Is the UK’s Voting System Outdated?

UK parliamentary elections are decided using the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system. They have been for some time, but is it out of date? Many other countries have changed to different voting systems, to update the way the public vote. Is it time Britain did the same? This post discusses whether it’s time for a change from the traditional voting system.

Introducing FPTP

First Past the Post allows voters to select one candidate only. The candidate with the most votes wins in each seat, whether council or parliamentary. It’s the most straightforward voting system and one of the oldest. And this is partly why it’s sometimes called outdated. But is it really?

Some countries certainly think so. The Netherlands and Australia replaced it way back in 1917 and 1918, respectively. Australia opted for the alternative vote (AV), while the Netherlands went for proportional representation using a Party List system. More recently, in 1996, South Africa and New Zealand also replaced it with similar proportional representation systems.

Sticking with it

Other countries disagree. Countless nations still use FPTP, most notably India, Canada and the United States. Interestingly though, some parts of the US use different systems for non-presidential elections. California, for instance, uses a two-round system, where only the two candidates with the most votes survive for a second round of head to head voting.

We’ve seen a similar shift in the UK, where mayoral elections are decided with a supplementary vote. Voters are allowed to select their first and second choice, with second choices considered if no single candidate achieves 50%.

Is this a shift worth noting?

There are two answers. Yes, it’s worth noting because it shows that in more recently founded elections, a different voting system has been chosen. And no, because it shows – despite favouring different voting systems when given the choice – the UK doesn’t seem willing to change for general elections.

Why? It’s down to the government and parliament to instigate a possible change. And, to quote a common idiom, that’s like getting the turkeys to vote for Christmas. An elected MP is unlikely to vote in favour of a system that puts their position at risk. It did become a hot topic in the run up to the 2010 election, however.

With the expenses scandal looming, Labour pledged a referendum on switching to the Alternative vote, but were unsuccessful in the election. The Liberal Democrats managed to negotiate a referendum in 2011 as part of their coalition with the Conservatives, but the issue fizzled out with no major party fully dedicated to the new system.


Keeping up to date

Advancing and improving can help ensure election results are more reliable and – above all else – more democratic. And this extends beyond voting systems. Halarose provides clients with efficient electoral software at the forefront of the industry. From registration management to electronic voting systems, our services offer secure and accurate solutions for local councils across the UK. If you need assistance with election management, electoral registration or training, get in touch with our team to see how we can help.