Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Thoughts on States Reform

I see the States have brought up reform again, but I'm not  so keen on "doing Clothier properly"; I tend to find myself in surprising agreement with Pierre Horsfall and Roy Le Hérissier and Colin Egré over larger electoral districts for Deputies.

What I think is needed first is to agree on principles on which reform can take place before looking at the mechanics of reform; in other words, rather than looking at the different options, which are all flooding into the States, instead to look for agreement (and perhaps vote on the merits of) principles on which the options can be judged.

For instance:

a) even representation - the ratio of voting population / (deputy +constable) must I think be evenly distributed.

We've been lucky in that this has largely managed to fit Parish divisions, by getting extra Deputies for larger Parishes. But with the population growth over the last 40 years, this has not been even, and there are wide disparities. St Maries ratio is almost double that of most of the other Parishes, which is really an impossible situation, but there are other Parishes which have grown and should really have an extra Deputy if they are to retain parity with St Helier, St Brelade, St Saviour, and a few which should also be reduced.

If you look at the history of England, the most notable change happened when large industrial towns sprang up, so that by 1832, and the Reform Act, there were large industrial areas with virtually no MPs, and "rotten boroughs" with far over the number of mps to a declining population. The Reform act was one step, but there is a continuing boundary commission to ensure that the even representation continued, and continues to this day. If we had larger districts for Deputies, such as in Guernsey where they combine several smaller Parishes, we could get better ratios, and reduce the number of Deputies accordingly, and it would be easier to manage in the future. Jersey has altered significantly since the last additional Deputies were added, and the population now varies widely. A reassessment of even representation is long overdue.

The question is: are there any other ways of maintaining even representation? Clothier manages it for most parishes, by taking out Senators and Constables and adding some extra Deputies, but St Mary is still clearly over represented with two, and would need just one. Clothier (and John Henwood, who favours this solution) always balk at that option.

b) voting choice - in a party system, it doesn't matter that the PM is only elected for one safe electoral district, because the spread of votes across all districts is what counts. If one doesn't have a party system, then one could have a situation where the Chief Minister (as a worst case scenario) is elected in St Mary, and has the smallest possible Island mandate, with only a small number of voters being able to vote him out. Larger districts, combining smaller Parishes,  would ensure that at least a large chunk of the population could vote for a Chief Minister (and for other Ministers) when they come up for re-election. It also means a Chief Minister could have an extremely small Island mandate, and be entrenched for years, despite the majority of the electorate being dissatisfied. This is not a good way to go.

The question is: what is sufficient to allow the voter to vote out someone, or to restrict their power? An alternative might be like many countries, to only allow a Chief Minister to serve two consecutive terms of office as a Chief Minister. There may be other mechanisms.

c) Parish links - this is more of an "option choice". Do we want to retain a single Parish link. If one removes the Deputies from Parishes to Districts, if Constables remained, there would still be a Parish link. Do we want that?  The Clothier option leaves the Deputies and removes Constables and Senators to retain the Parish link.

d) Island wide mandate and "voting power". At present, in St Brelade number 2, I can vote for 6 Senators, 2 Deputies, 1 Constable making 9 States members. In St Mary, electors can vote for 9 States Members. Clothier would reduce St Brelade to perhaps 3-4 Deputies, St Mary to 2 Deputies, thus in losing the island wide mandate, reducing the individual "voting power" hugely. Districts for Deputies could maintain more of that "voting power". Or should we also have at least 6-8 Senators as well to balance that?

e) Any other principle that a fair voting system needs, that I haven't thought of!

I've also been wondering if it is possible to develop a scoring method based on (a) to (d) to measure how well different proposals work out, and rank how they do.

For instance, for a given proposal of reform.

On even representation: 1 Improve 0 Neutral -1 Diminishes
Voting choice:  1 Improve 0 Neutral -1 Diminishes
Parish Links:  1 Improve 0 Neutral -1 Diminishes
Voter Power:  1 Improve 0 Neutral -1 Diminishes

This would allow the different ideas for electoral reform to be given an overall total score, and rank each against one another, so there would be some way of assessing the merits of each option.

My rough and ready assessment yields:

Clothier score = 0,-1,1,-1 = -1

Larger Districts, no Constables, No Senators (Guernsey model) =  1,1,-1,-1 = 0

Larger Districts, Constables, No Senators = 1,1,-1,-1 = 0

Present Reform: Deputies, Constables, 8 Senators = 0,0,0,-1 = -1

Larger Districts (but with less Deputies), Constables, 4-8 Senators = 1,1,-1,0 = 1

The present form is neutral on a number of issues, because it doesn't adjust the status quo very much at all. Of the other options Clothier is poorest in every respect, because it fails on voting choice and voting power. The present reform (to less Senators) is equally poor, for the same reason.

Options based on the Guernsey model are better and are mostly neutral, meaning that they leave the score much as they find it. But  keeping the Constables and Senators with larger districts is an improvement. The Constables keep a Parish link, while the number of Senators can ensure the "voting power" is on a par with the present.

Ranking is always a simplification; I remember Spearman's rank correlation coefficient which simplifies how X changes with respect to Y, seeing how well the two variables can be described using a monotonic function. There are undoubtedly more sophisticated methods of ranking. It is also debatable, perhaps, whether "voting choice" should be included; especially if the terms of office of a Chief Minister are prescribed. There is also a subjective element to the scoring.

But I hope I've given some idea of the means by which we can set forth principles, decided on those, and assess different electoral reforms so that we can see what is at least neutral in the overall effect (rather than just concentrating on one aspect), and what is a regressive step.


st-ouennais said...

I think the susperconstituency for deputies is flawed in the same way that our current senatorial elections are flawed.

I electing simultaneously a number of people from a constituency by giving all electors in that constituency that number of votes each acts to multiply the impact of the majority grouping of electors.

I cannot support any such scheme without proper voting reform in place beforehand. Give us STV and RON and I'll listen.

TonyTheProf said...

Horsfall suggested some kind of STV system, and I would certainly like it. But would it be practical without some kind of electronic voting system, and what costs would we be looking at?

st-ouennais said...

Election of 5 or 6 members from one constituency of several thousand electors is feasible without electonic voting. We certainly managed to do it when I was at college. I think some trades unions do it too. The electoral reform society might be able to indicate costs.

electoral reform