Electoral Reform Society to launch major report on 2016 Northern Ireland election

13th February 2017
13 Feb 2017
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Assembly


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Forward Planning Note: Electoral Reform Society to launch major report on 2016 Northern Ireland election

Society to publish largest ever survey of Northern Ireland voters on how they ranked candidates and parties, focusing on how different communities vote.

‘The 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Election: How Voters Used STV’ gathers data from thousands of respondents – over 4,000 – to create the largest database of voting patterns for NI.

  • Electoral Reform Society statement, 13th February 2017
  • Embargoed report and full PR to be sent on Wednesday 15th February, with findings embargoed for Thursday 16th February, 00:01.
  • Report launch event: March 23rd, central Belfast (details TBC)
  • Contact: Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer - / 07717211630.

The Electoral Reform Society will release a major report on the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly election this Thursday (16th February 2017).

The report, ‘The 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Election: How Voters Used STV’ commissioned IpsosMori to gather data from thousands of respondents – over 4,000 – to create the largest database of voting patterns for NI.

The launch follows debate this week about parties recommending their supporters give their second preference to other ‘blocs’ [1].

Nearly 2,500 filled out mock ballot papers reflecting how they voted in their constituencies – allowing for a highly rigorous look at how they expressed their preferences under the STV system – focusing on the different communities, including the extent to which unionists/nationalists vote for other blocs.  

The research and analysis was conducted by Prof John Coakley and Prof John Garry at Queen’s University Belfast, as well as Dr Neil Matthews at the University of Bristol and Prof James Tilley at the University of Oxford.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the ERS, said: ‘This research is the first of its kind, and contains some fascinating insights into voting habits in Northern Ireland – insights that go far beyond the usual analysis looking solely at the end results or just first preferences’.

This marks the first report on Northern Ireland by the ERS in several decades and will be formally launched next month at an event for journalists and politicians in central Belfast (details TBC – contact Josiah Mortimer to be added to the attendance list).


·        A full briefing/press release and embargoed digital version of the report will be sent out on Wednesday 15th February, with findings embargoed for Thursday 16th February, 00:01.

·        The report will be formally launched at an event in Belfast on March 23rd

For more information or to arrange an interview, comment piece or coverage in advance, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer - / 07717211630.


[1] See here

ERS: Electoral reform proposals could revitalise local democracy in Wales

31st January 2017
31 Jan 2017
ERS Wales
press release
Mark Drakeford
single transferable vote
electoral reform
ERS Cymru
welsh assembly


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Statement from ERS Cymru for immediate release, 31st January 2017, 12:00

For more information, quotes, or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on or 07717211630 (English language), or Dr Owain ap Gareth, ERS Cymru Research and Campaigns Officer, on or 07771661802 (English and Welsh)

Commenting on Finance and Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford’s proposals to introduce proportional representation for local councils in Wales [1], Darren Hughes, Acting Director of ERS Cymru, said:

“This White Paper is a hugely encouraging sign, and shows that the Welsh government is serious about empowering voters and revitalising democracy in Wales.

“A fairer voting system for local government – which would allow voters to rank their candidates by preference [2] – would be a big step forward. Moving away from the Westminster winner-takes-all system across the board would mean everyone’s vote counted in local elections, drawing to a close the era of wasted votes and ‘holding your nose’.

“PR is a normal part of life for voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensuring that all council seats are contested and that all votes count.

“We warmly welcome these proposals and will be responding to the consultation in full as it progresses.

“We commend the government for leading on this and look forward to working with Ministers on improving democracy for Welsh voters.”

A trend towards PR

“The direction of travel in the UK and across the world is towards more representative voting systems, rather than Parliament’s disproportionate First Past the Post system. It’s fantastic to see Wales potentially leading this trend.

“The Single Transferable Vote has been used in Scotland [3] for 10 years now, and in Northern Ireland since the 1970s, and gives fair results that represent the diverse swathe of opinion that exists. Systems that are more responsive to voters’ views will also be more responsive to their needs. 

“In the 2012 election, Wales had 99 uncontested council seats – with over 140,000 voters denied a say.  Part of this is down to a voting system that gives huge majorities on small chunks of the vote, and is a disincentive for choice.

“By contrast, in the final set of Scottish Local elections run under First Past the Post in 2003 Scotland had 61 uncontested seats – yet following the shift to the Single Transferable Vote in 2007 that figure hit zero. 

“At the same time, the average number of candidates standing per ward went from 3.4 in 2003 under FPTP to 7.1 in 2012 under STV, and the proportion of people seeing their first choice candidate elected soared from 52% in 2003 to 77% in 2012.”


