Thursday, April 20, 2017

Your STV questions answered

Over the last few days, I've received a number of emails asking for clarification on various aspects of the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect councillors on 4th May.  Apologies that I haven't been able to respond to everyone individually, but it probably makes more sense to answer a few of the questions in a public post anyway.

* First of all, someone contacted the Edinburgh Election office to ask whether he should or shouldn't rank certain candidates if he doesn't want any portion of his vote to be transferred to them.  I'm not quite sure what the question was getting at, because having your vote transferred is basically a good thing rather than a bad thing.  Even if you genuinely think three or four candidates are all equally awful, ensuring that your vote doesn't transfer to any of them is a neutral thing rather than a good thing, because by that point they will be the only candidates left in contention for one (or more) seats, meaning that one (or more) of them will still be elected.  The only effect of your non-transferred vote will be to deprive you of any influence over which one is successful.

However, I'm delighted to report that the Edinburgh Election office gave a scrupulously accurate answer (which is rather refreshing giving the amount of misinformation being pumped out by people and organisations that should know better).  They correctly indicated that no part of your vote can be transferred if you haven't given a ranking to any of the candidates remaining in contention for the seats yet to be filled.  Why you would want to prevent your vote being transferred is a bit of a mystery, but for what it's worth that's the definitive answer to the question posed.

* A number of people seem to be deeply troubled by the idea that even if they rank a Tory candidate last (by which I mean absolute last without leaving any preferences blank), part of their vote could technically transfer to the Tory at the end of the counting process.  That's true, but the operative word is "technically" - it really is a complete irrelevance.  If your vote ever reaches the point of being nominally transferred to your bottom-ranked candidate, that means by definition that the candidate in question has effectively already been elected, because all of the other candidates in contention for the last seat in the ward have been eliminated.  The final transfer of votes is just a meaningless formality, and it doesn't in any way affect the popular vote totals reported in the media, which will be based on first preference votes only.  If it bothers you, rank all but one of the candidates rather than all of them - that will allow you to maintain your purity without making any difference to the final seat allocation.  But seriously, don't worry about it - if you use all of your preferences and rank a candidate absolute last, you are emphatically voting against them, and maximising the chances that they will not be elected.

* Someone asked me if it might be a good idea to trawl through actual results from the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election, conducted under STV, to give concrete examples where the DUP only won a seat because nationalist voters didn't use enough of their lower preferences.  At this point, I'll just have to say that life is too short - but I don't have the slightest doubt that such examples exist.  Even in Northern Ireland where this system is so much better understood than it is here, there are many, many voters from both sides of the sectarian divide who do not bother using their lower preferences.  If one community was significantly more likely to use lower preferences than the other, they would gain a telling advantage in the final seat numbers.

* This isn't strictly speaking a reader's question, but I really do need to say something about the dangerous misinformation that has been put out on a certain SNP Facebook page.  Whoever runs that page is using the veneer of authority to mislead people into thinking that giving a lower preference to an independent or unionist candidate can somehow help that candidate overtake an SNP candidate you have ranked higher.  If you've read that claim, IGNORE IT.  It is totally without foundation.  If there are two SNP candidates in your ward, and you rank them 1 and 2, then none of your preferences from 3 onwards will EVEN BE LOOKED AT until and unless both SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated.  Ask yourself this very simple question : how can a lower preference possibly help a unionist overtake an SNP candidate who has already been elected or eliminated?  It can't.  It's physically impossible.

If you only rank the SNP candidates, then all you are doing is abstaining in contests for seats that the SNP are no longer in the running for.  You might, for example, be abstaining in a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens for the final seat in the ward.  How does that help?

42 comments:

  1. The part I don't understand is why you are so puzzled that if someone finds two Tories equally abhorrent that they'd not care if they abstain at that point. Hopefully, there won't be many cases where it will come down to that, but it probably will in a few, and I suspect there are people who don't want their vote transferring to Tories even if it is a mere formality.

