Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Election Logic

The piece below was penned by John Henwood in 2005 for the magazine 24/7, and it is interesting to see, on the eve of a bi-election for a Senator, how the position has changed over the intervening years. I don't fully agree with John Henwood's solution, but he certainly highlights the problems well.

The elections have now been regularised, so there is just one General Election of all members, Senators, Constables and Deputies. The number and term of office of Senator has also been reduced so that while they are elected on an island wide mandate, it is all at once, and for the same period as other classes of States members. In fact, it is amazing to notice that some change has been made, albeit not to the fundamental tripartite division of the States.

The original three “estates” were the Rectors, the Constables and the Jurats. The Rectors were crown appointments. The Jurats were elected on an island wide mandate, but for life. And the Constables were the only class elected by the Parishioners, although of course that was not universal suffrage, but a landed constituency. Deputies came in later, as part of a process of reform to address the growing inequality between Parishes as the populations grew, and the suffrage was expanded. They were a piecemeal equivalent of the Reform act of 1832 in the UK, which also addressed voting imbalances.

The post-war reform was more radical, and ousted the rectors from the States, increased the Deputies to accommodate the population voter parity, and split the role of jurat, with the name jurat now applying to a position that was purely in the domain of the Royal Court, while the States role of jurat was converted to that of Senator, Islandwide, 12 Senators replacing 12 Jurats, but on a 6 year electoral cycle.

Recent reforms have cleared up some anomalies. A single day election means that the mind is focused on all candidates, including the Constables, whose elections almost on a random basis used to slip by the radar.

It also ruled out failed Senators slipping back as Deputies, but also made it harder for Deputies to make a transition to Senator. Indeed, as Senators have to get a wider franchise for the same time frame, one wonders why anyone wants to be a Senator rather than the simpler task of persuading the electorate of a smaller constituency.

How far further reforms can go is debatable. The referendum on A,B and C turned into a fiasco when the States threw out the preferred option, despite Sir Philip Bailhache taking the Chair of the Commission (rather than it being independent) on the grounds that "States members understood the States better than outsiders". That theory has been shot down. They didn't. Unlike the UK Referendum, the States showed total contempt for the electorate. Is it any wonder turnout has been in decline?

The Constables Referendum gave overwhelming support for retaining the Constables. But meanwhile electoral parity is set to worsen, as old office blocks in St Helier are redeveloped into flats. The northern Parishes, St Mary in particular, are hopelessly out of kilter with fair voter parity, while St Helier and St Clement are under-represented. That solution, at any rate, should be obvious - they retain a Constable but lose a Deputy. But will Turkeys vote for Christmas? I doubt it.

While the problems we face are somewhat better than those described by John Henwood, it is still a mess, and I think that laying the current system to one side, improvements should be directed in the first instance to electronic voting (even if at polling stations) and single transferrable vote - possible and indeed simple after electronic voting is made available. At least the wasted vote and the split vote, which gives so much unfairness to elections, can be avoided.

Election Logic
By John Henwood

One of the stories that received little or no attention this summer was the visit to Jersey by a high level delegation from the tiny African state of Logique.

Occupying a narrow strip of land adjacent to Lake Chad, and sandwiched between its vast neighbours Niger and Chad, this former French protectorate has stayed out of the world's glare by remaining relatively peaceful and prosperous. Without significant natural resources, its ability to manage its affairs successfully is largely attributed to the national characteristic of taking a uniformly methodical approach to problem solving.

For many years Logique has been a dictatorship and, although naturally benign, the country's leader felt that in order for his country to take a more prominent place among the nations of the world, he should stand down in favour of an elected ruling assembly. Casting around for a country of similar size, with a long established history of democracy from which he might learn, a British diplomat with connections to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association steered his attention toward Jersey.

So accompanied by a small retinue of his closest aides, President Maniere arrived quietly and unheralded to learn how democracy works from an equally small and senior group of Jersey s politicians.

Having absolutely no idea how to go about electing a ruling assembly, the delegation had many questions about Jerseys electoral processes. "How many representatives do you have?' was the first question. When told the States of Jersey has 53 elected members the President just nodded.

Discussing this later with his colleagues he expressed surprise at the large number. After all, hadn't he done a perfectly good job of running Logique by himself, with the help of just a handful of advisors.

So, said the President, 'how do the people elect them?" Jersey's President of the Prerogative & Protocol Committee replied: Well Your Excellency, what you have to understand is that we have a very ancient system..."

"So by now you must be very good at it," said President Maniere...

“Er yes. As I was saying, there is a lot of history attached to our electoral system and it has indeed changed and developed over the years."

"When was the last change?"

"Nearly sixty years ago."

President Maniere frowned slightly, but said politely. "Please do go on I'm keen to know how you handle the process of electing 53 representatives."

