Hang’ the parliament!

Tactical voting to change the British electoral system

In view of the prospects of "hung parliament" in the final days before the British House of Commons election is the "tactical voting" to avoid a stalemate has become the talk of the town. The majority voting system in the 650 constituencies and the constellation of three competitors of relatively equal strength make it difficult for the parties to win the election "Vote swapping" Across party lines. In the 2000 U.S. presidential election, the so-called "Vote Swapping" organized via online platforms to find partners willing to cooperate – it already seems too late for this in Great Britain, but in times of real-time political communication via Twitter or Facebook many things are still possible on election day.

The possibility of "tactical voting" contrary to the actual party preference is now even propagated by some Labour politicians. For example, Education Minister Ed Balls and the Minister for Wales, Peter Hain, are hoping for an "intelligent behavior" at the ballot box and recommend their own supporters to vote for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats – if this prevents a Conservative success in the constituency.

Previously unknown in the British two-party system, this "camp thinking" and a lack of "Coalition Culture" complicates tactical voting, however. The dominance of the Labour Party and the Conservatives has so far always led to majorities and enabled more or less stable government – a typical effect in two-party systems. The emergence of the Liberal Democrats as a "third force" and especially the good performance of the chairman Nick Clegg in the TV debates seem to have shaken the power relations. In the polls, the Liberal Democrats (26%) are only just behind Gordon Brown’s beleaguered Labour Party (29%), while the Conservatives (35%) under David Cameron are achieving the best forecast values.

Into this constellation now burst recommendations like those of Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley, who in a "Confession letter" explains how she is organizing a vote swap to block the Conservative Tories in her constituency: "A friend in Streatham supports the Labour candidate for me, while I vote for the Liberal Democrat in Richmond for him."

This emphatic recommendation resembles a model from the year 2000: with his short article Nader’s Traders, the legal scholar Jamin Raskin had discussed the possibilities of the "Vote Swapping" on the occasion of the U.S. presidential election. Online trading places like "Voteswap2000", "Win Win Campaign", or "VoteExchange" had been directed at supporters of Al Gore as well as voters of consumer advocate Ralph Nader. This alliance had an election victory of George W. Bush should prevent. The websites functioned in a contact-box fashion: cooperating voters were connected across state lines and could then cast their vote for a candidate "Vote-Swapping" to be made available.

similar offers now exist in the UK, but not so much as a camp-oriented electoral brokerage bourse. The visually unspectacular platform tacticalvoting.org halt a "Instruction manual" ready to swap votes and discusses election law implications such as the controversial "FIRST PAST THE POST"-Procedure:

With only two candidates the system is perfect. Each candidate needs a majority of votes to win. However, as the number of candidates increases, the system becomes unfair. For example, if there are five candidates, just 20% plus one vote is enough for the winner to win.

But of course there are also ways to initiate an exchange of votes – currently this is done via Facebook, for example in the group Voting Buddies. The central motivation here is also the prevention of a lost vote ("wasted vote"):

You want to give your vote to the party of your choice – where it also pays something? Then you need a voting partner. Read on if you want to know more about how it works – I would say it is a contact board for voters…

The tone of the target group address makes it clear that this is primarily an offer for young and first-time voters. So far, only a little more than 600 users have joined the group, but vote-swapping per se is a niche phenomenon. In tight constituencies, a few votes are sometimes enough to change the result – this was already the case in the 2000 U.S. election, when a few thousand exchange votes in the decisive state of Florida almost turned the result around.

Even more drastic is the website hang-em.com. Here, too, voters who are willing to swap their votes across constituency lines can join in with "Like-minded" The idea is to create a network, but the motivation is to modernize the entire electoral system. Targeted candidates from the "third parties" be supported, which will prevent the formation of a majority along classic lines:

The idea is simple. Hang’em is a way to network across the country and elect candidates to run for a "hang parliament" provide. We need to renew democracy in the UK. They (the politicians) don’t do it, so "hang" we them until they do!

Besides the criticism of the existing electoral system, the "tactical voting" also an effect of the progressive "Medialization of the election day", which will now reach a new dimension in the UK as well. The widespread use of the "Social Web" by politics always produces an electoral dynamic as well – while the Browns, Camerons and Cleggs rely on electoral mobilization via Twitter and Facebook, the electors tweet photos from the polling stations, announce the place and time of their ballot in 140 characters, or coordinate their concrete voting behavior with other electors until the very end: the "Social Media Election" election to the British House of Commons is testing the possibilities of the real-time political Internet in this way.