Electoral reform

Electoral reform "One person, one vote" may well convey the spirit of democracy, but it falls far short of conveying the complexity that arises in attempting to put democracy into practice. Subtle differences in the way elections are run can have profound impacts, not only on who is elected, but on the nature of political discourse that surrounds elections and the stability of government. One of the driving forces behind these differences, and the changes that are taking place in some modern democracies, is the fundamental trade-off between effort and 'representativeness'. In order for government policy to accurately reflect the will of the people, those people must put in a lot of effort to inform themselves of the issues being discussed and the positions taken by candidates. This comes at a cost of lost opportunity to fulfil other useful roles that citizens must play in a functioning society. Other differences arise from the trade-off between local representation and ideological representation. Finally, there are trade-offs in values, such as the choice between majority rule and charismatic leadership, or between personal freedom and universal representation (ie compulsory voting).

New ideas that have arisen in the last century, new technologies and vast wealth have changed the balance in some of these trade-offs and in many cases, eliminated them entirely. Unfortunately, institutionalisation of methods and ignorance of new options have prevented reforms that would allow far greater participation by average citizens in the democratic process, often at little cost to society. Scholarly contributions to the reform process have done little to help and tend to focus on issues that, although interesting from an academic (usually mathematical) standpoint, have little relevance to the big reform issues.

This article covers a range of issues of primary interest to a global audience, or to Australians who wish to see Australia revert back to some of the inferior systems used overseas. On the measures discussed here, Australia stands out as a reform model for other countries to follow. Three additional articles cover problems faced by foreign democracies such as the US that result from inferior democratic mechanisms. These are not the problems that are specific to the US that are usually blamed by Americans for their problems. In fact most Americans do not even recognise the significance of these flaws.

US 'democracy' is flawed

Adoption of instant runoff voting within the US

Global government

This does not mean that Australia has no room for improvement. Some more articles are targetted at an Australian audience:

Electoral fraud gets bipartisan support from Senators

Broken Promises and Stolen Senate Seats

Who did your Senate vote go to?

Voting above the line?

Voting by Delegable Proxy

Compulsory unionism

Optional preferential voting

Electoral Reform in Queensland

Plurality vs Majority Rule

This is perhaps the simplest choice facing modern democracies, and the one which current practice gets most badly wrong. It relates to all elections where citizens choose a single winning candidate such as the president or the local representative for the lower house of parliament ('single member electorates').

There are two choices here: a single election between all aspiring candidates, with the winner being the candidate receiving the most votes, or a runoff system in which the two leading candidates face off against each other in a final 'two horse race.' The key difference is that under the first system (First Past The Post, or FPTP systems that hand victory to the holder of the largest plurality) a candidate can win with less than 50% of the vote, whereas a runoff system ensures that the winning candidate has the support of the majority of citizens. While both systems are democratic, they frequently result in different winners (or at least, they would if both systems were run side by side).

So what is the difference?

The first system tends to elect charismatic leaders who can generate strong support from a significant number of citizens, whereas runoff systems tends to produce leaders who are more capable of compromise, by forcing them to appeal to a wider audience to gain over 50% of the vote in the final round.

So which system is better?

There is no fundamental or philosophical argument that clearly demonstrates that one system is better than the other (this will be a recurring theme throughout this article). However there is an obvious way to test them; put it to a vote by holding a referendum. Referendums tend to show clear support for runoff systems over FPTP, despite lack of familiarity with alternatives and the fear of change that tends to undermine alternative options in a referendum. Even in the absence of referendums, patterns of behaviour among voters and candidates can act as strong indicators of a need for change. People tend to try to work around the flaws in a democracy to make their system more like the one which they would ultimately prefer. In some cases this 'strategic voting' can further undermine a democracy and create new problems. For example, under FPTP systems 'spoiler' candidates can change the outcome by splitting the vote from a group of people. This creates pressure on minor candidates to pull out of the race 'for the greater good' and puts pressure on voters to vote for their preferred option from the two leading candidates, rather than the person they would most prefer to win. This can create serious long term problems by reinforcing a two-party duopoly and allowing to the two main parties to get away with far more than they would if people voted for the candidate they actually preferred. It also stifles the gradual ascent of third parties with policies that reflect the will of the people more closely.