    You have admitted in the past that choosing to refuse to rank the bottom choices makes no real difference, so I don't understand why you are so puzzled and/or upset by the idea.

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    1. I'm not "upset" by the idea of people abstaining if the final choice is between two Tories - I'm not sure where you're getting that from. But what I find harder to comprehend is people abstaining when the choice is between a Tory and a non-Tory - and that is exactly what they may be doing if they don't at least give preferences to every single non-Tory candidate. (The only exception to that general rule would be if one of the non-Tory candidates is a far right nutter, but in that event you might want to rank the Tories to help make sure the far right nutter isn't elected.)

      "You have admitted in the past that choosing to refuse to rank the bottom choices makes no real difference"

      You're slightly misrepresenting me there - it's only the very last preference that doesn't make any difference. The second-bottom preference might well make a difference.

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    2. The Great Tory Election Expenses Scandal 2017 £££££££April 20, 2017 at 3:57 PM

      The Food Umbrella‏ @thefoodumbrella 5h

      A list of the Tory MPs being investigated for #ElectionFraud

      RT & SHARE

      #87RT #GeneralElection #GE2017 #GE17 #GeneralElection2017

      pic.twitter.com/nrVRYVCmbv

      Delete
  2. It was strictly my interpretation that since you spent so many words on that issue that it was really bothering you.

    When I said 'bottom choices' I basically meant two equally objectionable Tories. I am simply skeptical that many SNP voter will find any Tory unobjectionable. But I can see your point that between a Tory and a UKIPer one might prefer the Tory and want to rank them.

    I don't follow your point about the second-bottom preference making a difference, but my confusion over the details of STV is such that it ALMOST convinces me to actually like FPTP. Only almost.

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    1. I spent so many words on it because something that literally doesn't matter at all (ie. whether or not you rank a Tory candidate with your very last preference) is needlessly troubling a great many people, and I was doing my best to set their minds at rest.

      "I don't follow your point about the second-bottom preference making a difference"

      That's important, because it means you've missed the fundamental point. If you only leave the very last preference blank, you have de facto ranked all of the candidates and the seat allocation will be no different than if you literally had ranked all of the candidates. But if you leave two boxes blank, plainly you are not expressing any preference between two of the candidates, and in that event the seat allocation might well be different than if you had ranked the lot.

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  3. I am obviously missing a fundamental point because I still don't get it. But if you leave two blank, I'm assuming both Tories, because you think both are equally bad, then if you're down to that point that one of them will win, it don't see that it matters. You'll end up with one or the other that are... bad.

    But there is something amusing that you had to spend so much time explaining something that you say 'literally doesn't matter at all' and I still don't understand it. At this point, I give up. I understand the general principle of STV but the details simply are beyond my understanding.

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    1. Since there isn't an edit, just assume I went back to correct typos.

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    2. "But there is something amusing that you had to spend so much time explaining something that you say 'literally doesn't matter at all' and I still don't understand it."

      You've provided my answer for me - if people did find it easy to understand, the explanations wouldn't have to be so long.

      On your first point, I think the important thing to get across to people is that there is never any benefit to abstaining. There may be circumstances in which it does no harm or has a neutral effect - but if people think not ranking candidates does any actual good, they're barking up the wrong tree.

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    3. Ok, that point I do understand: that it does no good. I think that a lot of people just feel that even though it's a preference ranking rather than voting for the other party that they don't want to put any number by names they 100% oppose even though it doesn't help. It's a feeling I understand.

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  4. Hi James, unfortunately there's a kipper standing in my ward. Clearly they're both hideous, but I'm considering rating ukip above the tories if I can stomach it. What would you do?

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    1. I genuinely don't know, to be honest. Probably the Kipper deserves to be ranked last, but from a cynical tactical point of view it could be argued that the Tories are the real enemy and that there's value in ranking just about anyone ahead of them.

      There's a case to be made in either direction, and I'm very glad I'm not faced with that dilemma.

