electoral systems for decades that do provide proportional representation.

The Additional Member System (AMS)

The Additional Member System is used in the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the London Assembly. Very similar systems are used in Germany and New Zealand, where it is called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

Voters have two ballot papers. On the first is a list of candidates who want to be your local Member of Parliament. Like a Westminster election, the voter marks their preferred candidate with a cross.

On the second ballot paper is a list of parties that want seats in parliament. Each party will publish a list of candidates in advance. A vote for a party is a vote to make more of their list of candidates into MPs.

The candidates on each party’s list are used to ‘top-up’ the results of the local contests to make the overall results proportional

Find out more about the Additional Member System

The Single Transferable Vote (STV)

The Single Transferable Vote is used for local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the lower house of the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann). Around the world, the system is used in Malta, and for many elections in Australia.

On the ballot paper is a list of candidates, voters number them with their favourite as number one, their second favourite number two, and so on. Voters can put numbers next to as many or as few candidates as they like. Parties will often stand more than one candidate in each area.

Rather than one person representing everyone in a small area, bigger areas elect a small team of representatives, such as 4 or 5. These representatives reflect the diversity of opinions in the area.

Find out more about the Single Transferable Vote

Party List Proportional Representation

Party Lists Proportional representation is the most popular electoral system in the world.

Rather than electing one person per area, in Party List systems each area is bigger and elects a group of MPs that closely reflect the way the area voted. These could be the size of a town, county or whole country.

Each party will publish a list of candidates in advance. In some countries, the ballot paper just lists the parties, and voters cast a vote for their favourite party. In others, it will also list all the candidates and voters can mark their favourite candidate.

Find out more about Party List Proportional Representation

These are just the main alternatives to First Past the Post. Around the world, different countries have designed different electoral systems suited to them. All electoral systems strike a compromise between how proportional the result is, how many choices voters have and how local the representatives are.

The three systems above strike a different balance between these three priorities, but all of them are better alternatives to First Past the Post

Sign our petition to scrap First Past the Post

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