Proportional Representation: A Study in Methods of Election

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PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

A STUDY IN METHODS OF ELECTION
BY
JOHN H. HUMPHREYS
HON. SECRETARY, PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
THE RT. HON. LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH

First Published in 1911

TO THE MEMORY OF
CATHERINE HELEN SPENCE
OF ADELAIDE
AN UNWEARIED WORKER IN THE CAUSE OF REAL REPRESENTATION
INTRODUCTION
BY LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH

I believe this book will generally be welcomed as opportune.
Proportional Representation has made very rapid, almost startling
advances in recent years. In one shape or another it has been adopted in
many countries in Northern Europe, and there is a prospect of a most
important extension of this adoption in the reform of the parliamentary
institutions of France. Among ourselves, every political writer and
speaker have got some inkling of the central principle of proportional
representation, and not a few feel, sometimes with reluctance, that it
has come to stay, that it will indeed be worked into our own system when
the inevitable moment arrives for taking up again the reform of the
House of Commons. They know and confess so much among themselves, but
they want to be familiarized with the best machinery for working
proportional representation, and they would not be sorry to have the
arguments for and against its principles once more clearly examined so
that they may be properly equipped for the reception of the coming
change. This little book of Mr. Humphreys is just what they desire. The
author has no doubt about his conclusions, but he goes fairly and with
quite sufficient fulness through the main branches of the controversy
over proportional representation, and he explains the working of an
election under the system we must now regard as the one most likely to
be adopted among us. His qualifications for his work are indeed rare,
and his authority in a corresponding measure high. A convinced adherent
of proportional representation, he stimulated the revival of the Society
established to promote it. He was the chief organizer of the enlarged
illustrative elections we have had at home. He has attended elections in
Belgium and again in Sweden, and when the time came for electing
Senators in the colonies of South Africa, and Municipal Councils in
Johannesburg and Pretoria, the local governments solicited his
assistance in conducting them, and put on record their obligations for
his help. The reader can have no better guide in argument, no more
experienced hand in the explanation of machinery, and if I add that Mr.
Humphreys has done his work with complete mastery of his subject and
with conspicuous clearness of exposition, I need say no more in
recommendation of his book.

It may be objected that the Royal Commission which issued its Report
last spring, did not recommend the incorporation of proportional
representation into our electoral system. This is most true. One member
indeed (Lord Lochee) did not shrink from this conclusion, but his
colleagues were unable to report that a case had been made out for the
adoption “here and now” of proportional representation. Their hesitancy
and the reasons they advanced as justifying it must lead many to a
conclusion opposite to their own. They themselves are indeed emphatic in
pressing the limitation “here and now” as qualifying their verdict. They
wish it to be most distinctly understood that they have no irresistible
objection to proportional representation. They indeed openly confess
that conditions may arise among ourselves at some future time which
would appear to be not necessarily distant, when the balance of
expediency may turn in favour of its adoption. They suggest “that some
need may become felt which can only be satisfied by proportional
representation in some form or another,” and I do not think I
misrepresent their attitude in believing that a very small change of
circumstances might suffice to precipitate a reversal of their present
conclusion. All who are familiar with the conduct of political
controversies must recognize the situation thus revealed. Again and
again have proposals of reform been made which the wise could not
recommend for acceptance “here and now.” They are seen to be good for
other folk; they fit into the circumstances of other societies; they may
have worked well in climates different from our own; nay, among
ourselves they might be tried in some auxiliary fashion separated from
the great use for which they have been recommended, but we will wait for
the proper moment of their undisguised general acceptance. It is in this
way that political ideas have been propagated, and it would be a mistake
if we were hastily to condemn what are sure and trusty lines of
progress. When the Royal Commissioners, after all their hesitations
about the intrusion of proportional representation even in the thinnest
of wedges into the House of Commons, go on to say that “there would be
much to be said in its favour as a method for the constitution of an
elected Second Chamber,” and again, though admitting that this was
beyond their reference, express a pretty transparent wish that it might
be tried in municipal elections, the friends of the principle may well
be content with the line which the tide of opinion has reached. The
concluding words of this branch of the Report are scarcely necessary for
their satisfaction: “We need only add, that should it be decided at any
time to introduce proportional representation here for political
elections the change would be facilitated if experience had been gained
in municipal elections alike by electors and officials.”

