Why Britain's voting system is broken in three simple charts

Millions are people have their votes ignored by an archaic system

Jon Stone@joncstone
Wednesday 06 May 2015 08:52

Britain's electoral system ignores people who vote for smaller parties at the expense of big ones.

The easiest way to demonstrate this is to look at the difference between how people voted and which MPs they got.

Millions of people across Britain are voting for smaller parties

% of national vote (poll of polls)

More people than ever in the UK vote for parties other than Labour or the Conservatives.

The vote share of small parties has grown gradually after decades of two-party domination: first the SDP in the 1980s and the Liberal Democrats in the 1990s.

Since the last election the Green Party has become a force in some areas, while Ukip have dominated national discussions about immigration.

The SNP have swept swept Scotland and are set to become its largest party.

Only 67% of people across the UK are expected to vote for one of the 'big two' parties.

Under the current system, those millions are having their votes ignored

Projected seats under the current system

For a party to get an MP under Britain's current system, its votes must be concentrated in an artificially defined area drawn up by a commission before the election.

The size and shape of these constituencies has a huge impact on who gets elected - rather than who people actually vote for.

As a result, parties whose votes are spread thinly across the UK get no seats, while those with strong support in some areas but none elsewhere do very well.

At this election, for example, the SNP is set to get fewer votes than Ukip, the Greens, or the Lib Dems, but will probably get more seats than all of them combined.

It doesn't have to be like this

Seats under proportional representation

There are a number of systems in use around that world that do a good job of accurately reflecting votes cast.

Most advanced democracies use some form of proportional representation and in Europe, Britain stands practically alone in using First Past The Post.

The graph above shows how a typical regional proportional representation system might convert votes into seats.

Voters were offered the choice of changing the voting system in 2011, but the only one they were offered - Alternative Vote - was not proportional.

Will reform be back on the agenda after the votes are counted?

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments