Friday, 1 March 2013

The Case for Option C

"Politically I would suggest that the following strands intertwine themselves through the consciousness of the Public.
1) There is significant support for the retention of the Constables within the States Assembly.
2) There is strong support for the Island wide vote (i.e. position of Senator).
3) There is a recognition that the present political system has very strong 'grass roots' connections. For example both Deputies and Constables are elected through the Parish, and because of those strong connections to the Parish, are regularly seen at Parish events, are easily communicated with etc etc. " (Deputy John Le Fondré, submission to Commission)

"It is worth repeating that no top-level jurisdiction in the world uses equalised population (or registered electorate) as the sole criterion for representation. Issues of practicality, the imprecision of the data the exercise is based upon, stability of boundaries over time, representation of communities and the protection of 'small states' all affect the distribution of seats." (Lewis Baston , Electoral systems research)

Supporters of the A-Team are widely touting Option A as "the only democratic option". But I think there might be growing support for Option C.

Option C keeps the existing status quo, which will lead to a reduction in Senators to 8, a general election to be moved to the Spring, and a four year term of office. Yet it keeps the existing inequalities regarding the Parishes, and in particular, the Parish of St Mary. So who would vote for it, except people who want to perpetuate those inequalities.

The answer is very simple. There is no option for "None of the above" as that was ruled out of the States, yet I know from speaking to quite a few States members that they are really unhappy with the way the Electoral Commission has come up with its proposals; in particular,

- they want the Deputies as well as the Constables to keep a Parish connection
- they think that the Clothier recommendation that those outside the Executive (Council of Ministers and Assistant Ministers) should number more than the Executive to keep it in check; a proposal which took formulation in the "Troy Rule".
- they think that the number 42, and the obsession with reducing numbers, is a mistake, especially as a Justice Ministry and a Foreign Ministry have both been proposed, increasing the number within the Executive
- they note that 42 could potentially lead to a hung vote, and they don't think that is good for democracy

In fact, on numbers, the report by Alan Renwick, University of Reading notes that:

"International political science offers one principal insight on this issue: broadly speaking, the membership of the lower (or sole) chamber of a country's national legislature tends to be roughly equal to the cube root of its population....The cube root law reflects the fact that, as we move from small to larger countries, the size of the legislature tends to rise, but at an ever declining rate...Jersey's population, as of the 2011 census, is 97,857. By the cube root law, this implies a legislature of 46 members, only slightly below the actual figure of 51."

Regarding Deputies and Parishes, much has been overlooked of the submission of Advocate Mark Renouf who felt he needed his own expert advice, and commissioned out of his own pocket, an independent report by Lewis Baston.  As he noted, "Mr Baston is a well known academic expert on electoral systems and is currently a Senior Research Fellow of Democratic Audit, a research organisation based at the University of Liverpool. Inter alia, he assisted a committee of the States of Deliberation of Guernsey in advising on electoral systems in our sister island."

Advocate Renouf noted that the report by Mr Baston showed that "by reference to international standards, the present system is not perfect (none is) but it is acceptable. IF it is thought that some further adjustment is necessary to equalise voting power, it is quite clear that various adjustments can be made without removing the Constables from the States."

He also argued that "we should maintain all three types of representation in the States: they give a blend of different talents, life experiences, and types of representation to the electorate."

Mr Baston does a tabular analysis of voting, and notes from this that:

"Jersey scores relatively poorly in two criteria for electoral equality - the overall variability of the ratio between electors and representatives, and in the relatively small number of electoral districts that fall close to the average. Nevertheless, other democracies from the same tradition, such as Canada and Jamaica, are comparable."

"Jersey, however, scores impressively on another measure of electoral equality by numbers. The spread between the largest and smallest ratio of representative to electorate is narrow, more so than in the UK and not far off highly equalised jurisdictions such as the US, Australia and England."