A few words may be permitted in reference to the line of defence
advanced by the Commissioners against the inroad of proportional
representation. Mr. Humphreys has dealt with this with sufficient
fullness in Chapters X and XI which deal with objections to proportional
representation; and I refer the reader to what he has written on the
general subject. My own comment on the position of the Commissioners
must be short. Briefly stated, their position is that proportional
representation “cannot be recommended in a political election where the
question which party is to govern the country plays a predominant part,”
and, as elsewhere they put it, “a general election is in fact considered
by a large portion of the electorate of this country as practically a
referendum on the question which of two governments shall be returned to
power.” The first remark to be made upon this wonderful barrier is that
a general election avowedly cannot be trusted as a true referendum. It
produces a balance of members in favour of one party, though even this
may fail to be realized at no distant future, but the balance of members
may be and has been under our present system in contradiction to the
balance of the electors; or in other words, a referendum would answer
the vital question which party is to govern, in the opposite sense to
the answer given by a general election. This is so frankly admitted in
the Report that it is difficult to understand how the Commissioners can
recommend adherence to a process which they have proved to be a
delusion. Even on the bare question of ascertaining what government the
nation desires to see installed at Westminster, the present method is
found wanting, whilst the reformed plan, by giving us a reproduction in
miniature of the divisions of national opinion, would in the balance of
judgment of the microcosm give us the balance of judgment in the nation.
If a referendum is really wanted, a general election with single-member
constituencies does not give us a secure result, and an election under
proportional representation would ensure it. A different question
obviously disturbs many minds, to wit, the stability of a government
resting on the support of a truly representative assembly. Here again it
may be asked whether our present machinery really satisfies conditions
of stable equilibrium. We know they are wanting, and with the
development of groups among us, they will be found still more wanting.
The groups which emerge under existing processes are uncertain in shape,
in size, and in their combinations, and governments resting upon them
are infirm even when they appear to be strong. It is only when the
groups in the legislature represent in faithful proportion bodies of
convinced adherents returning them as their representatives that such
groups become strong enough to restore parliamentary efficiency and to
combine in the maintenance of a stable administration. It may require a
little exercise of political imagination to realize how the transformed
House of Commons would work, and to many the demonstration will only
come through a new experience to which they will be driven through the
failure of the existing apparatus. Meanwhile it may be suggested to
doubters whether their anxiety respecting the possible working of a
reformed House of Commons is not at bottom a distrust of freedom. They
are afraid of a House of chartered liberties, whereas they would find
the best security for stable and ordered progress in the self-adjustment
of an assembly which would be a nation in miniature.

COURTNEY OF PENWITH

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Current constitutional and electoral problems cannot be solved in the
absence of a satisfactory method of choosing representatives. An attempt
has therefore been made in the present volume to contrast the practical
working of various methods of election; of majority systems as
exemplified in single-member constituencies and in multi-member
constituencies with the block vote; of majority systems modified by the
use of the second ballot or of the transferable vote; of the earlier
forms of minority representation; and, lastly, of modern systems of
proportional representation.

Care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the descriptions of the
electoral systems in use. The memorandum on the use of the single vote
in Japan has been kindly supplied by Mr. Kametaro Hayashida, the Chief
Secretary of the Japanese House of Representatives; the description of
the Belgian system of proportional representation has been revised by
Count Goblet d’Alviella, Secretary of the Belgian Senate; the account of
the Swedish system by Major E. von Heidenstam, of Ronneby; that of the
Finland system by Dr. J.N. Reuter, of Helsingfors; whilst the chapter on
the second ballot and the transferable vote in single-member
constituencies is based upon information furnished by correspondents in
the countries in which these systems are in force. The statistical
analyses of elections in the United Kingdom were prepared by Mr. J.
Booke Corbett, of the Manchester Statistical Society, whose figures were
accepted by the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems as representing
“the truth as correctly as circumstances will permit.”

