Proportional representation systems fall into one of two groups: List PR and STV PR, each with a range of variations. List PR and STV PR have distinctive advantages and disadvantages. Here, I describe List-STV PR a novel hybrid of List PR and STV PR that combines the best features of each.

  • STV PR gives voters, in aggregate, complete control over the election of individual candidates, while List PR gives them little or no control over the choice of candidates, and relatively little control (often none) over which candidates from a chosen list are seated.
  • Lists are created by parties, leaving independent voters out of the nomination process and independent candidates off the ballot. As a practical matter, a candidate cannot appear on more than one list, making crossover voting impossible .
  • Because lists are associated with parties, List PR isn’t useful for the non-partisan local elections that are common in the US.
  • STV PR district size is limited by the practicalities of having many candidates on a ballot, and of voters being able to meaningfully rank dozens of candidates.

The basic idea of List-STV PR: a voter votes for a list of candidates, much as in a conventional closed-list election. When the votes are counted, rather than allocating seats to lists proportionally to the votes each list receives, the ballots are treated as votes in an STV election: each voter is deemed to have cast an STV ballot corresponding to the list voted for.

The benefit so far is modest but significant: because of the nature of an STV count, lists can overlap, so candidates can appear on more than one list and benefit from each vote for those lists. But the benefits multiply as we look at a series of simple enhancements.

1. Groups of voters can put forward lists by petition. The group might be associated with an issue (the environment, development, taxes), or might be a subset of a party (progressive or Blue Dog Democrats, Tea Party or Log Cabin Republicans). These lists could add new candidates to the mix, but could also reorder candidates from the main party list.

2. Voters can rank individual candidates, optionally followed by a list. The list would be used to fill out the voter’s preference ranking, ignoring candidates that the voter had already ranked higher. Voters can express their individual preferences while still giving a complete preference order when the number of desired rankings is large.

3. Voters can rank multiple lists, one after the other. This becomes useful when an issue-oriented group, perhaps local, strongly advocates a short list of candidates.

4. Lists can refer to other lists. The Sierra Club, strongly associated with the Democratic Party, might rank several environmentally oriented candidates first, and then finish with a reference to the Democrats’ list. A local Sierra Club chapter could rank a few local candidates first, and finish with a reference to the state chapter, or to the national Sierra Club list.

5. Petition lists could be local, with the number of petition signatures required proportional to the size of the locality. Thus, in a statewide election, a petition list could be put forward within one city, or within a county, and only appear on ballots within that area. This would encourage local lists, with a lower bar, while not cluttering all the ballots across the state.

What are the benefits?

Compared to List PR, the List-STV PR hybrid gives the voters (and groups of voters) much more power and flexibility in influencing the order of election of candidates: it’s a very individualized, very open list, with characteristics of conventional open lists and petition lists (eg Norway), and more.

Compared to STV PR, List-STV PR makes larger districts and longer candidate lists practical. Voters are unlikely to be able to usefully rank more than a handful of individual candidates, but parties and larger groups have the resources to vet and rank longer lists.

Moreover, the number of rankings available to a voter is typically limited, for practical reasons relating to ballot-reading equipment or ballot-space considerations. The ability to incorporate an entire list with a single ranking would alleviate this restriction considerably.

The voter experience under List-STV PR is straightforward. A voter can simply rank individual candidates, as with STV PR, or rank a list, as with List PR. Or a voter can rank one or more individual candidates, followed by a list. Finally, a voter might rank individual candidates, then a local list, and finally a larger list.

Because lists under List-STV PR are not tied exclusively to parties, List-STV PR works well for non-partisan elections, and indeed works fine with no lists at all, becoming simply STV PR.

A matter of perspective

List-STV PR can be viewed as an extension of List PR or of STV PR, depending on one’s perspective.

From the perspective of List PR, List-STV PR:

  • allows candidates to appear on more than one list
  • allows voters to create their own lists by ranking candidates
  • allows voters to rank multiple lists

From the perspective of STV PR, List-STV PR:

  • allows voters to rank lists as well as candidates
  • …which makes it easier to rank many candidates

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