Notes to Editors

[1] See here

[2] More information on the Single Transferable Vote system here:

[3] To see how STV has improved local democracy in Scotland, see our research here:

Read the ERS’ report on the 2012 Scottish local government elections under STV here:

Graphic available for free use (with accreditation) below and here (as high-res PDF):

New research: one-party councils could be wasting £2.6bn a year

4th October 2015
4 Oct 2015
local democracy
local government


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07979 696 265

Councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year through their procurement processes, according to a new report for the Electoral Reform Society.

The study, titled ‘The Cost of One-Party Councils’, measures the price savings achieved by English councils with ‘weak electoral accountability’ - i.e. those councils dominated by a single party or with a significant number of uncontested seats - and compares these with competitive councils. It finds that ‘one-party councils’ [1] could be missing out on savings of around £2.6bn when compared to their more competitive counterparts [2].

The report also measures councils’ procurement process against a ‘Corruption Risk Index’ [3], and finds that one-party councils are around 50% more at risk of corruption than politically competitive councils.

One-party councils come about because of the distorting effects of First Past the Post in local elections. Responding to the new findings, the Electoral Reform Society is renewing its call for England and Wales to adopt the Scottish system (the Single Transferable Vote) for electing local councils. This system has been shown to end the phenomena of one-party councils and uncontested seats [4], and could therefore result in significant public savings by increasing levels of scrutiny and lowering councils’ risk of corruption.

Key findings:

  • One-party councils could be wasting up to £2.6bn a year through procurement compared to their more politically competitive counterparts – amounting to 5.9% of their £45bn annual spend
  • One-party councils typically achieve lower price savings [5] in procurement – 2.2% compared to 6.2% achieved by competitive councils
  • One-party councils have on average 50% higher ‘risk of corruption’ compared to competitive councils
  • The corruption risk of competitive councils compared to those dominated by one party is similar to the average Swedish municipality compared to the average Estonian municipality

The research, by University of Cambridge academic Mihály Fazekas for the ERS, examines over 132,000 public procurement contracts between 2009 and 2013 to identify ‘red flags’ for corruption, such as where only a single bid is submitted or there is a shortened length of time between advertising the bid and the submission deadline. These are brought together in a Corruption Risk Index to give a measure of councils’ risk of corruption in public procurement. Further evidence of the link between weak electoral accountability and higher corruption risk is supplied by a comparison of average price savings in procurement.

The study is the first to use ‘big data’ to analyse the potential for local councils to waste money in procurement owing to a lack of scrutiny or accountability (see Notes for further detail on methodology).

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“When single parties have almost complete control of councils, scrutiny and accountability tend to suffer. It’s not true of all one-party councils, but it’s bound to be true of some – and this new research suggests that lack of scrutiny could be costing us dear.

“The fact that tax-payers in England could be losing out on £2.6bn a year in potential savings is a damning indictment of an electoral system that gives huge artificial majorities to parties and undermines scrutiny. This kind of waste would be unjustifiable at the best of times, let alone during a period of austerity.

“The risk of corruption at the local level should set off alarm bells in Whitehall. The public are getting a poor deal through our voting system. For many millions of people, their vote effectively doesn’t count – and now we are seeing the potential financial cost of that, as well as the democratic cost.

“First Past the Post is clearly unfit for purpose, with parties able to win the vast majority of seats often on a minority of the vote. A fairer system, such as the one used in Scotland for local elections, would make ‘one-party states’ a thing of the past. And by letting the sunlight in, a fairer voting system could lead to substantial savings for the taxpayer.

“It’s time politicians from all parties woke up to the need for a fairer voting system. First Past the Post is hurting our democracy, and now it looks like it’s hurting us in the pocket too.”


The report is being launched at Conservative Party conference (Exchange 10, Manchester Central) at 12:45pm on Sunday 4th October.

Speakers at the launch event include Jonathan Isaby (Chief Executive, Taxpayers’ Alliance), Jacqui McKinlay (Executive Director, Centre for Public Scrutiny) and Sean Ansstee (Conservative Councillor and Leader of Trafford Borough Council.

For more information, quotes or to arrange interviews, contact Will Brett ( / 07979 696 265)


View an embargoed version of the full study here:

Findings are only reported for English councils outside of London as London boroughs represent a special case on their own, due to the two-tier government structure and London’s special economic position within England.