“Well, you see we have three different types of elected member, there are senators and constables and deputies and they are all elected at different times”

“Oh. I see, you have three levels of representation all with different responsibilities; an interesting concept, I had assumed that democracy meant equality."

At this stage some of the Jersey team began to look slightly uncomfortable and the President of Habitat & Services, something of an expert on Jersey electoral system, decided it was time to make a contribution. "Actually you are quite right about equality, all three types of State member have exactly the same power; each one of them, regardless of whether he or she was elected as a Senator, a Constable or a Deputy, can be appointed to any job within the assembly."

"I think I understand," said the visiting head of state, "for historical reasons you have three different titles for your States members although they all have equal authority, so how do they decide which title to take?”

“Actually, their title is determined by the post to which each is elected. You see, the Senators are elected for six years and there are twelve of them, half of whom are elected every three years. But the Deputies, of which there are 29, are all elected at the same time, for three years, but not at the same time as the Senators.“

“And the third group, the Constables?"

"They are elected for three years too, but not at the same time as either the senators or the Deputies."

At this stage President Maniere was heard, in an audible aside, to say to one of his aides, "I hope you're getting this. I find it very difficult to follow." But he smiled and asked again about the actual electoral process.

Ever keen to help, the President of Habitat & Services explained how Jersey's model electoral system works. "Actually, the Senators are elected by the whole island as a single constituency, the

Deputies are elected by 17 different parishes or parish districts and the Constables are elected by 12 parishes."

"So 30 different electoral areas?" said the foreign leader.

The Jersey delegation could be seen frantically doing sums on their fingers, one had whipped out a calculator. "Spot on, except of course nine of the parishes have only one electoral district which serves both for the election of Constables and Deputies, so you could say there are only 21 different districts counting the whole island as a single district for the purposes of the Senatorial elections."

"We are a very simple, but methodical people," said President Maniere, "and I am troubled by the apparent complexity of the composition of your assembly. But I'm sure it will become clear when you tell me how your elections work."

The Jersey team looked at each other with none seeming too keen to continue with the explanation. Eventually it was the President of Prerogative & Protocol who spoke. " As we've said, all the Deputies are elected at the same time every three years by separate electoral districts. The elections for half the total number of Senators take place every three years about a month before the deputies election, so failed senatorial candidates can try again to be elected as Deputies. Elections for Constable occur randomly at the expiry of each individual's three-year term".

The Logiqueian President. struggling to work it out in his head. asked, "so exactly how many separate elections does it require to constitute you parliament?"


"I think we have absorbed as much as we can take in for the moment," said President Maniere, "but to be sure I've got it right let me sum up. You have a 53 member assembly presiding over a population of around 90,000; you have three classes of representation in your States, but they all have exactly the same powers; you have a complex electoral system in which about a quarter of the assembly is elected by the whole community acting as a single constituency, with the balance being elected by different electoral wards, and it requires 15 separate elections spread over a period of six years to constitute the whole assembly. Is that right?"

There was some shuffling of feet and a longish pause before the President of Strategy & Assets, who had led the Jersey delegation, made his contribution. "Well, yes," he said, "but what you have to understand..."

"Please," cut in the visiting head of state, "I think we understand well enough, but if I may, just one last question. With such a system do the people feel fully engaged with their government?"

They did not meet again and rumour has it that the Jersey team, surprised by the visitors' reaction to Jersey's historic system, quietly resolved to 'do something', but not until after the approaching round of elections.

As for President Maniere and his delegation from Logique, I understand their fact finding mission has taken them to Bolivia, where democracy is a fairly new concept and where there are at least 15 political parties, none of which agrees with any of the others, but where they have one class of parliamentary representative and a single general election.


James said...

Unlike the UK Referendum, the States showed total contempt for the electorate. Is it any wonder turnout has been in decline?

Actually, it's exactly like the UK Referendum, in two ways:

1. There was no clear winner. The preferred option did not, even after votes were transferred from the least preferred option, achieve an overall majority of votes cast. This is entirely aside from the fact that turnout was (from memory) about 26% of the electorate.

2. There is no provision for a referendum to mandate a government to act under either the British or the Jersey constitutional settlements. A referendum can only be advisory. (Put in a proper constitution, and that might change)

Given point 1 above, it's perfectly reasonable to argue that the States (for once) acted more wisely than the UK in recognising that the case had not been made.

Oh, and I think you mean by-election in the first sentence - I'm not sure I like the image of (amongst others) MO'KB swinging both ways...

TonyTheProf said...

If a threshold had been agreed before, as Jeremy Macon wanted, I would have had a lot more respect for the States decision. But that was thrown out. If you don't accept a threshold, you should respect the result. There should be some integrity!

James said...


There was a threshold - under the transferable voting system used, one option has to get over 50% of the votes cast to win. No option did.