CATS Reflection – Electoral System

Within the United Kingdom, there are various different electoral systems used.  Each of them have their advantages and disadvantages, and I have looked at each system separately, and the way in which they are used.

First Past The Post – Used in Parliamentary General and By-Elections

Supplementary Vote – Used to elect 12 Town and City Mayors, and 4 London Borough Mayors, and 41 Police and Crime Commissioners, all of which are based in England and Wales.

Single Transferable Vote – Used to elect representatives in local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland.  The system is also used to elect Deputy Speakers within the House of Commons.

Additional Member Vote – Used to select members to the National Assembly for Wales, London Assembly and the Scottish Parliament

Closed Party List – Used to elect Members of the European Parliament in the United Kingdom, except for Northern Ireland

Although not used, the Alternative Vote Plus system has been suggested as a new electoral system by the Jenkins Commission





CATS Reflection – Electoral System – Closed Party List

The Closed Party List system is used in the majority of the United Kingdom to elect Members of the European Parliament.  The only exception to this is in Northern Ireland, that uses the Single Transferable Voting system.

In the Closed Party List, the electorate is asked to vote for a Political Party, for which there maybe several candidates.

Once voting has closed, and the ballot papers have been counted, each of the parties gets a number of seats that is in proportion to the number of seats that it received in an area.

For example, in the 2014 European Parliament elections for Yorkshire and the Humber, the UK Independence Party received 403,630 votes from a combined total of 1,296,701 votes, a share of 33.5 per cent.

With that total of votes, they were entitled to have 3 elected representatives to go the European Parliament, from a total of 6 candidates that stood for election. The Labour Party have 2 elected representatives from their 6 candidates, and The Conservative Party have 1 elected representative from their 6 candidates.

The political parties decide in which order the candidates appear on the ballot paper, and, for example, the UKIP MEP’s elected were those listed first, second and third on the ballot paper.


CATS Reflection – Electoral System – Alternative Vote Plus

The Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) system is a hybrid system, first suggested in the Independent Commission on the Voting System, led by Roy Jenkins, which reported in 1998.

AV+ works in two ways, with a group of MP’s elected via a preference scheme, ranked in order of choice, and then the additional part would elect further members through regions of the UK.

There are various advantages and disadvantages to the system, compared to the First Past The Post system, currently used in General and By Elections.

The Jenkins Commission received a mixed reaction from commentators and politicians, on all sides of the political spectrum.  The then Prime Minster, Tony Blair, was warm to the changes proposed, but other members of the Cabinet, notably Jack Straw, John Prescott, and Gordon Brown, were fiercely opposed to the system.

When a referendum on political voting systems was put to the UK population, it was the Alternative Vote system that was proposed, rather than Alternative Vote Plus.  AV was soundly rejected, so the First Past The Post system remains in place.

CATS Reflection – Electoral System – Additional Member Vote

In order to elect members to the National Assembly for Wales, London Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, these institutions use the Additional Member System of election.

Under this system, each eligible voter is given two separate votes, one for an individual candidate, and one for a parliamentary party.

The individual candidates are elected to a constituency using the First Past the Post system, as used in National Parliamentary Elections.

The votes cast for the parliamentary party are to elect additional members to a larger region than an individual constituency.  For example, in the Scottish Parliamentary elections, a further 7 members are elected from each of the 8 regions of Scotland.  These then sit with the 59 constituency MSP’s to form the Scottish Parliament.


CATS Reflection – Electoral System – Single Transferable Vote

The Single Transferable Vote system is used to elect representatives in local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland.  The system is also used to elect Deputy Speakers within the House of Commons.

Under the this system, voters are asked to rank the total number of candidates on a ballot paper.  For example, if there are 10 candidates, then in an ideal situation each would be ranked 1-10.  However, the voters can rank as many as they like, up to the maximum.

To be elected, each candidate requires a minimum number of votes, which is decided on the number of available seats, and the total number of votes that have been cast.  This figure is known as the quota.

The first preference votes are first totalled, and anyone who has met their quota is automatically elected.