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  5. I would rank the kipper above the Tory. Tories will get top votes from Onionists reading Scotland in onion pages probably voting Labour below then UKIP so the lower you can rate Tories the better.

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    1. Yeah it's not a pleasant choice but the cynical tactical route is what I'll probably go with. Fewer tories the better. Anyway, May's Tories are arguably more right wing than ukip now (at least that's how I'm justifying it). So, for 4 council seats I'll probably go with the following:

      SNP
      SNP
      SNP
      GREEN
      TUSC
      LIB
      LAB
      LAB
      UKIP (just threw up a little)
      Tory

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    2. Statistically next preferences from Lib Dem Voters are marginally likelier to go to a Conservative than to Labour. Page 15 of this https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/2012-Scottish-Local-Government-Elections.pdf has the gruesome details.

      Table 3.3 Average First Terminal Transfer Rates
      % of votes transferred to
      Transferred from Con Lab LD SNP Ind Non-
      /Other Transferable
      Conservative - 8.0 32.4 8.3 17.6 33.6
      Labour 5.8 - 13.2 16.5 16.7 47.8
      Liberal Democrat 21.8 20.4 - 15.5 19.3 23.1
      SNP 6.0 18.1 14.1 - 17.8 44.2

      Why this is relevant is that should any part of your vote go towards providing a candidate with a surplus rather than simply making them the most popular kid in a town of last to be picks then all of that surplus gets distributed in proportion to how all their votes.

      That might include transfers from supporters of other parties but you're starting from a basis where if you are unlucky enough to elect a Lib Dem then there's a slight bias towards any surplus heading more towards a Conservative than anywhere else. It's simply the way it works.

      The tactical way to vote has to be for Labour then Lib Dem if your aim is really to keep Tories out of power.

      Otherwise what you are really doing is ranking people in order of how you feel about them. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      Put it this way, if I was in a ward where there were 3 seats and the SNP had 50% of the vote then the quota would be just over 25%. Hopefully the SNP would have stood more than one candidate. If not then what happens next might very well depend on how well versed and co-ordinated the SNP voters were. If only half of them are persuaded to vote outwith the SNP then perhaps the majority might fling their next preference at Green or Independent Candidates. You'd still have enough of a surplus transferring to win half a seat. Hopefully at some point in the transfer you might "elect" someone else. However if not then eventually those votes might be well co-ordinated enough to land on a LibDem, assuming that'd been the advice followed. Elect them and there will be a subsequent transfer of even more surplus votes. This time the balance might have shifted in favour of Labour given we're talking a massive amount of votes with an anti-Tory intent.

      The problem isn't that part of your own vote might head towards a Tory before it's exhausted all other possibilities. It's that it might unlock other votes that were safely locked on to a candidate already destined to be elected when the number remaining matched unfilled seats.

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    3. Red Tory Yellow Tory Kipper Tory Yoon ToryApril 20, 2017 at 3:54 PM

      Just making certain you put everyone else above the unionist parties like the libdem labour and the tories will do a great deal to mitigate any possible advantage they have.

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    4. Little argument there. However if we're talking about minimising the chances of a given flavour of unionist amongst a choice of three then you should pick the one most likely to benefit them if they manage to make the quota.

      Last time on average for every 70 surplus vote a Lib Dem got the Conservatives gained 1 over Labour. For Labour it was just over 13 surplus votes giving a 1 vote advantage to the Lib Dems over Conservatives.

      Obviously Labour have done themselves no favours in not waiting for the results of the Electoral fraud investigations when there was a possibility that it might have brought about a loss of that slim majority and forcing them out via a vote of no confidence. Instead they've allowed the Conservatives a far stronger starting point than necessary.

      So it's a choice between a party that took an active part in a Tory led coalition or one that foolishly believes it will win without some cataclysm befalling Tory support.

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    5. Hmm interesting, so better Lab over Lib. My main reason for voting lib before lab is that in my constituency (Springburn and Robroyston) I figured they are likely to receive very few first preference votes (could feasibly lose their deposit).

