I’ve been a member of the Electoral Reform Society for a few years, because (as I pointed out the other day) I believe democracy is hugely important, and we need, desperately, to move to a preferential (and, ideally, proportional) voting system. The ERS exists — or existed — primarily as a single-issue organisation, to promote the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which is to my mind the best voting system ever devised, and given that Arrow’s theorem says that a perfect voting system can’t be found, may well be the best system it’s *possible* to devise.
It also has a commercial arm, Electoral Reform Services, which as the name suggests performs services such as vote-counting for organisations that want an impartial third party to help in, for example, ensuring that the election of officers is fair and above board. The money from that ERS apparently goes toward funding the campaigns.
After the utterly disastrous, inept, stupid handling of the AV referendum campaign in 2011, which for a while seemed like it might lead to the end of hopes for electoral reform in the UK for a generation, some people in the ERS started trying to reposition the organisation as a general “democratic renewal” campaign group — still with a special emphasis on STV, but widening its remit. I thought, and still think, that this was a bad idea — not because I’m against democratic renewal, but because there were already other organisations working toward those ends, people like Unlock Democracy, and moving from being the only campaign group working for a defined aim to being one of several working towards a more nebulous one seemed like a bad move. But I remained in the organisation, as it was still the only group (other than the Lib Dems) that saw STV as a major priority. I even set up a monthly direct debit to them, putting (a small amount of) my money where my mouth is.
I cancelled that direct debit today.
Last week, the ERS Twitter account linked to an unutterably stupid “report” (actually a PR puff piece) on online voting. After I tweeted words to the effect of “what the fuck do you think you’re doing linking this rubbish?”, my Twitter feed became progressively more entertaining as my various electoral-system-expert friends spent a pleasant afternoon arguing about whether the report was merely cretinous or actually the worst thing ever, and whether its recommendations would spell the end of democracy or something worse. There was no response from the ERS Twitter account as to why they were promoting a “report” from a group whose backers aren’t named, and whose motives are unclear.
I wasn’t going to quit the ERS over that tweet, although I came close, but then something caught my attention — the most recent of Nick’s posts pointed me in the direction of this from Electoral Reform Services. It’s a puff piece promoting online voting, and especially the versions that ERS Ltd will sell you. The author of that has also been posting links to the same cretinous report, and that piece says that ERS Ltd have been “digital champions” during the recent government consultation — a consultation which came to the conclusion that our democracy should be destroyed (sorry “online voting should be in place”) by 2020.
The ERS itself, meanwhile, gave a vapid non-reply to the consultation, merely saying “e-voting is not a panacea”, although “Measures to make voting easier, more convenient and more in tune with modern life are welcome”, and not presenting a single argument against it other than that it might not increase turnout much. The first response of any serious electoral reform organisation when presented with plans for online voting should be “AAAAAGH! NONONONONO! Kill it with fire!”, and should escalate from there.
So we have a “democratic renewal” organisation largely funded by a company that sells online voting services; that organisation is tweeting in favour of online voting, and not arguing against it when consulted, while the company it part owns is loudly promoting online voting despite it being inimical to democracy, in order to make money.
If the ERS is going to take the wrong side in the single biggest threat to democracy today, it’s not getting any more of my money. I’ll be giving it to Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform instead. I’m sure they’ll make better use of it.
ETA It’s been pointed out to me that one useful thing people who are concerned about the current democratic deficit could do — a positive thing rather than the purely negative one of withdrawing from the ERS — is to have their say here about what a future UK constitution might look like.