While the spoiler effect and the artificially reinforced two party duopoly are serious downsides to FPTP systems, runoff voting has its own downside - the need for an extra election. Fortunately there are ways around this problem.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)

Runoff voting has two problems. First and foremost, it requires an extra election. Secondly, it does not completely eliminate the spoiler effect. You can not be certain that the two most popular candidates from the first round are actually preferred by the majority over the third candidate. This second problem arose in the 2002 French presidential election. Several left wing candidates split the progressive vote somewhat evenly between them, so that the two main conservative candidates made the runoff. Of course, the more mainstream of these two candidates won the runoff election in a landslide victory. However, it is possible the one of the left wing candidates would have won a runoff election if the two finalists were selected from a three-way runoff, rather than from the first round of voting.

Of course, this argument can be applied many times to the point where each runoff election eliminates only one candidate ('exhaustive ballot' elections). Obviously such a system would be impractical for large elections, although it is used to elect the President of the European Parliament, the speakers of the Canadian and (in future) British Houses of Commons, and the host city of the Olympic Games. However, there is a logical alternative. Rather than holding separate elections where citizens only vote for one candidate, voters can rank all the candidates in order of preference. This allows the vote counters to simulate a series of runoff elections. At each runoff, the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated. Only the votes to that candidate must be redistributed, so there is not even a need to recount all the votes at each runoff. Vote counting under such a system only takes slightly longer than vote counting under a FPTP system. This system is called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in the US, Single Transferable Vote (STV) in Canada and preferential voting in Australia, where it is adopted universally. It will be referred to as IRV in this article, as this term best captures the intent and outcome of the system.

At a national level IRV is used to elect the Australian House of Representatives, the President of Ireland and the Fijian House of Representatives. In the United States, it has been adopted in eight local jurisdictions, including three large population cities and counties during the 2006 United States general elections.

So far three systems have been described for the election of a single candidate: FPTP, runoff and IRV. How do they compare, and under what circumstances are each preferable? FPTP has major flaws, but may be more suitable for new, unstable democracies in poor countries where the primary criterion on which people vote is the trustworthiness and charisma of the candidates. Unfortunately such a system can increase the instability as power switches back and forth between leaders with extreme positions. If a society prefers to elect leaders on a plurality rather than majority basis, they will demonstrate this by voting for less popular candidates despite the spoiler effect. This can result from divisions in a society that go beyond the left/right divide. This is the case in Canada, however a recent referendum there showed clear majority support for a switch to IRV. Voters in the US are far less divided and tend to vote along left/right ideological divisions. This tends to create a two party system, which is reinforced by the FPTP system. Minor candidates are strongly encouraged not to run for election in case they 'spoil' the chances of a major candidate from the same side of the left/right divide. The public is aware of the spoiler effect and tries to avoid it by strategic voting. These are all strong indications that the American people prefer IRV over FPTP. This is also backed up by state and local referendums, all of which have shown majority support for a switch from FPTP to IRV, despite unfamiliarity and in many cases complete ignorance of alternative systems such as IRV.

Strong voting along party and ideological lines indicates a preference for IRV, especially if there is a rough consensus among the public on where the parties lie (relative to one another) on a one dimensional, 'left/right' spectrum. Strong voting based on the personal characteristics of the candidates may indicate a preference for FPTP, though not necessarily.

Runoff Elections

The arguments in favour of IRV over FPTP also apply to runoff elections. However they are far more costly than IRV. Some people claim an advantage of runoff elections over IRV is that runoff elections allow public debate to focus on the two leading candidates once the minor candidates have been eliminated in the first round. However, in stable democracies the two leading candidates are generally well known ahead of the election and public debate focuses on them. Pre-election polling always includes (and usually focuses on) the 'two party preferred' vote and the public is aware of which two parties this refers to. Runoff elections may be preferred in unstable democracies where the two leading parties or candidates are harder to predict. Even in stable democracies under presidential systems (ie with a directly elected leader) the vote for president is often based on personal characteristics of the candidates rather than party affiliation or ideology. Furthermore numerous competing candidates can cloud the water as to who the two leading candidates are. In such situations the argument in favour of a second runoff vote rather than an instant runoff system carries considerable weight, though not necessarily enough to justify the cost of an extra election.

Runoff voting is widely used around the world for the election of legislative bodies and directly elected presidents. For example, it is used to elect French National Assembly, the presidents of Austria, Brazil, Finland, France, Ghana, Portugal, Romania and for many primary elections in the United States.

Problems Under First Past The Post (FPTP) Systems

FPTP systems are used in Canada, India, the UK, and the USA.

