European Elections – Proportional Voting

The European Elections are almost upon us, and I thought it worthwhile explaining the proportional voting system used to calculate the ‘winners’, as it’s so different to the system we are used to. This explanation has been put together from several explanations available on the internet. Apologies for the length, it’s a complicated system to explain!

For UK General Elections, parties each put up one candidate for each constituency. The one with the most votes wins the single seat available (even if that’s with far fewer than 50% of the votes).

For the European Parliament, voting is based on a proportional system. Each party puts up a team of candidates for the multi-seat constituencies. How many of their team get elected depends on their proportion of the vote. Parties have to list their candidates in ranking order: if they win one seat, the top candidate gets it, if they win two seats, the top two, and so on. Voters can then see which individuals are likely to be elected.

Given that it is done regionally, not nationally, with only a few seats in each region, small parties are unlikely to win seats. The share-out is reasonably proportional among the larger parties, but small margins can make the difference between them.

The calculation is based on a method worked out by a 19th Century Belgian mathematician called D’Hondt, and is widely used in proportional representation electoral systems.

Here is an example for a five seat region (like ours):

If there are five parties contesting five seats in one region and the votes are cast as follows:

Smartie Party: 100 votes
Jelly Baby Party: 80 votes
Lollipop Party: 40 votes
Kit Kat Party: 20 votes
Aero Party: 10 votes

The first seat: the Smartie Party has the most votes so the first seat goes to it (the seat goes to the candidate at the top of the list of Smartie Party candidates, independent candidates being treated as a list with only one candidate on it).

The second seat: the number of votes for the Smartie Party is now divided by TWO (i.e. the number of seats the party has plus one) so the votes are now as shown below. The Jelly Baby Party now has the most votes so it gets the second seat (which goes to the person at the top of the list of Jelly Baby Party candidates).

Smartie Party now has (100 divided by 2) = 50 votes
Jelly Baby Party: 80 votes
Lollipop Party: 40 Votes
Kit Kat Party: 20 votes
Aero Party: 10 votes

The third seat: the number of votes for the Jelly Baby party is now divided by TWO (i.e. the number of seats the party now has plus one), so the votes are now as shown below. The third seat goes to the Smartie Party, which at 50 votes now has the highest number of votes. The seat goes to the second person on the Smartie Party list of candidates.

Smartie Party: 50 votes
Jelly Baby Party now has (80 divided 2) = 40 votes
Lollipop Party: 40 votes
Kit Kat Party: 20 votes
Aero Party: 10 votes

The fourth and fifth seats: the original number of votes for the Smartie Party is now divided by THREE (i.e. the number of seats it now has plus one). So now when it comes to allocating the fourth and the fifth seat, the Jelly Baby party and the Lollipop Party both have 40 votes and will be given the fourth and fifth seats. One seat goes to the second candidate on the Jelly Baby list and the other one to the first person on Lollipop Party candidate list.

Smartie Party has (100 divided by 3) = 33 votes
Jelly Baby Party: 40 votes
Lollipop Party: 40 votes
Kit Kat Party: 20 votes
Aero Party: 10 votes

The final result is:

Smartie Party: 2 seats
Jelly Baby Party: 2 seats
Lollipop Party: 1 seat
Kit Kat Party: 0 seats
Aero Party: 0 seats

What is striking about this is that none of the small parties get enough votes to gain a seat. A vote for them is a “wasted vote” in terms of seats. If the top two parties are close, which is quite conceivable, then a very small margin can determine which one gets the last seat (and therefore the most seats). Multiplied across several regions, that could change the result nationwide and the perceptions of who won.

This article was written by a guest.

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