[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Council elections

In his letter in the July issue, Simon Jagger identifies the two separate aspects of the Institute Council elections: (1) how the voters’ intentions are collected and (2) how the intentions are converted, deciding which of the candidates are elected. Both are the subject of discussion in the community as well as the Institute.

The ‘voters’ intentions’ is the issue raised by the Institute president when he asked for comments on email voting. As the agenda for the AGM of the Electoral Reform Society shows, this is of grave concern to those interested in the topic. Their fear is that safeguards for voters are being lost.

These safeguards have not existed in Institute elections since switching to a postal ballot. While care is taken to ensure that ballot papers are completed by the members intended to use them, no attempt is made to ensure that employers do not unduly pressured them to vote for the company’s candidates. Switching to email will have not diminished these non-existent safeguards. The reason there are no rumours of undue pressure is because the kudos to companies of having a member of the council on its payroll is non-existent. In contrast, it is common knowledge that some film companies instruct their employees on whom to support for Oscars. The ‘candidate election’ issue does need reconsideration because the tendency of the ‘largest block to scoop the pool’ is simply a feature of the current system. More examples of this exist in the world than can be fitted in an issue of The Actuary. There are several complex solutions. I prefer the following simple one.

Imagine the election was conducted by getting every member together in a small area, say Trafalgar Square. The candidates identify themselves by standing on a box, and each member stands next to the one they most want on the council. The six candidates with the largest groups round them, as decided by an Institute official, are elected. To get a good view of the groups, the official climbs Nelson’s Column.

Now, actuaries are intelligent. Thus, while the official is climbing, they will look round to see how their group compares with others. Some will realise their choice has no chance of winning, but by moving they can make the difference between two others elsewhere. Eventually their choice will get off his box and join another group. Similarly those in excessive groups will move.

This electoral system can be reproduced on paper, just as the current system is simply a paper representation of showing the members each candidate in turn, and counting those whose raise their arm in support. The logical process is that each voter chooses the candidate they prefer most and puts ‘1’ on the paper. Then they choose the one they would want if their first choice was not standing, and put ‘2’ on the paper, then ‘3’ and so on. The count is simply that the votes are sorted into ‘1’s. The optimum number of votes is ascertained. For 1,000 votes and six candidates it is 143 (six candidates can get 143 votes but the seventh can get only 142). Then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and his votes give to their ‘2’, and so on, until the six are found.

The advantage of this system is that the voters create their own ‘constituencies’ to suit their preference from the candidates standing. They are more likely to pick a candidate they know, or know of, rather than try to pick several by comparing candidates’ statements (manifestos).

If they do not like the candidates from their class of work, they can pick one from their locality, or who used to work with them, or from their group of tutors or examiners. As such it will create a proportionally representative Council based on voter preference for that particular election, not criteria imposed by the system design.

PS to those who recognise the above. I know I have described the single transferable vote (STV) system and how it was first identified in a primary school class representative election. I know that it is used in Ireland (north and south) and Australia, as well in the UK House of Commons (when it had university seats). I know that it has been recommended for local elections in Scotland. However, many otherwise intelligent people have a pathological fear of STV so I have avoided mentioning it by name.