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    6. Those are national averages for Scotland in the last council elections. Your millage might vary and given Labour just voted, rather than abstained, in order to allow the Government a chance at an increased majority, you might see them as being just as bad as the Conservatives.

      Realistically the best you can do is vote with your heart and express preferences. If there's a chance of any tactical vote backfiring then there's also a chance of that failure being put forward as some kind of endorsement of the Conservatives. So don't play that game.

      Kind of the same advice I gave in the Holyrood election, where I voted SNP/SNP, those who voted SNP/Green might be said to have got a better result. Certainly more support on the "PR" part of the ballot elected nationalist candidates.

      Vote till you boke doesn't necessarily require you to vote beyond that point.

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  6. If the Tories are standing two candidates in a ward it seems highly likely that one of them is going to get in relatively early on in the proceedings. If that's the case then one of the two will already have been elected before any of the pro-indy voters' lower preferences have got that far. So worrying about which way to rank two Tories seems fairly pointless.

    It would only make a difference if neither was elected until probably the last seat and then the last seat was between the two Tories, which doesn't seem a likely scenario to me.

    I also see the dilemma about where to rank the Kipper, but again, does it matter? UKIP have never won a council seat in Scotland and don't seem set to start now. The Kipper is likely to be eliminated long before he's in a position to start picking up transfers in the later rounds.

    Each ward will be different but there will usually be a crucial choice which has to be made irrespective of the detail of the rankings. For example in my ward the important thing is to rank the LibDem above both Tories. Obviously I'll put the Green candidate second and the Labour and both independents above the Tories, but none of these have any realistic chance of getting a seat so it's not that important where I put them.

    The crucial part I want to influence with any fractional transfer of my vote is to help the LibDem against the remaining Tory for the final seat. The rest is academic.

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  7. The fundamental difference between FPTP and STV is that the former elects the most popular candidate, the latter, the least unpopular. In the last 6 or 7 years both of my kids got to vote in their first Australian elections. I explained it to them like this: it's not who you put first that matters, it's who you put last. Your vote can never go to whoever you put last (so don't worry about leaving it out, James is right, it can't happen), because by the time you get there it's down to two, and your vote will go to whoever you ranked higher. They don't do the last round elimination, because that would be to give everybody's votes to the winner. You get to what we call a Two Party Preferred (2PP) total, the score between the last two candidates standing, and that is the result.

    What this system does, more interestingly, is to allow you to express your real preferences without taking the tactical risk of benefiting someone you don't like. Let's say you fancy a Green candidate, or maybe an independent (pro-indy of course), but realistically you think it will come down to SNP v Tory. You don't want to help the Tory, but you can still put your preferred candidate first because, barring a sudden surge of support that gets them elected, as long as you preference SNP ahead of the Tories, your vote is going to end up with them. And it really doesn't matter where it's been, it's where it ends up that counts.

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  8. Give credit to Corbyn for smellin the Tartan Tory Rats for what they are.

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    1. The troll calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, arbitrary deportations and public mutilations, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial, homophobic and ethnic slurs, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor

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  9. I think a simple explanation is to state, rank all candidates Best to Worst SNP 1, 2, 3, Green 4 (Best) down to whatever, Tory 8, 9 (Worst). That way your note voting a Tory, you're stating that they are the worst option. It just seems more palatable

    Many thanks James for your tireless efforts and patience in detailing the STV system many times here and elsewhere

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  10. Nat si hypocrisy in the Commons. They want to leave the Union but complain about Royal Navy contracts on the Clyde.

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    1. The troll calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, arbitrary deportations and public mutilations, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial, homophobic and ethnic slurs, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor

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  11. Just completed a panelbase survey on GE2017, indyref2, previous voting records, timing of indyref (during negotiations, after negotiating or after exiting EU).

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  12. Really helpful post thanks.