Once a person has received their quota, their votes then transfer to the next person who the second preference and so on.

If candidates do not receive enough votes to meet the quota, then the candidate who has received the fewest first preference votes is eliminated, and the second preference votes then count for the other candidates.

CATS Reflection – Electoral System – Supplementary Vote

The Supplementary Vote system is that used to elect Mayors around England and Wales, most notably in London, where the incumbent Mayor is Boris Johnson.  It is also used to elect Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales.

In the Supplementary system of voting, eligible voters are given a ballot paper on which all candidates are listed with a box to indicate the individual vote.  Where this differs from the “First Past The Post” system, is that the voter has to make a cross to indicate a first choice, and also another cross for their second choice, if indeed they wish to make an additional vote.

Once voting has closed, ballot boxes are then taken to be counted under strict supervision.


If in the first round of counting, a candidate receives over half of the votes indicating a first preference, then they are elected to the position for which they are contesting.

If no-one has 50 per cent or more of the first preference votes, then the second preference votes are used.

In this scenario, the two candidates with the highest share of the vote are kept in the ballot, and the ballot papers for the eliminated candidates are then counted.  The second preference votes for the two remaining candidates are then added to the first preference votes, and it is only then that a winner can be declared.

CATS Reflection – Electoral System – First Past The Post

For parliamentary elections, the system used is referred to as “First past the post”.  Within the House of Commons there are 650 elected Members of Parliament (MP’s) that each represent a constituency.  A constituency represents an average number of people eligible to vote, and therefore can vary in geographical size.

According to the Office for National Statistics, England has a median number of voters within a constituency of 72,400 voters, Scotland has 69,000, 66,800 in Northern Ireland and 56,800 in Wales.

Each constituency votes for one MP, and these elected representatives take up a seat in the House of Commons.

In the voting process, each person who is listed on the Electoral Roll is eligible to place a cross next to the person listed on a ballot paper that they wish to elect as their MP.  These ballot papers are then transported to a counting station, usually located in the main town of the constituency.

As there are 650 constituencies, the political party that reaches 326 elected members, can then form a Government.  For example, in the 2015 General Election, the Conservative party won 330 seats, and by virtue of having a greater number than the sum of the other parties, could then form a Government without outside assistance from another political party.  If there is no overall control of the House of Commons, the largest party can seek assistance from another Political party, as happened in the 2010 General Election, when the Conservative Party only gained 306.  This was resolved when the Liberal Democrats, who had won 57 seats, agreed to work in a coalition Government.

Parliamentary Elections, either as part of a General Election, or a By-Election, which occurs when the incumbent MP has ceased to be an MP for whatever reason, take place on a Thursday.

I have always been aware that election of MP’s took place on a Thursday, but I was unsure as to the reason why this is the case, and as part of my reflection, I felt that I needed to fully understand why.

Reading books and papers, and research online, there seems to be a variety of reasons put forward for why Thursday is the day of choice for Parliamentary elections.

Until I commenced my research, I was unaware that the choice of Thursday is a relatively new occurence.  Prior to World War 1, Elections were held over a period of up to a month, until the first “one day” election was held on 14 December 1918, one month after the Armistice was signed to signal the end of the Great War.

That first “one day” election was actually held on a Saturday, and the following 5 General Elections were held Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  From 1935 until the present day, every General Election has been held on a Thursday.

There are various stories as to why Thursday was eventually selected as the polling day.  One reason I found is that with Thursday being the day before Friday, which was traditionally pay day for workers, that workers would be more likely to be “in drink” if the polls were held on a Friday.  Sunday was mooted to be a polling day, but potential voters may have decided not to vote, because they would be in church.

One of the more likely scenarios put forward, is that Thursday was, and in some areas, is a traditional day for a market, and that there would be lots of people who would do their shopping within a town.  As people would be away from their homes, they would feel more obliged to vote in an election while they were out and about.

The date of a General Election is now fixed following the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which decreed that there is a fixed term of office for a Government of 5 years.  As part of that act, the date of the General Election, bar any votes of no confidence in the Government, will be on a date on or before the 7th May 2020.