The author is greatly indebted to his colleagues of the Proportional
Representation Society, Mr. J. Fischer Williams and Mr. Alfred J. Gray,
for the cordial assistance rendered by them in the preparation of this
book. Acknowledgments are also due to the editors of the Times, the
Contemporary Review, and the Albany Review, for permission to make
use of contributions to these journals.

J.H.H.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AS AN EXPRESSION OF THE NATIONAL WILL

The spread of Representative Government—The House of Commons and
sovereign power—The demand for complete sovereignty—Complete
sovereignty demands complete representation—Strengthening the
foundations of the House of Commons—The rise of a new party—The new
political conditions and electoral reform.

CHAPTER II

THE DIRECT RESULTS OF MAJORITY SYSTEMS

The exaggeration of majorities—The disfranchisement of minorities—The
under-representation of majorities—A “game of dice”—The importance of
boundaries—The “gerrymander”—The modern gerrymander—The “block”
vote—The election of the London County Council—The election of
aldermen of the London County Council—The election of Representative
Peers of Scotland—The Australian Senate—London Borough
Councils—Provincial Municipal Councils—Summary.

CHAPTER III

THE INDIRECT RESULTS OF MAJORITY SYSTEMS

False impressions of public opinion—become the basis of legislative
action—Loss of prestige by the House of Commons—Unstable
representation—Weakened personnel—Degradation of party strife—The
“final rally”—Bribery and “nursing”—The organization of victory—Party
exclusiveness—Mechanical debates—Disfranchisement of minorities in
bi-racial countries—Defective representation in municipal
bodies—Wasteful municipal finance—No continuity in administration—The
root of the evil.

CHAPTER IV

THE REPRESENTATION OF MINORITIES

The Limited vote—The Cumulative vote—The Single vote—The need of
minority representation.

CHAPTER V

THE SECOND BALLOT AND THE TRANSFERABLE VOTE IN SINGLE-MEMBER
CONSTITUENCIES

Three-cornered contests—The second ballot—Experience in Germany,
Austria, Belgium, France—The bargainings at second ballots in
France—The “Kuh-Handel” in Germany—The position of a deputy elected at
a second ballot—The Alternative vote—The Alternative or Contingent vote
in Queensland, in West Australia—Mr. Deakin’s failure to carry the
Alternative vote—Probable effect of the Alternative vote in
England—The Alternative vote not a solution of the problem of
three-cornered contests.

CHAPTER VI

PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

The essential features of a sound electoral method—Constituencies
returning several members—Proportional representation of the
electors—Experience in Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, German States,
France, Holland, Finland, Sweden, Australasia, South Africa, Canada,
Oregon, The United Kingdom—The success of proportional representation
in practice—An election by miners.

CHAPTER VII

THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE

Its present application—An English movement—The system in brief—Large
constituencies—The single vote—The vote made transferable—How votes
are transferred—The quota—A simple case—The transfer of surplus
votes—The elimination of the lowest unelected candidate—The
result—Different methods of transferring surplus votes: The Hare
method—The Hare-Clark method—The Gregory method—The Gove or Dobbs
method—The Model election of 1908—The counting of votes: general
arrangements—The first count—The quota—The transfer of surplus
votes—The elimination of unsuccessful candidates—The fairness of the
result—Improved arrangements in the Transvaal elections—Criticisms of
the single transferable vote—Effect of late preferences—Elimination of
candidates at the bottom of the poll—Quota representation the basis of
the system.

CHAPTER VIII

LIST SYSTEMS OF PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION.

The Belgian electoral system—The Franchise—Compulsory voting—Partial
renewal of Chamber—The presentation of lists—The act of voting—The
allotment of seats to parties—The selection of the successful
candidates—A Belgian election, Ghent, 1908: the poll—The counting of
the votes—The final process—Public opinion favourable to the
system—The relation of the Belgian to other list systems—The different
methods of apportioning seats to lists—Criticism of the d’Hondt
rule—The formation of Cartels—The different methods of selecting
successful candidates—Panachage—The single vote and case de
tête
—The limited and cumulative vote—Special characteristics of
Swedish and Finnish systems.

