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Voting matters - Issue 11, April 2000
Incorporating X-voting into Preference voting by STV
C H E Warren
Hugh Warren is a retired mathematician.
One of the thing said by many people, particularly by those who have used
the X-voting system for many years, and by journalists, is that preference
voting by STV is difficult to understand. However much advocates of
preference voting by STV may find this view unjustified, and itself
difficult to understand, they must accept that it is a view that is
expressed, and no doubt genuinely held by a lot of people.
The purpose of this paper is to make the point that, instead of trying to
win over the X-voting enthusiasts to the STV way of voting, consideration
should be given to allowing the X-voting enthusiasts into the preference
voting by STV system.
2. The Basic Idea
The basic idea is that, in addition to those who wish to vote in the STV
way by showing preferences 1, 2, 3, .. in the recognized way, those who
wish to vote by putting an X against the candidates they wish to see
elected should be allowed to do so, provided of course that they do not put
an X against more candidates than the number to be elected.
3. Interpretation of the Ballot Paper
With some ballot papers marked in the STV way by preferences 1, 2, 3,.. and
some marked by an X against a number of candidates, the way in which it is
suggested that the two may be accommodated is to treat the X votes as
equal preference for a first preference candidate.
The allowing of equal preferences in the STV system is a matter which has
been talked about in the past, but usually ruled out on the grounds that it
would make an already complicated system more complicated. However, to
allow equality of preference to be exercised on the first preference only
should not lead to seriously greater complexity.
4. The count
The count is not of course a matter with which the voters have to concern
themselves, provided that they can be assured that it is being done in a
If there are, say, 10 candidates to be elected, then at the first stage of
the count, each candidate will have a number of votes of value 1 from the
preference votes, and a number of votes of value 0.1 from the X-votes.
From this point onwards the count can proceed just as if it were a regular
STV count, except that, of course, when surpluses have to be transferred,
it will only be the preference votes for which the amount retained will be
reduced, thereby allowing some of the vote to be transferred to the next
The advocates of preference voting by STV have been trying for over 100
years to beat the advocates of X-voting. There is an adage which says If
you can't beat them, join them. What is proposed here is not so much a
case of joining them as incorporating them.
It is possible that, in the course of time, the X-voters will see that
their interests could be better served by going across to preference
voting, but the proposal is not to try and force STV on them.
The above proposal effectively merges the voting methods of First Past The
Post and STV, so that the user can choose which method to employ. However,
given that an STV-style count is to be undertaken, it seems logical to make
an extension to Warren's proposal as follows: Allow the voter to place any
number of X's on the ballot paper. Each X counts as a first-preference
value of 1/n, where n is the number of X's. With this
proposal, an election for a single candidate in which the voter judges two
candidates as of equal merit and no others of interest, two X's can be
used, counting as 0.5 for each. More significantly, in my own experience
for some elections, one can have, say, 6 seats to fill, but one has
knowledge of only, say, 3 candidates. Under conventional X-voting (and
Warren's proposal) one could place 3 X's and lose half of ones voting
power. Under this suggestion, 1/3 of a vote would go to each candidate and
there would be no loss of voting power.
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