STV PR in Practice
STV-PR is used in a variety of places. In this section, we discuss the present use of STV in (mostly) public elections. This is not an exhaustive list, but STV is used in significantly fewer public contexts than is list PR.
Malta has used STV-PR continuously since 1921. The Malta Elections site is a good source of information on Malta’s use of STV; it includes a detailed description of the counting process, as well as an account of the political history of Maltese STV elections.
The Republic of Ireland has used STV-PR to elect its lower house of Parliament since 1922.
An overview of the Irish STV rule is available here. The detailed rules are published as Part XIX of the Electoral Act, 1992, Section 118 and following. The ACE Project also has a good summary and historical overview.
1936: STV at the Oscars
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has used STV-PR for nominations since 1936, four years before Cambridge MA adopted STV-PR and seven years after the first awards in 1929. The Best Picture of 1936? “The Great Ziegfeld”. The ceremony was hosted by George Jessel.
While the Academy Awards are themselves single-winner contests, the nominations name several candidates, typically five, but most recently ten for Best Picture (where single-winner STV, or IRV is now used to elect the winner). The actual counting rule does not appear to be publicly available, but what information is available suggests that the count is a variation on WIGM, or Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method, calculated to two decimal places, though it seems likely that the rule has evolved over time. The counts are performed by hand, by Pricewaterhouse Cooper, over a period of days.
Cambridge, Massachusetts was one of the later US cities to adopt STV-PR. It is now the US city with the longest history of using PR. The city website tells the story like this:
On June 1, 1938, Massachusetts Governor Charles F. Hurley signed a bill adding a fifth city charter form (Plan E) to the four plans already available. Modeled after a charter successful in Cincinnati, Plan E provided for a city manager form of government with proportional representation (PR) elections.
As soon as the bill became law, a group of citizens formed the Cambridge Committee for Plan E and obtained the necessary signatures on a petition to put the question of adopting Plan E on the Cambridge ballot in November 1938.
In the ensuing campaign, Plan E advocates said it would mean that a trained administrator and not a politician would run the city. Of PR voting, they said itwould guarantee majority rule and at the same time give minority groups representation in proportion to their actual strength.
Opponents centered much of their fire on the PR voting system, which they said would excite group prejudices and make voting a lottery. They also said the plan would be too expensive and would give too much power to the City Council.
Emotions ran high and , on that electionday in 1938, Plan E was defeated by 1,767 votes. Two years later, it was adopted by 7,552 votes, with a winning margin in eight of the city’s eleven wards. The first PR election was held in 1941 with the first Plan E government taking office in January 1942. Since then, there have been five referenda—in 1952, 1953, 1957, 1961, and 1965—on whether to repeal or retain the PR voting system. Each time the vote was to retain it.
Plan E included more than STV:
Plan E is a City Manager form of government with nine Councillors and six School Committee members elected at large by Proportional Representation (PR) for a two year term. After members of the Council take the oath of office in January, they elect one of the nine to serve as Mayor.
The City Council is the lawmaking body, appointing a City Manager, City Clerk, and City Auditor.
The City Manager is the chief administrative officer of the city carrying out policies of the City Council for an indefinite term.
The Mayor is the official head of the city for all ceremonial purposes, the presiding officer of the Council when it is in session, and the chairman of the school Committee.
The Cambridge STV rule in chooses whole votes at random for surplus transfers. For more information:
Australia adopted STV for the election of its Senate in 1948 (first used in 1949).
New Zealand uses a variation on Meek’s method for counting certain local elections.
New Zealand’s Schedule 1A: New Zealand method of counting single transferable votes (2001, amended 2004) is available online. Unfortunately, the published regulations do not match the method and software actually used to count elections (the “STV Calculator”), and the actual counting software is not publicly available.
OpenSTV implementation of the New Zealand Meek method is believed to identical, or at least very close, to the actual counting software; the interested reader may like to compare the two descriptions.
Scotland adopted PR-STV for local elections in 2007.
Scotland uses a variation on the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method (WIGM). The legislation, available here, starting at section 42, is admirably clear.
Minneapolis MN used STV for the first time in 2009. Its method is a variation on the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method (WIGM), and is described here.
WIGM methods are relatively popular, and variations are used by Scotland and the Green Parties of the United States and of California. WIGM has been proposed for British Columbia and for certain local California elections, but has not been adopted.