On March 2nd, Northern Ireland’s citizens cast their votes to elect the nation’s 2017 Legislative Assembly. The Irish nationalist Sinn Fein (SF) party closed the gap on the predominant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) while smaller, more moderate parties such as the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gained improved representation.
To elect its Assembly members, Northern Ireland uses a multi-winner ranked choice voting system known internationally as the single transferable vote. Under this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference instead of merely selecting one. In order to get elected, candidates must earn a certain share of votes determined by the number of seats that are up for election. This is similar to single-winner RCV, currently used in multiple U.S. cities and recently passed statewide in Maine, which requires winners to reach a majority (50%+1) of the vote. Northern Ireland elected five seats in each constituency; like-minded voters representing a majority of 50% + 1 earned three of five seats, and overall more than four in five voters were able to elect one of their highly ranked candidates.
The Northern Ireland election results demonstrate the benefits that a fair representation voting system can bring. FairVote previously found that Northern Ireland’s RCV system elected a more balanced assembly than a plurality system would have given. This held true in the 2017 election cycle, since multiple smaller parties gained seats while the hardliner DUP saw its majority decrease. Having smaller, more moderate parties act as a bridge-builder between traditional partisans has helped the Assembly improve collaborative policy making in Northern Ireland.
Additionally, Northern Ireland’s RCV elections effectively allowed voter’s voices to be heard. As the figure below indicates, the percentage of seats that each party won was roughly proportional to the percentage of first choices. For instance, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland won 9.1% of total first choices and received 8.9% of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. This suggests that RCV does not distort election results, as some critics claim, and instead reflects voters’ true choices.
Northern Ireland’s successful Legislative Assembly elections prove that a multi-winner ranked choice voting system can improve the our woefully uncompetitive elections and polarized Congress. FairVote’s proposed Fair Representation Voting plan would bring this much-needed change to the United States.