CHAPTER IX

A COMPARISON OF LIST SYSTEMS WITH THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE

The influence of previous conditions—Party the basis of representation
in a list system—The freedom of the elector within the
party—Comparative accuracy—Panachage—Applicability to non-political
elections—Bye-elections—Relative simplicity of scrutiny.

CHAPTER X

PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION AND PARTY GOVERNMENT

Proportional representation and the two-party system—Burke’s view of
party and party discipline—Narrow basis fatal to a large
party—Proportional representation and party discipline—”Free
questions” in Japan—The formation of groups—The formation of an
executive—A check on partisan legislation—Unlike the referendum,
proportional representation will strengthen the House of
Commons—Proportional representation facilitates legislation desired by
the nation—Proportional representation in Standing Committees—Taking
off the Whips—New political conditions.

CHAPTER XI

OBJECTIONS TO PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

The question of practicability—The elector’s task—The returning
officer’s task—Time required for counting the votes—Fads and sectional
interests—The representation of localities—The member and his
constituents—Objections of party agents—Alleged difficulties in the
organization of elections—Alleged increase of cost—The accuracy of
representation—Summary.

CHAPTER XII

THE KEY TO ELECTORAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

Electoral problems awaiting solution—Simplification of the
franchise—Redistribution—Should be automatic—Secures neither one vote
one value nor true representation—The problem simplified by
proportional representation—The case of Ireland—Three-cornered
contests—Partial adoption of proportional representation not
desirable—Proportional representation and democratic principles
—Constitutional reform—Federal Home Rule—Imperial Federation
—Conclusion.

APPENDICES

APPENDIX I
THE JAPANESE ELECTORAL SYSTEM—THE SINGLE NON-TRANSFERABLE VOTE

Failure of single-member system—Multi-member constituencies: Single
Vote adopted 1900—Equitable results—The new system and party
organization—The position of independents—Public opinion and the new
system.

APPENDIX II

THE SECOND BALLOT: A NOTE ON THE GERMAN GENERAL ELECTIONS OF 1903 AND
1907

The effect of unequal constituencies on representation—The effect of
second ballots—Second ballots and the swing of the pendulum—The second
ballot and the representation of minorities—Summary.

APPENDIX III
THE SWEDISH SYSTEM OF PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

The former constitution of the two Chambers—The struggle for electoral
reform—The Swedish law of 1909—The Swedish system of proportional
representation—The allotment of seats to parties—The selection of the
successful candidates—Free voters and double candidatures—An election
at Carlskrona—The poll—The allotment of seats to parties—The
selection of the successful candidates—The election of
suppliants—Comparison with Belgian system—The system and party
organization—The great improvement effected by the Swedish system.

APPENDIX IV
THE FINLAND SYSTEM OF PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

The influence of the Belgian system—Schedules and “compacts” in place
of lists—An election in Nyland—Returning officer’s task—The allotment
of seats—Successful candidates in the Nyland election—Equitable
results—Elector’s freedom of choice.

APPENDIX V
STATISTICS OF THE GENERAL ELECTIONS, 1885-1910

Explanatory notes—The representation of minorities.

APPENDIX VI
PREFERENTIAL VOTING: THE TRANSFER OF SUPERFLUOUS VOTES

I. The element of chance involved: Its magnitude. II. Method of
eliminating the chance element—Example.

APPENDIX VII

THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE: SCHEDULE TO MUNICIPAL REPRESENTATION BILL,
1910

APPENDIX VIII
THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE: SCHEDULE TO TASMANIAN ELECTORAL ACT, 1907
APPENDIX IX
THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE: REGULATIONS FOR THE ELECTION OF SENATORS
UNDER THE SOUTH AFRICA ACT, 1909
APPENDIX X LIST SYSTEM: BILL PRESENTED TO THE FRENCH CHAMBER OF
DEPUTIES, 1907
APPENDIX XI
LIST SYSTEM: LAW ADOPTED BY THE CANTON OF BÂLE TOWN, 1905
INDEX

“The object of our deliberation is to promote the good purposes for
which elections have been instituted, and to prevent their
inconveniences.”

—BURKE

CHAPTER I

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AS AN EXPRESSION OF THE NATIONAL WILL

“The virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons, consists

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