[1] One-party councils: those with ‘weak electoral accountability’, where at least 10% of the local council seats were only contested by one party/candidate in the last elections, or where one party controlled upwards of two-thirds of the council seats between 2006 and 2015, or both.

[2] Competitive councils: those councils which do not fall into the above category.

[3] Corruption Risk Index: an indicator representing the probability of corrupt contract award and delivery in public procurement. This is based on six red flags:

1.       Only a single bid is submitted
2.       No publication of call for tenders in official public procurement journal
3.       Using less open procedures such as invitation tenders
4.       Period between advertising a tender and submission deadline is too short
5.       Subjective, hard-to-quantify evaluation criteria
6.       Time given for decision is excessively short or lengthy

[4] [4] See our analysis here:

[5] Price savings: In order to gather further evidence of the link between weak electoral accountability and higher corruption risks in local government contracting, councils’ average price savings were compared. Price savings are calculated using the ratio of originally estimated contract value and final contract value, with higher savings indicating that the final contract value went below the original estimate – most likely due to healthy competition among bidders.

England let down by elections as Scotland leads the way

9th May 2012
9 May 2012
single transferable vote
first past the post


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- A tale of 6 cities and 2 very different elections

Initial analysis of last Thursday’s elections is showing a widening gulf between local democracy in England and Scotland. 
In its initial analysis of election results, focusing on six English and Scottish cities, the Electoral Reform Society has shown English voters are drawing the ‘short straw’ in their elections, with less choice and less chance of affecting the result.
Scotland abandoned First Past the Post for local government elections in 2007 and adopted the Single Transferrable Vote form of Proportional Representation. This has brought competitive elections into all the local ‘One Party States’ that once blighted Scottish politics.
Willie Sullivan, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland said:
In last Thursday’s election voters across Britain went to the polls. But for voters in Scotland and England this was a tale of two Elections - and England drew the short straw.

"Scottish voters got more choice at the polls and more chance of deciding who speaks in their name in their town halls. And while most Scots got a councillor they backed for their trouble, most of the English just threw their votes away.

"Glasgow has transformed itself from rotten borough to a multi-party democracy. Scotland now has a local democracy we can all be proud of, and getting rid of First Past the Post made that possible. With the Single Transferable Vote people have got a real say on who runs their local authorities. Voters in England should settle for nothing less.”  

A tale of 6 Cities
Voter Choice
























Voters getting who they voted for (%)






Women’s representation (%)







Voting system






Estimated National Turnout

Scotland 42%

England 32%

Local Democracy Scotland can be proud of

1st May 2012
1 May 2012
single transferable vote
first past the post
uncontested seat


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07940 523842

Local Democracy Scotland can be proud of   As the UK heads to the polls, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has welcomed the fact that there is not a single uncontested seat in Scottish local authorities.   

Wales alone boasts over 95 uncontested seats – with 140, 000 voters denied a say.  

In the last set of Scottish Local elections run under First Past the Post in 2003 Scotland had 61 uncontested seats. Following the shift to the Single Transferable Vote in 2007 that figure hit zero.  

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland said: 

In hundreds of wards across the UK voters will not get the chance to have their say this Thursday. These elections were a done deal without a single vote being cast.  But once again Scotland has left the plague of uncontested seats behind.   

“We know that the First Past the Post system used in England and Wales and here in Scotland for Westminster elections gives us seats so safe that it’s not even worth anyone else standing.  If you’re lucky you might get a paper candidate faxed in from central office.  

“Now Scotland has a local democracy we can all be proud of. With the Single Transferable Vote people will get a real say on who runs their local authorities this week. But while we live in a fairly elected multi-party democracy we should remember our fellow voters in England and Wales, and encourage them to settle for nothing less.”  

For comment or analysis during the 2012 Scottish local election contact Willie Sullivan on 07940 523842

Scottish Democracy failing to realise dream of devolution

15th November 2011
15 Nov 2011
single transferable vote
voting systems


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Scottish Democracy failing to realise dream of devolution

With Scottish politics now dominated by two big parties, small parties under pressure and women’s representation on the wane, the Electoral Reform Society say action is now needed to ensure that Scotland’s political system can continue to meet the original aspirations and expectations of the advocates of devolution.

In their new ERS report, Prof John Curtice and Dr Martin Steven look at the election’s successes and failures and see what lessons can be learned for the future of Scottish democracy.

Professor John Curtice said:

The widespread expectation that the Scottish Parliament would be a multi-party parliament in which no party would ever have an overall majority has been dashed.