Canadian citizens still vote for minor candidates despite the strong spoiler effect which results. This makes the results far less predictable and government far less stable because a minor shift in public opinion, or a shift in public opinion that is concentrated geographically, can drastically alter the outcome of each election. It is hard to argue that this instability reflects the public will or the will of the majority as it is created by the vote counting system, not by large or frequent swings in public opinion.

The United States is a good example of the long term problems that can arise due to strategic voting under FPTP. The US government is notoriously unresponsive to the will of the people and both major parties frequently reneg on pre-election promises, engage in behaviour which the public finds abhorrent and receive large sums of money from corporate donors. For example, both major parties opposed the ratification of the kyoto protocol despite the fact that the majority of citizens supported it. All of these problems are strongly promoted by strategic voting that is intended to avoid the spoiler effect. Citizens vote for their preferred option from the two major parties and consider a vote for minor candidates to be wasted. While not all citizens do this, the effect is sufficient to effectively bar third parties from the political process. This results in a lack of competition that would force the two major parties to respond to the will of the people out of fear of public backlash at the ballot box. The major parties have to err far more significantly before a third party can hope to replace them.

There are further follow on effects from this. The two major parties compete far more with each other than with minor parties from the same side of the ideological spectrum. As a result they spend far more time scaremongering against the opposition than promoting their own policies. The two parties drift away from the political middle ground and become more extreme, compared to what their positions would be under an IRV system. More extreme elements of society try to infiltrate the major parties because the flaws in the democratic process stifle their expression via minor parties. Each major party tends to represent an entire half of the political spectrum, whereas IRV forces the two major parties towards the centre of that spectrum. FPTP systems create instability in government policy as it switches between wider extremes at each change in government. This is further reinforced by voluntary voting, which means that the major parties spend far more time trying to motivate supporters (including extremists) than on rational argument in favour of their policies. FPTP and voluntary voting are not a good combination.

Furthermore, the major parties can develop odd combinations of policies as they dance around each other. Without serious competition from minor parties, there is little motivation to get a combination of policies that matches the will of the people. The public is less able to punish them on individual policies by voting for a minor party that has similar stances on all but a few issues. For the same reason, corruption and cronyism are far harder to stamp out because there is a far greater tendency for it to go unpunished.

Finally, FPTP will tend to weaken the party system by making it less relevant in the eyes of the public. The public will start to focus more on the individual candidates rather than the party they represent and will be more supportive of candidates that vote against party lines by crossing the floor.

If strategic voting is common, then using FPTP voting systems is clearly inappropriate and detrimental to a democracy. This one issue is, in my opinion, the single biggest correctable fault with modern democracies. However, even when people tolerate the spoiler effect and refuse to vote strategically, IRV may still be both more suitable and preferred by the general public.

Advantages of IRV

Under instant runoff voting, minor parties can gradually increase their share of votes at each election and constantly put pressure on the major parties to represent the people. Minor parties can direct their supporters on the distribution of preferences and have considerable negotiating power. Compared to proportional representation, there is an advantage that these negotiations are completed prior to the elections. Not only do supporters of minor parties get the ear of the major parties, but the supporters of major parties get a chance to judge those major parties prior to the election based on the deals they do with minor parties. There is frequently criticism in Australia that the major parties 'sell out' to minor parties under such deals. However such criticism is groundless as the major parties must still gain support from the majority of citizens and the preference deals are made public prior to elections. A minority group only gets their way if it is tolerated by the majority. Compare this to the Israeli system that has proportional representation in the single house of parliament. Here, negotiations with minor parties to form coalition governments occur after the election and minor parties get either no power at all, or considerable power when they hold the balance of power. This destabilises government and results in frequent early elections.

Failure to Compromise

One flaw shared by all three systems discussed so far is failure to compromise. A third party that lies (ideologically) between the major two parties may be preferred by the majority of citizens when matched against either major party in a 'two horse race.' The example usually used to demonstrate this is an imaginary election in Northern Ireland between a party in favour of abolishing catholicism, a party in favour of abolishing protestantism, and a minor 'compromise' party in favour of abolishing neither. Assume that just under half the population supports each major party, but all citizens prefer the third 'compromise' party to the major party which they don't support. The third party has a stronger chance in an IRV system because under an FPTP system voters would be drawn to the two extremes in fear of 'wasting their vote' on the minor candidate and handing victory to the opposition, which they detest. However, even under IRV the third party may be eliminated first out of the three, even though it is clearly a preferable option.

Is there a way around this problem? Of course there is!

