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We Could have ‘Proportional Representation’ for Dorset Next May

April 19, 2018

The Liberal Democrats have put down a motion for Dorset County Council full Council meeting on 26th April:

I understand this will have the support of the Green Party.

‘This Council requests that the Government provides for elections to the Dorset Council in 2019 to be conducted by a system of proportional representation.’

Sadly, experience suggests this motion is likely to be voted down by the Conservative majority without troubling to listen to the arguments. First Past the Post suits them; ‘end of’.

Such are the constraints placed on local authorities by central government, it seems inappropriate to me that councillors should be chosen mostly on their party political allegiance. They should be loyal to the community they serve rather than to the party. The Single Transferable Vote system is the one system that allows voters effective choice on grounds other than party: who the candidate is; how far does he or she really care about the voter’s particular concerns.

If the Conservatives do feel it necessary to listen to the arguments, they will argue that the chnge could not be effected in time for May 2019. I disagree.

According to the Electoral Commission: ‘Existing legislation – section 36 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 – sets out that local elections will be run under the Local Elections (Principal) Areas Rules 2006.  The method of voting under these Rules is the first past the post system.’ In fact section 36 makes no explicit reference to the aforesaid rules. Instead it says:

“(1)Elections of councillors for local government areas in England and Wales shall be conducted in accordance with rules made by the Secretary of State.

(2)Rules made under this section shall apply the parliamentary elections rules in Schedule 1 to this Act, subject to such adaptations, alterations and exceptions as seem appropriate to the Secretary of State.”

But Schedule 1 allows the secretary of state to change the design of the ballot paper.

In short I believe that a PR system could be mandated by an order in parliament under the negative resolution procedure. Such orders are virtually never challenged by parliament. The relevant order would be pretty much a copy of the Scottish Local Government Elections Order 2011 subject to very minor amendments listed at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/changes/affected/ssi/2011/399.

Importantly, none of these changes affected the STV counting rules used in 2012. Of course computer counting is involved. My source writes:

“It is (to me) one of the paradoxes of the adoption of electronic counting for STV-PR that the whole process, three times, has gone ahead without any real challenge. (The Open Rights Group made some noise, but no-one took any notice, and there were no formal challenges.) My own view of why there has been such public acceptance of the unavoidably “black box” process, is that everyone knows we always have the original paper ballot papers (with pencil markings) and an Election Court could always demand a manual count of the ballot papers should there be a serious challenge to an electronic count.”

Some changes would be needed to the provisional warding arrangements set out in the Dorset Area Size submission, Appendix 3. These provide for 41 two member wards based on existing county divisions except that the existing two member divisions (Bridport, Dorchester etc.) have been spilt in two. For STV to work as it should you need 3 or 4 member wards. This means that the town have to be brought back together and some other combined together in pairs.

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