“In truth, although the electoral system bequeathed to the Scottish Parliament by Labour was far more proportional than First Past the Post, it was never one that was best fitted to the realisation of that original expectation. It still favours larger parties over smaller ones, who indeed are actually being discouraged from standing in the constituency contests.

“The fit between reality and expectation could be made closer with relative ease. The trouble is, such a step would require politicians in larger parties to be willing to help those in smaller ones – and perhaps that will still seem like a step too far?

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland said:

Just because Scotland’s modern Electoral System makes Westminster look like a tribal council doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and make it better.

“The concentration of power into two large parties in our parliament is of course better than power being concentrated in one. That’s what happened in Local Government under First-Past-the-Post before 2007.
“Concentrations of power are never good. We are convinced our democracy would work better with more parties in the system so that more voices are represented and heard and that power is shared, checked and balanced.

“The bias against smaller parties is one concern arising from this study of our election system in 2011 another is the power handed to party machines in deciding who goes where on the list and so in many cases who gets a seat. If a full move to STV is not available then we urge politicians to consider an open list system for that part of AMS’

The 2011 Scottish Parliament election by Prof John Curtice & Dr Martin Steven Is available for download here

The report is being launched at 6pm on 15th November 2011 in Committee Room 5 of the Scottish Parliament.
RSVP to Willie Sullivan, 07940523842
Professor Curtice will make a presentation on his findings, Chaired by Katie Ghose CEO of the ERS, followed by questions and discussion

Notes to editors

  • The AMS system is discouraging smaller parties from contesting single member constituencies.
  • In 2011, a majority of constituency contests were only fought by the four largest parties. Not only was this in sharp contrast to the position on the list ballot, but it meant that most voters had far less choice in their local constituency contest in 2011 than they had enjoyed in the general election in 2010.
  • Across Scotland, only 30 candidates from other parties stood on the constituency ballot. This was less than at any previous Scottish election, and was far lower than the 113 candidates that contested any one of the 59 Westminster constituency seats in 2010.
  • Women are now more reliant for their election on the list part of the system rather than the constituencies.
  • The level of defeat and retrial amongst female Labour MSPs in 2011 means that unless Labour reintroduces a strategy that secures gender balance in its con¬stituency nominations, any future recov¬ery in the party’s electoral fortunes could well be accompanied by a reduction in the overall level of female representation.
  • 2011 demonstrated that some voters are willing to take advantage of the fact that they have two votes to behave in accordance with the expectations of advocates of AMS.
  • Popular incumbent MSPs have developed a considerable personal vote that enables them to secure a substantially higher share of the vote than their party list manages locally – and this played a key role in enabling Labour to hang on to constituency votes and seats that it might otherwise have lost.
  • An incumbent Labour or SNP MSP, on average, managed to win some three per cent more of the vote in their constituency than on the list.
  • All 4 four Conservative Incumbents did better than their party.
  • Curtice and Steven show that a switch from the d’Hondt to the Sainte-Laguë method of allocating list seats, a method that is already enshrined in other aspects of the UK’s electoral arrangements, would have produced a more proportional result in which the SNP would not have won a majority despite winning well under 50% of the vote.

LTE - First past the post bad for democracy

28th September 2011
28 Sep 2011
first past the post
single transferable vote
excessive majorities


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029 2078 6522/3

SIR – It was disappointing to read Peter Hain’s comments resurrecting his idea that the Assembly should be exclusively elected by the first-past-the-post system (“Hain pushes for first-past-the-post voting for Assembly”, September 27).

Writing for WalesOnline during the AV referendum campaign, Hain stated that “as a democrat I cannot wish away the fact that first-past-the-post is no longer fit for purpose”.

What the Shadow Secretary of State must surely recognise is that his latter day conversion to first-past-the-post would not only be bad for Welsh democracy, but ultimately bad for Labour.

Under Hain’s plan, Labour, which secured just over two out of every five votes in this year’s Assembly election, would be rewarded with over two-thirds of the seats: a thumping supermajority giving the party a significant amount of power, and reducing the size of the opposition parties to a rump at the very time when new law-making powers calls for better scrutiny.
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Labour members should look again at Hain’s proposals as it runs contrary to Carwyn Jones’ aspiration that Labour should be a party for the whole of Wales.

2011 saw some spectacular results for Labour – but outside of South Wales the party still has much work to do.

Without the current Regional List system, Labour would have no representation and a weakened campaigning base across huge swathes of the country; areas with parliamentary seats once held by Labour and which the party must win back if it is to topple the Tories in 2015.


Director, Electoral Reform Society (Wales)
Published Western Mail