Condorcet Systems

Condorcet voting resembles IRV in that voters rank all candidates in order of preference. The difference is that instead of eliminating one candidate at a time, all candidates are compared to each other candidate. If one candidate wins 50% or more of the vote against every other candidate, he wins. Such a system would deliver victory to the compromise candidate in the example given above. Out of FPTP, IRV and condorcet, condorcet most favours compromise candidates, while FPTP most favour pluralist candidates, with IRV in between on each issue. In practice, IRV and condorcet would usually produce the same outcome. Stable democracies using IRV tend to produce two major parties that are closer to the middle ground than under FPTP systems. Furthermore, people can vote strategically to make IRV more like condorcet or vice versa. Using the example above, under IRV voters could safely vote for the compromise candidate in the knowledge that if their preferred candidate were eliminated first, all of those votes would go to the compromise candidate. Likewise under a condorcet system voters may get fed up with candidates whose policies form a compromise but who have no charisma or management skill and start ranking both extremist candidates before the compromise candidates to achieve the outcome that IRV would deliver. Such strategic voting would not create the long term problems that strategic voting under FPTP systems does.

Condorcet voting is not used in any national elections, however it may be used by clubs, societies and boardrooms. Vote counting takes far longer under condorcet systems than IRV or FPTP. This is not a problem for smaller groups, but would be a problem for large states. However, the advent of computerised voting will make this problem a non-issue.

Condorcet systems may not produce a clear winner. That is, there may be no candidate that is preferred by the majority in every two horse race. This problem can be solved by lowering the bar required for victory to less than 50%, or by switching to some other system such as IRV when this problem arises. Lowering the bar would deliver victory to the candidate whose worst defeat is the least one sided (ie a candidate whose worst two party loss is 52%-48% would win over a candidate whose worst loss was 55%-45%).

So far we have discussed the relative merits of all the 'serious contenders' for systems to elect a single member from a group of candidates.

The Problems Inherent to Single Member Electorates

One of the fundamental trade-offs mentioned at the beginning of this article is the trade-off between local and ideological representation. Having a number of small electorates with one representative each ensures that each region is represented fairly in parliament. This comes at the expense of representation of ideologies that may be widespread, but nowhere sufficiently concentrated to gain a majority or plurality within any given electorate. Also, it often means that only those citizens who 'backed the winner' from their electorate get represented in parliament. Again, while there is no clear 'better' option from a philosophical perspective, we can look towards which system the public favours by considering referendums and the voting patterns under other systems. Single member electorates are more common because they were more suitable when modern technology was absent and the cost of elections was high. A barely literate populace will judge each candidate by what they here him say in person and by what they here via word of mouth. Obviously such circumstances point towards the use of single member electorates so that the geographical area that needs to be covered by each candidate is small and so that candidates tend to campaign against each other among groups of people that already know them personally. Furthermore, the absence of modern technology limits the channels of communication which makes a local representative important for communicating local views and local interests to a centre of power which can be quite distant.

By contrast, in modern democracies most citizens vote along party lines. They show less personal interest in the individual candidates and more interest in the official policies of the party the represent. Where people tend to support parties (ideologies) and focus on universal issues, rather than supporting individuals and focussing on local issues, there is a strong argument in favour of ideological rather than local representation.

Proportional Representation (PR)

Ideological representation requires fewer electorates and more representatives per electorate. In practice this is usually taken to the extreme by having a single electorate for the nation or for each state. For example, many 'upper houses' of parliament use a single electorate per state and combine ideological representation with representation of state issues. However, there is no reason to go to such extremes and it would be reasonable for example to increase the size of each electorate by a factor of 3 (and reduce the number of electorates to one third) and elect three candidates per electorate.

The only sensible way to elect multiple representatives from an electorate is via proportional representation. Under such systems, the number of seats held by each party depends upon the number of votes across the electorate. Proportional representation can be combined with IRV to eliminate the spoiler effect and strategic voting. Instead of combining PR with IRV, Israel uses a slightly different system that requires half a 'quota' to get one member elected, one and a half to get two members elected and so on, however this still leads to 'wasted' votes that aren't counted and a motivation for strategic voting if the outcome can be predicted with reasonable certainty.

While proportional representation has considerable merit, it is a rather awkward way to achieve the goal of proportionality. A party can only increase its power in parliament by increasing the number of sitting members it has. For starters, this limits it to whole number units of power. It also creates the problem that, while people vote for a party, they still end up with a group of individuals, some of whom they may not like. Finally, it still does not overcome the problem that citizens must vote for a single person or party to make all of their decisions on their behalf.

There is a better way.

