D’Hondt Forget To Vote

With the European elections coming up, many people are thinking, as one of my friends put it today, “I don’t know who to vote for and everyone whose political opinions I respect is partisan.”

Now, as no-one could possibly respect my political opinions, based as they are on blind ignorance, anger and a belief that everyone else is a complete bastard, I thought I’d tell you all how to vote.

Now, I am partisan, in that I am a member of a political party, but I’m not going to tell you to vote for the Liberal Democrats (even though I’m going to vote for them, and campaign to get other people to vote for them). In fact, if anyone takes my advice it will probably make them slightly less likely to vote Lib Dem. I’m going to give honest advice here.

Firstly, I’m going to assume if you’re looking for advice that you don’t have an absolute preference. If you’re Gordon Brown, then you’re probably going to want to vote Labour. Secondly, I’m going to assume that you do have *some* opinions – because you’re capable of reading this sentence, and thus qualify as a sentient being, so you probably have some preferences as to how you’d like to see the world run. And thirdly, I’m going to assume that you don’t support the Bastard Nazi Party (or their well-dressed cousins UKIP) , because supporters of fascist dictatorship voting would be hypocritical, wouldn’t it?

So given that, it’s reasonable to assume that you’re probably trying to decide between two parties – very few people are thinking “Well, I’m in five minds here – the Conservatives, the Socialist Workers, the Greens, the BNP and Plaid Cymru all have their good points…” – so once you’re in that position, the choice is actually simple – vote for the less popular of the two parties you’re trying to choose between, so long as they’re a ‘proper party’ (one of the ones that get mentioned, at least occasionally, in newspapers, not the Bring Back The Birch And Legalise Heroin Party or something). The reason you should vote for the *less* popular party is because the Euro elections use a ridiculous voting system called the d’Hondt system, which could almost be designed to give proportional representation a bad name.

(Please note, incidentally, that my advice here only works if not everyone takes it – if this post gets sixty million hits and the Greens or UKIP sweep the board because they’re ‘less popular’, don’t blame me).

Now, the way the d’Hondt system works is this – everyone votes for a party rather than a candidate, and the party with the most votes gets a seat. Simple so far. But then you halve the number of votes that party has, tot them up again, and see who now has the most votes. And going through the number of seats you have to allocate, each party’s votes count as 1/(n+1) votes where n is the number of seats the party’s already won.

Believe it or not, that’s the simplest way to explain it. The system’s absolutely horrible and gives PR a bad name (Lib Dems generally want multi-member STV which is a nice, simple, representative system which gives control to voters). Let’s have a look at how it works in practice. Suppose you’re one of only twenty-five voters, choosing between five parties (which we’ll call Red, Blue, Yellow, Green and Bastard). Now the other twenty-four people have voted:
Blue 9 Red 7 Yellow 4 Green 2 Bastard 2

Ignoring your vote for a while, that would play out as follows:
Blue win the first seat, so they now have 9/(1+1)=4.5 votes and one seat
Red win the next seat, so they now have 7/(1+1)=3.5 votes and one seat
Yellow win the next seat, so they now have 4/(1+1)=2 votes and one seat
Blue win the next seat, so they now have 9/(2+1)=3 votes and two seats
Red win the next seat, so they now have 7(2+1)=2.333 votes and two seats
Blue win the next seat, so they now have 9/(3+1)=2.25 votes and three seats
Red win the next seat, so they now have 7/(3+1)=1.75 votes and three seats
Blue win the next seat, so they now have 9(4+1)=1.8 votes and four seats

We now have Red with three seats, Blue with four, Yellow with one, and Yellow, Green and Bastard all tied for the last seat.

Now we add your vote in. If you’d voted for any of Yellow, Green or Bastard, then that party would get the extra seat. In the case of Yellow, your vote would count as half a vote in giving the yellow party its second seat. If you voted Green or Bastard, your vote would count as a full vote in giving those parties their first seat. On the other hand, if you’d voted for Blue, your vote would only be counting as 0.2 votes for the final seat, or 0.25 if you vote Red. In both cases that would only bring them up so it was a four-way tie, rather than the three-way one it is at present.

So the smaller the party you vote for, the more your vote counts as the system allocates the last few seats. Now, one of the big things that’s happening in this European election is that the BNP are trying very hard to win a seat. In the North-West, for example, where I live, they’re running Nick Griffin, their leader. And with the current anti-politics mood in the country, it’s a real possibility that they might win.

Now, there are a variety of voting tactics that can be used to try and stop the Nazis getting a seat, and they all revolve around what happens at the low end of the scale. The Greens have been campaigning on this quite strongly, pointing out quite rightly that they only need to increase their share of the vote by 0.8% (assuming the BNP don’t increase their own share) to beat the BNP. This strategy is criticised here, which suggests that the best party for an anti-BNP vote would be UKIP (however, having seen their repellent propaganda about ‘unlimited immigration’ and ‘taking control of our borders’ I must say that they’re using the same racist rhetoric as the BNP and should be treated the same way) but also that ‘the most likely scenario’ would be the Lib Dems picking up a second seat (we only have one seat in the North West at the moment, but that’s because of a turncoat bastard who got elected as a Lib Dem and then took his seat as a Tory, which given that he was elected, as all MEPs are, on a party list system, meant he was depriving his supposed constituents of representation – they voted for the Lib Dems, not for him).

So if you want your vote to *matter*, vote for a small party. I’d obviously prefer it if you voted Lib Dem, but I could easily see a strategic vote for the Greens making sense in this election. Of course it helps that the Greens are the only party other than the Lib Dems I could consider voting for myself…

(BTW PLEASE note that the d’Hondt system is so completely fucked-up that there is no sensible way to predict in advance who’s going to win a seat, so this isn’t advocating that you switch your vote – if you want to vote Labour (though God knows why you would) don’t switch to the Lib Dems or Greens to ‘keep the BNP out’, just vote Labour. Tactical voting with d’Hondt is a fool’s errand. But if you’re honestly trying to choose between, say, Labour and the Lib Dems, or the Tories and the Greens, then the vote for the smaller party may well be of more use).

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5 Responses to D’Hondt Forget To Vote

  1. Dave Page says:

    I’m actually really cheesed off by the Greens’ cynical exploitation of legitimate BNP fears – they’ll almost certainly benefit the Bastard Nazis with their rhetoric, and I just can’t stomach that.

    I was torn between voting Lib Dem and Green in these Euro elections, but the Greens have truly shown themselves to be beyond the pale with this one. No matter what my disagreements with the Lib Dems, they’re by far the least worst choice now.

  2. Oliver Townshend says:

    Its so easy to get my head around Hare-Clarke, which we had in Tasmania, but this one makes my head hurt, so the following ramblings are probably wrong.

    Mathematically then the party with the most votes gets the most seats, and by virtue of getting the first seat, gets more seats than they should (in your example they get 4 seats, when the should have got 3). So mathematically, each vote is worth some value in the series 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 (as a portion of the total vote), provided the party starts with more than a quota (n is going to be approx equal to the initial number of quotas rounded up). Having less votes than a quota means the vote is only ever worth 1 (or possibly zero).

    So the system favours larger parties.

    • MatGB says:

      Yes, exactly, the system was designed to favour large parties over smaller parties—designed by a Belgian, although I don’t think that’s relevent. There’s another way to divide it made up by a frenchman where it’s 1/(2n+1), which favours smaller parties, but that’s even less common.

      And you probably know this, but Hare/Clark=STV, and is quite simply the Best Voting System EVAR, or something.

      It really is a brain hurting system, and I’m glad I don’t live in the NW where Andrew is, because having Griffin as an MEP would be scary.

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