First Past The Post (FPTP) Voting Should Be Replaced
Table of Contents:
2.1 Key Terms
2.3 Pro’s Case
3. Constructive Arguments/Analyses
3.1 The Function of Voting
3.2 Problems With FPTP
3.3 Benefits of Alternate Methods
This debate asks if the FPTP system, a voting system for many democratic systems and other things in the world, should be replaced with an alternative system. The point of voting is to represent the people who voted and their interests, so it would seem to me self-evident that, if a system of voting is not doing as well at that job as other systems are, that system, barring any other reasons, should be passed over for an alternate system.
I will go on in this speech to show all the reasons in which FPTP is inferior to alternative systems and the best thing to do is to replace it. There is good reason to believe that FPTP drifts to, if not a two party system, a de-facto two party system more often than not.
2.1 Key Terms
First Past the Post (FPTP): “A voting system where the candidate with the most votes (a plurality) wins, without any form of preference transfer.” -Wiktionary
Alternative Vote (AV): “Voters rank candidates in order of preference. If any 1 candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, that candidate is elected. If no candidate does, the last-place candidate is eliminated and that candidate’s voter’s second preferences are reapportioned to others and so on until a candidate clears the 50% + 1 threshold.” -Brittanica
Single Transferable Vote (STV): “a vote on a ballot that can be transferred from a candidate of first choice who has already obtained the necessary quota of votes for election to a candidate marked by the voter as second or third choice in order that every vote may count toward the election of a candidate” -Merriam Webster (for further info, see citation 1)
Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMPR): “How does the system work for voters? Voters have two votes: one for a candidate running in their riding, and a second for a party or a candidate on a party list. The riding candidates can be affiliated with a party or run as independents. The members of a party list can either be selected by the party or voted on individually.” -Samara Centre for Democracy
Regional: “Regional is used to describe things which relate to a particular area of a country or of the world.” -ReversoDictionary
Representation: “If a group or person has representation in a parliament or on a committee, someone in the parliament or on the committee supports them and makes decisions on their behalf.” -ReversoDictionary
Should be: “Used to say or ask what is the correct or best thing to do” -Cambridge English Dictionary
Replaced: “To take the place of something, or to put something or someone in the place of something or someone else” -Cambridge English Dictionary
The wording of the resolution is general. Obviously there are some cases where FPTP might make more sense (e.g. a poll between a dozen people where anything other than FPTP could be a needless complication), but in general, on balance, for the most important and most common uses where there are usually more than two candidates to vote for, the resolution states we should replace FPTP. The resolution doesn’t state that FPTP should not be allowed to exist or we would prefer a world without it, but just that it should be replaced. Better said, the best choice we could make would be to replace it.
Pro should aim to prove that FPTP has considerable/significant flaws that make it a less representative/effective system that, in general/on balance, is a bad system relative to other alternative systems. Pro should defend any criticisms of the proposed alternative systems and maintain their own criticisms of FPTP.
Con should aim to prove that the flaws of FPTP presented by pro are not valid/considerable and/or are not exclusive or inherent to FPTP. Con should also aim to provide reasons that FPTP is a good system in a way exclusive/inherent to the system.
2.3 Pro’s Case
- The Function of Voting
- Voting is a process to determine the desires of those who voted to (ideally) act upon them.
- The quality of a voting system is based on its ability for the result of the vote to be most representative of the wants of those who voted. If their first choice cannot be represented, it’s better if their second choice can be represented as opposed to their potentially last choice.
- Problems with FPTP
- FPTP often drifts to a two-party state or a de-facto two-party state because the system makes it so voting for a third-party that’s unlikely to win that you agree with inherently takes away votes from the party that you kinda agree with that’s likely to win, which then supports the parties you disagree with. This creates a perpetual cycle where third-parties can never get off the ground.
- FPTP is not designed to represent the desires of the people as much as possible. Even if a candidate receives 20% of the vote, as long as that is more than anyone else, they win the vote. This doesn’t lead to as accurate depictions of the desires of voters as alternative systems do.
- Benefits of Alternate Methods
- Alternative systems avoid the pitfalls described prior in multiple ways. One of the concepts some of them use is ranked voting, in which you rank candidates in order of who you would like to be elected. The lowest scoring candidate by number of votes is eliminated, and their votes are distributed to the second choice of those who voted for said candidate. This ensures people can vote for who they want to win without fear of increasing the chance that those who are ideologically opposed to the voter will win.
- Methods like MMPR can still ensure regional representation while still ensuring the best representation.
3. Constructive Arguments/Analyses
3.1 The Function of Voting
The purpose of a vote, self-evidently, is to represent the opinions and/or desires of those who voted. In my opinion, it would be very daunting to attempt to claim that the democratic process would not be better if it could better represent the desires of citizens. However, one might make the claim that things like ranked voting do not better represent the desires of citizens and thus the function of voting because they do not represent their first choice. Let’s look at an example to show why this isn’t true.
Say there’s a fictional country. We’ll name it Canada for no reason in particular. In this country, there are three completely fictional parties: the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party (NDP). Say that the Liberals win 35% of the vote, the conservatives win 40% of the vote, and the NDP win 25% of the vote. Now
Let’s also say that most Liberal voters and most NDP voters would both be, while perhaps not happy if the other were to win the election, they would be okay with it, as they have similar policies, but both would be unhappy if the conservatives won. Under FPTP, the conservatives would win a vote if there were only one winner, despite the fact 60% of the population would be unhappy with that and only 40% would be happy.
Under a system like AV, almost all NDP voters would choose the Liberals as their second choice, as they represent their beliefs much more than the Conservatives, giving the Liberals 60% of the vote and allowing them to clear the 50% threshold needed to win the vote. While this might lead to only 35% of people being happy, which is less than the 40% mentioned earlier, it also leads to 25% of people being either happy or at least feeling okay with the result of the vote as the ruling party at least in some part represents their interests. Undoubtedly, that 25% is at least considerably happier that the conservatives aren’t the ones who won.