Direct Democracy, Delegable Proxies and Proportional Power

A simple way around this problem is direct democracy, which basically means allowing the people to vote on every single issue. This is akin to having a referendum on each proposition that comes before parliament. The Americans already do this when the vote on specific 'propositions' at each election. However, this is a costly way to operate as it means a proposition cannot be voted on until election time. Furthermore it means that in order to get a reasonable outcome, the public must go to considerable effort to educate themselves on each proposition. This is the fundamental trade-off between effort and representativeness. However, there is a way to achieve both direct democracy and proportional representation while allowing members of the public to delegate the decision making process to someone else. In fact, it demands less effort on behalf of the public from those who do not need or wish to vote as often.

We start by abandoning the idea that members of parliament get one equal vote each. "One person, one vote" is for the citizens, not for parliament, which is meant to reflect the will of the people rather than the will of the politicians! "One politician, one vote" is another custom that made sense in the past when options were limited but which no longer makes sense. So instead of getting one vote each, the weight of a politician's vote is directly proportional to the number of citizens who vote for him. In effect, every single citizen gets and equal vote on the floor of parliament. Obviously this requires multiple representatives per electorate, and preferably a single electorate from which all members of parliament are elected.

Read article on voting by delegable proxy.

Under this system, citizens are delegating their vote on each issue to a representative. Members of parliament do not represent regions, ideologies, parties or even themselves. Instead, they represent a group of people. Thus voting by delegable proxy achieves the ‘purest’ form of proportional representation. But wait, there’s more! Voting by delegable proxy would likely require electronic voting. If citizens were prepared to tolerate a system that tracks which representative they delegate their vote to, then the system could do away with elections and allow citizens to change their delegation at any time. This would effectively achieve direct democracy as well as proportional representation. Citizens could change their delegation as often as is practicable, thus effectively voting on each individual issue if they chose to do so. Likewise, staunch supporters of a certain candidate would not have to vote again until their candidate retired or they changed their mind.

Such a system could run in parallel with a paper based system, allowing citizens to chose between being on the electronic role and getting the full range of options, or being on the paper roll and voting once every few years. The number of representatives could be adjusted as it is likely that a coalition of five or so members with significant backing could gain control of parliament. A politician’s salary could be made proportional to their support base. This would give very popular members a significant income and allow them to pay ‘ministers’ to advise them on each issue. The sitting members with the least support would have far less than 1% of the vote each. Candidates who did not make it into parliament would have to delegate their votes to a sitting member. It would probably be necessary to limit the ‘chain of delegation’ to a maximum of two steps. That is, citizens must delegate their vote either to a member of parliament or to an agent who delegates all of their votes to a sitting member.

There would still be a role for political parties under such a system, as parties are far more than a group of candidates and elected representatives. However, they would likely be smaller, more numerous and more like a social club. They key difference is that they would only be represented by a single sitting member in each house of parliament. However, they could coordinate their activities across local, state and federal legislatures.

Such a system would allow local views on issues to be represented in parliament as the need arose, while at the same time allowing proportional representation along ideological grounds.

Hybrid systems

Another way to get around some of the trade-offs is to hybridise two systems to elect members of parliament. If the two systems are kept completely separate, this is referred to as parallel voting. Citizens fill out two ballot forms which are used to elect people to the same house via different methods. If the two systems interact, it is usually referred to as Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). New Zealand has such a system. Citizens of New Zealand elect local representatives for their single member electorates via a FPTP system. In addition, they also vote for a party and this vote is used to make the party representation proportional over the nation. Candidates who do not win their local election may still be elected to parliament if their party needs a few extra members to be represented proportionally. These extra members are taken from a list supplied by the party.

Which option to promote?

Of the options outlined above, which option should proponents of electoral reform promote? A number of trade-offs have been described. Although modern technology and new ideas allow us to avoid some of them, there is no absolute argument in favour of one option over the other. A comparison of different systems in practice may provide some guide, however it is difficult to separate the properties of an electoral system from the views and culture of the people who are voting. Ultimately, the choice will probably come down to far more practical concerns such as the amount of change involved and the openness of people to change.

For example, when promoting electoral reform to Americans I almost always focus on Instant Runoff Voting. This is because it is most similar to their current system and involves the least change. In terms of the problems that are corrected, IRV is between their current system and every viable alternative. The US supreme court has already ruled that it does not violate the 'one man, one vote' principle outlined in the constitution. Americans are emotionally attached to their constitution and are loath to change it, regardless of the merits of any proposed change. Any other system (except perhaps condorcet) would probably require changes to the constitution. IRV maintains the single member electorates and most of the other features of America's electoral system. It changes those features of the democracy that almost all Americans see as a problem and leaves other aspects unchanged. The necessity of additional changes obtained from other electoral systems is much more open to debate.