    And just to note that since Anonymous started posting the paragraph "The troll callls Scottish people . ." afte Le each of his posts they no longer bother me and I'm free to read the comments. Thanks Anonymous!

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  13. Anonymous uses this tactic to avoid political debate and moreso to avoid any criticism of the Nat si policies and their hypocrisy.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The troll calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, arbitrary deportations and public mutilations, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial, homophobic and ethnic slurs, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor

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  14. Save this script in your bookmarks, load up the comments page, click the newly created bookmark..no more GWC :)


    javascript:(function(){function%20e(a){for(;(a=a.parentElement)&&!a.classList.contains("comment"););return%20a}var%20c,b,d,f=document.querySelectorAll(".comment-block"),g=window.atob("d29ya2luZyBjbGFzc3xnd2N8bmF0IHNpfGtuaWNrZXJsZXNzfGdsZXNnYSBmYWtlIG5ld3M=").split("|");Array.prototype.forEach.call(f,function(a){d=!1;c=a.textContent.toLowerCase().replace(/\s\s+/g,"%20");if(d=g.some(function(a){return-1<c.indexOf(a)}))b=e(a),b.parentNode.removeChild(b)})})();

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    1. Doesn't work on my phone, will try it on the laptop. But really it doesn't matter any more. For some reason having that clear regular reaffirmation of others seeing the sad inhumanity he brings means I have no need to ever read his comments again. Not sure why it's so effective a neutraliser, but it is.

      Delete
  15. The Great Tory Election Expenses Scandal 2017 £££££££April 20, 2017 at 3:56 PM

    Kimberley ����‏ @Indy_Kimberley 4 minutes ago

    If @DavidMundellDCT is charged it will happen between May 20th and June 3rd according to the Mirror. This could all get a whole lot crazier.

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    1. The question is does the 3 year ban on standing for public office apply retrospectively?

      I suspect the only recourse in the finding is given after the election will be the same misrepresentation of self that Carmichael charge that faced and, on that occasion, was cleared of.

      Additionally if the timing of this was to avoid those bans then you have to wonder as to whether the deliberate withholding of evidence was a planned attempt to pervert the course of justice or not. Should a large number of MPs elected when a ban on their standing is placed on them subsequently should call in to question that timing.

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  16. Rape Clause Ruth and her revolting kipper toriesApril 20, 2017 at 4:11 PM

    Cameron Archibald‏ @MammothWhale 4 hours ago

    @RuthDavidsonMSP once again refuses to give her position on the #RapeClause and tells the government they can sort it out. Disgusting. #FMQs

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  17. Something that worries people is that by ranking tories even if it "8th" the tories will at the end of the evening claim that ranking is a "vote" for them and then tally up all those "votes" across Scotland. So do "rankings" count as votes? Yes or No.

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    1. No, they do not. I directly addressed that point in the blogpost.

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  18. If you have time, can you tell me what the best thing to do is in Deeside and Upper Donside? We have three seats to fill, with one SNP, one Conservative, one Labour and one Lib Dem. The Tory is apparently a shoe-in. I had planned to rank them SNP 1, Lib Dem 2, Labour 3 and Tory 4. I've been told that I should only vote for the SNP candidate and leave the rest. What should I do?

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    1. It's certainly important that you use all your preferences and rank the Tories last. OK, they may be a shoo-in, but you might as well try to stop them. Which order you should rank the Lib Dems and Labour in is a bit trickier and might depend on local circumstances (ie. which party is most likely to be open to coalition with the SNP?) but I would be inclined to do what you said and rank the Lib Dems second and Labour third.

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    2. Thanks so much for that! It's what I thought from what you've said in the past, but it's good to hear it from you. That's what I'll do. Thank you. :o)

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  19. I've a late late question - I'm slow.
    In my constituency 2012 the last councillor was elected at the 6th elimination. At that stage, what choice/rank is actually being transferred from the last eliminated candidate? Second preferences only? Or 6th preferences? What happens to the vote fractions that have been accruing to that candidate up until then?

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