PLACE voting: the elevator pitch

First Past The Post voting is a horrible way of electing representatives, causing wasted votes and false majorities; enabling gerrymandering; and encouraging stagnant, divisive politics.

FPTP is the system used in the US, Canada, and the UK, among others. Since it can break down badly when there are more than two candidates, voters mostly learn to focus on two main parties in each area. This leads to a political climate where celebrity and/or divisive rhetoric are often more successful than new ideas, compromises, or detail-oriented solutions.

(Note: the larger, italic text is the actual elevator pitch, which I’ve timed to under 60 seconds; smaller text like this merely expands on those ideas.)

To fix these problems, we need proportional representation, so that 45% of the voters get 45% of the representatives.

#PropRep versus the OG (Original Gerrymander)

Most modern democracies use some form of proportional representation (also called PR or #PropRep). Unfortunately, the US, Canada, and UK have stuck with the outmoded FPTP. It’s time for us to change to a better system, as New Zealand did in the 1990s.

PLACE voting is a proportional method designed to encourage healthy politics by giving voters a maximum of choice and representation with a minimum of effort.

“PLACE” stands for “Proportional, Locally-Accountable, Candidate Endorsement voting”.

It uses existing districts and voting machines, so it’s a quick, easy fix that wouldn’t require constitutional change.

As with everything in this pitch, this point goes for the US, UK, and Canada. But there are a few points specific to each of these. First off, since the UK doesn’t have a single unified “constitution”, nothing requires a constitutional amendment there. Second, “districts” are called “ridings” in Canadian national elections (though they’re still “legislative districts” at the provincial level), and “constituencies” in UK elections.

Here’s how it works. Voters can vote for any candidate in any district, though the ballot highlights the local candidates first.

For the US House of Representatives, replace “any district” with “any district statewide”.

For most voters, the local candidate for their preferred party will be the best option: somebody who will support the party platform on national issues but will also look out for the local community interests on more specific issues. But there are also some voters who identify with a community defined by something besides geography, whether it be ethnicity, some specific political issue, age, etc. The best way to represent such voters is to give them the widest possible choice.

Candidates with under 25% of the vote from their district are eliminated.

This ensures that each district has a meaningful say in electing their own representative, and encourages parties with broader appeal. Votes for tiny fringe parties, or for independents who don’t win, won’t be wasted because they’ll still transfer; but to achieve their goals those parties will have to find ways to form larger coalitions and work with allies, not simply exploit divisive rhetoric.

The number 25% is chosen because it always allows room for a third option in each district, but not a fourth (unless all four were perfectly balanced, which is essentially impossible.) This keeps politics from stagnating into two fixed parties, while still encouraging effective parties with broad appeal over single-issue groups with divisive, intransigent rhetoric.

Their votes transferred to their predesignated allies. Eliminations and transfers continue until there’s one winner per district, each with an equal number of votes.

This transfer process is known as STV, Single Transferable Vote. By itself (without the other features of PLACE voting), it’s a well-understood proportional voting method. The biggest downside of STV is that it requires voters to rank many candidates in order of preference; and so to keep that task remotely manageable, the overall election must be divided up into multimember districts, usually of around 5 seats each. This reduces voters’ overall breadth of choice, while burdening them with a depth of sequential choices of which almost certainly only one will end up mattering.

To keep things simple, PLACE determines transfer order by combining the original candidate’s predeclared allies (at three simple levels — “faction allies” within the same party, same-party members who aren’t faction allies, and then “coalition allies” outside the party) with the tallies of same-party votes (to give an order within each level). That lets voters make the important distinctions — choosing party and even within-party faction — without burdening them with ranking dozens of candidates.

The specifics of how STV transfers votes are reasonably simple, but still more complex than some voters will want to understand. That’s fine; as long as they know that it’s a well-studied means of getting proportional representation, they don’t have to worry about every detail. STV ensures that if at possible, wasted votes will be kept to a remnant fraction, smaller than the amount needed to win a single seat. Compare that to FPTP, where over half of all votes usually end up wasted!

After winners are chosen, they are assigned extra territory so that each district has one representative per party.

Even if your party doesn’t win in your district, there will be a representative from your party assigned to cover your district (as long as your party wins at least one seat). This will help voters get used to the fact that, as in any proportional method, voters from outside a district get some say in who will represent that district. Almost all voters will be constituents for some representative they actually sympathize with—if not from their own district, from a nearby one.

Want to know more? See the PLACE FAQ.

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