Furthermore, IRV is an 'enabling reform.' By levelling the playing field between the major and the minor parties it will allow other reform agendas to gain publicity via the minor parties. One such agenda that Americans tend to focus on is the abolition of the electoral college. This is the system whereby each state 'pools' its collective vote for the US president. Many Americans even think that this is more important than IRV, however it is not an enabling reform and would still leave the presidential election as a two horse race. Depending on how it is achieved, it may require alterations to the constitution. Finally, a short perusal of presidential elections shows that the spoiler effect has a far greater and more frequent impact on the outcome than the electoral college, while strategic voting has an arguably more sinister effect.

Americans are taught about their electoral system in school. They tend to come away with considerable confusion between 'how it is done' and 'how it should be done.' I often encounter Americans who describe their system of checks and balances in great detail and seem to think that merely explaining how it works will convince me that that is how it should work. Part of the problem is also America's insularity. A lot of Americans implicitly associate America with democracy and are unaware of other systems such as IRV, or their benefits. The electoral college is an exception to this as Americans do tend to view it as a problem. However, it is a unique problem to America and a fairly minor one compared to FPTP. It is the familiarity of Americans with both the problem and the solution (which is very obvious) that has given widespread support for the abolition of the electoral college. Most Americans are familiar with the spoiler effect and many vote strategically without giving it a second thought. They are also aware of the tough time minor parties have in even getting their own supporters to vote for them. It is their unfamiliarity with viable alternatives that is stalling the adoption of IRV. The gradual adoption of IRV in counties and states across the US is gradually changing this. While abolishing the electoral college probably won't help adoption of IRV, adoption of IRV is probably the quickest way for Americans to abolish the electoral college.

What about Australia?

When it comes to Australia the situation is very different. We already have IRV and combine it with proportional representation in the senate. We have historically been at the forefront of the electoral reform process. Our biggest problem is arguably the state government in Queensland. QLD abolished its senate about a century ago. Since then it has only had one house of parliament consisting of 89 representatives elected from single member electorates. Many Queenslanders do not miss the state senate and consider it a waste of taxpayer's money. However the lack of checks and balances that two houses provides has caused some problems. Queensland has suffered severe corruption in its history. The government has established bodies to monitor and fight corruption, however these are likely to become 'old boys clubs' and are themselves prone to corruption.' Only a greater presence of minor parties and democratic rather than bureaucratic solutions to corruption will work in the long term. This tends to point towards either proportional representation or the voting by delegable proxy system which I have described.

Proportional representation is more familiar, but has its drawbacks, as anyone familiar with Israeli politics will know. Israel's government is unstable and frequent early elections are necessary. The negotiation of coalitions after the election often produces political compromises that the public are not happy with. Finally, proportional representation is not a step towards a better system like delegable proxies.

However, delegable proxies have there own problems, the main one being that the system is new and people will rightly fear the unpredictable outcome of such a system. It has a significant advantage over PR in that if people are unhappy with whatever coalition comes to power, a few of them can change their vote and alter the balance of power. Other people may fear this rapid change to the balance of power, however if it causes any problems the public is likely to respond by placing a higher value on stability and experience when voting, which would tend to keep stable coalitions in power.

One other alternative is using proportional representation, but not having a single electorate. For example, having 29 electorates with 3 members each, or 17 5 member electorates would give more power and representation to minor parties and independents in parliament, but would significantly reduce the risk or a small extreme minority holding the balance of power, which is what causes most of the problems in Israel's parliament. Electorates with even numbers of representatives should be avoided. For starters, they can only give an even number of seats in parliament. Also, for a 'two horse race' they may give a fairly predictable result of 1 or 2 candidates from each side of the political spectrum, leaving the real race in one or two unusual seats. Three member electorates would either give a clear winner with two candidates from one party and one from the other, or would give the third seat to a larger minor party.

Our Senate

The equal representation of states in the senate should probably be maintained given the problems which the state and federal governments still have in negotiating with each other and the recent attempts by the federal government to take over traditional state government roles. It is also hard to improve upon proportional representation, however I think there is a case for voting by delegable proxies in the senate. While the change would not be as great as say a switch from single member electorates to delegable proxies in the QLD parliament, the risk is also far smaller.