This was an example with only 3 parties, but the concept of systems like AV or STV is shown more and more as more parties are introduced to the example. It leads to a world where people can still vote for the party they want to according to their political beliefs, but still allows for those voters to coalesce around a candidate that the most people want to win more than they don’t.
For these reasons, it would seem clear to pro that the function of voting is better served by a method like AV than it is by FPTP.
3.2 Problems With FPTP
Expanding upon 3.1, FPTP almost inevitably drifts to a two-party system or a de-facto two-party system. When it comes to third parties (such as the NDP in Canada), even if they represent what voters want more than a more moderate party, under the FPTP system, people are afraid that they “have no chance at winning” and will vote for the more moderate Liberal (this is called ‘strategic voting’). This is true even though if the voters who most wanted the NDP to win voted for the NDP then the NDP would have a chance to win the election. Voters need that safety that they aren’t inadvertently supporting the opposing party by voting for who they want to vote.
In Canada, FPTP has led to a country where even though the parliamentary system, the history of the great depression giving a foundation for the NDP, and the political position of Quebec leading to considerable support of the Bloc Quebecois all have brought about a parliament where there are effectively 4 parties with considerable influence (sorry, Green Party), two parties hold incredible sway and have for a century been the only ones with any chance of winning a majority. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives oftentimes each have more seats in parliament than all third-parties combined.
Something similar was seen in the Democratic primary with senator Bernie Sanders. Before I continue, I want to say this example doesn’t support pro’s case, it shows the prevalence of strategic voting. Continuing on, despite the fact Sanders often-times better represented the desires of voters (e.g. medicare-for-all), he lost, and one of the big reasons he lost was because voters thought he ‘couldn’t beat Trump’. While it would be great if Sanders, Biden, and Trump could all run in an election with the AV system in order to avoid this problem, that would be a completely fictional scenario.
The concern that more moderate Democrats would vote Republican if Sanders won and give Trump a victory is not necessarily unfounded, as much as I would like to claim it’s false, so this doesn’t say anything about FPTP specifically. What this example does show is that people vote strategically, focusing on beating those who are ideologically opposed to them by voting for those who are ideologically similar to them instead of voting for those who are ideologically close to them. While this example is not applicable as an argument against using FPTP in an election for president as an example, the problem of strategic voting that the example shows is a problem that FPTP worsens significantly. This problem can and should be diminished by implementation of alternative systems.
To restate what was said in 3.1, based on the example that I gave, FPTP self-evidently drifts to a system where it can be against your own best interests to vote for the party you most want to. Any system that allows that to happen, where possible and practical, should be replaced.
3.3 Benefits of Alternate Methods
Let’s look at another example. Let’s say there’s a country that uses a system to elect regional representatives. This country uses hundreds of small elections to choose each member of parliament based on districts, and there is basically no national election; parties get a majority by winning a majority of the regional elections and thus getting a majority of the seats in parliament.
Now, in this system, hundreds of elections using AV would work as explained earlier to ensure the majority of people have a candidate that they’re at least okay with, but we can go further. In a system with hundreds of representatives for the legislative process, it would make sense to allocate seats according to percentage of the vote. While AV would prevent a 35%-25%-40% split as described in 3.1 which would lead to 60% of voters being unhappy, ideally we would be able to make sure that the most people are represented as possible.
In said example, there could only be one winner, but in a parliament like this, we could award 35% of seats to the Liberals, 25% of seats to the NDP, and 40% of seats to the Conservatives. Now it doesn’t even matter if the Conservatives have more seats than either, because combined, the NDP and the Liberals have a simple majority and can (ideally) collaborate on policy while everyone gets representatives of their party that they most align themselves with and said party gets a say on policy, forcing compromise instead of just avoiding a considerably worse alternative.
This system, as I just described it, foregoes regional representation, however. If we wanted to avoid this pitfall, we could use MMPR and get a similar benefit. Under MMPR (as explained by citation 5), there are regional elections that elect one winner, ensuring that all regions have representation. In those same elections, voters also vote for a party and not a representative as well.
You add the regional representatives to the parliament and add additional seats as is necessary to be allocated to the parties that were voted for in order to best represent the national desires of the citizens. This is a benefit that, alongside the benefits of AV described earlier, cannot be found under FPTP and can only be found under alternative systems.
In conclusion, I’ve given good reasons to believe there is significant benefit to be gained from using alternative systems as opposed to FPTP and I have shown why said benefits can not be gained under FPTP. I believe it to be very clear that these benefits are considerable, important, and themselves show that they should replace FPTP because of their ability to be more representative. My arguments/analyses have been: 1. The function of voting and how it is greater fulfilled by alternative systems, 2. Problems with FPTP and strategic voting, and 3. The benefits of alternative systems such as MMPR in being able to award people both regional representation while also ensuring that the legislative process is as representative as possible of the nation-wide preferences of the voters.
In conclusion, I’ve shown in this speech all the arguments/analyses that form pro’s belief that FPTP voting should be replaced in order to ensure a more effective system. Those arguments/analyses are: 1. The function of voting is to ensure a representative system, 2. FPTP has several problems that diminish its ability to be representative, and 3. Alternative methods do not have these flaws and thus are capable of avoiding these pitfalls.
In order to overcome this, con should aim to question if the flaws I presented are considerable as I claim or something inherent to FPTP/not an equally as prevalent and serious problem in other voting systems. They should also provide their own good reasons to believe in the effectiveness and capability of FPTP along with any other reasons FPTP should not be replaced.
For all these reasons, so proud to propose.