Regarding keeping Parish boundaries, he notes that:

"Legislative boundaries usually take account of internal boundaries within the state, for instance each State of Australia or the US is allocated a whole number of seats and cross-border seats are unacceptable. The same is true under both the 1986 and 2011 versions of the UK rules for the four nations of the UK. Under the 1986 rules, English and Welsh counties were regarded as being units entitled to whole numbers of seats and under the 2011 rules the nine English regions are similarly regarded, although in each case this is not guaranteed by statute. "

He suggests that the Parishes follow this same procedure regarding legislative boundaries and internal boundaries:

"The division of Jersey into Parishes is time-honoured and the boundaries between them are very stable (for instance there is no 'St Helier metropolitan authority' although the urban area spreads across parts of three Parishes and each Parish also contains rural areas). It is reasonable to regard Parishes as being of the same level of importance as the English counties under the 1986 Act and the regions under the 2011 Act. Because of the small overall size of Jersey and the small size of certain Parishes, this introduces more inequality into the ratio of electors to seats, although this is the consequence of preserving these strong traditional Parish boundaries."

He also notes that effectively by being a unicameral system, the States combine two different patterns of representation:

"Many larger states, particularly those that use the most 'equalised' systems of drawing up constituencies such as Australia and the United States, have a second chamber where representation is based on a criterion other than population. That Wyoming and California each have two Senators makes the voter in the small-population state vastly stronger than the Californian in terms of voting power in Congress."

And he says that in the unicameral Jersey system, Constables can be seen as analogous to how second chambers are set up, which is not on the basis of proportional representation, but State representation in America; that's what is known as the Sherman Compromise. Could Jersey live with a similar compromise?

"Representation of Constables in the Assembly can be seen as performing analogous functions to some of these second chamber systems, such as giving representation to the territorial integrity of well-established units within the country and representing a different tier of government - Constables also represent the interests of local government within the overall political system."

So how can the system work better. Well, he has some suggestions, principally that "redistribution of Deputy seats would achieve more equality of numbers without changing long-established constitutional features like the representation of Constables. "

"This analysis has assumed that each Parish has a de minimis allocation of a Constable and one Deputy; allowing only a Constable to represent St Mary (i.e. abolishing the separately elected Deputy) would improve equality without enlarging the Assembly so much but may not be considered desirable. One of the positive features of multi-member constituencies is that representation can be adjusted by changing the number of elected representatives rather than disruptive boundary changes."

"If this de minimis is reduced to that of a Constable and no additional Deputy (after all, a Constable is a Deputy with an additional local role, and in many jurisdictions individuals may combine local and national office), greater equalisation is possible without increasing numbers. Removing Deputies from St John, St Mary and Trinity, and adding them to St Brelade-2, St Clement and St Helier-3, reduces variability to 14.2 with no increase in size. It would also reduce the spread between the most and least represented electors with the smallest (St Mary) being 84 per cent of average and the largest (Trinity) being 128 per cent of average. This spread, which is probably for the public the most intuitive measure of electoral inequality (it is most quoted in UK discourse) even though it is a crude measure, would be smaller in Jersey than in any other top-level jurisdiction studied in this analysis: smaller than the United States House of Representatives, for instance. "

So there may be a lot to be said for Option C, and perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to rule it out as an option. It could give a breathing space for looking at a better model, like that suggested by Mr Baston, for Parish systems.

I'm not saying I would vote for it; I would simply say that the single minded concentration on numbers of Option A overlooks some of the arguments above. It should be noted that in speaking of representation, the Venice Commission says:

 "the maximum admissible departure from the distribution criterion adopted depends on the individual situation, it should seldom exceed ten per cent and never 15%, except in really exceptional circumstances (a demographically weak administrative unit of the same importance as others with at least one lower-chamber representative, or concentration of a specific national minority)."

Which makes the implicit assumption that there will probably be upper chamber representation, which may be on quite different lines. In fact the Venice Commission on bi-cameral systems notes that "It is very difficult to identify a pattern and there is an extraordinary heterogeneity of models for selecting the members of Second Chambers", which ties in with Mr Baston's comments about the USA.

Option C? We'll see!

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