The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 20

The Legislature

§6. 1 pass to consider how the community is to be divided for the purpose of obtaining the various sections which are to be separately represented in the legislative assembly---assuming for simplicity that the division aims at an equal distribution of electoral power among the citizens. Local divisions are most obvious and natural: but reflection shows that they involve the practical disfranchisement, in each locality, of a minority that may amount to nearly one-half: and even in the case of the majority the candidate may be only taken faute de mieux by a great many of those who vote for him. Hence it has been suggested that, in order to obtain a truer representation of different interests and opinions, the formation of constituencies by free combination, independent of locality, should be allowed. This suggestion has been worked out by Mr. Hare into an elaborate scheme: the advantages of which, both as a more complete realisation of the fundamental principle of representative government, and as a security against the dangers of a widely extended suffrage are urged by its advocates with much force and enthusiasm of conviction. It appears to me, however, to be open to the following serious objections:---

1. There is a danger of losing a valuable protection against demagogy, if we remove the natural inducements which local divisions give for the more instructed part of the community to exercise their powers of persuasion on the less instructed. If the divisions are local, the wiser few in each locality, in order to carry the candidate of their choice, have to convince their neighbours, and thus the natural sociability springing from neighbourhood tends to become a channel of political education: but if an instructed minority were allowed to combine with others on their own intellectual level elsewhere, this valuable educative influence would tend to be lost. This consideration seems to me materially to reduce the probable efficacy of this plan of representation as a protection against the danger of pernicious class-legislation.

2. Though it is the aim of the representative system to secure intelligent concern for the special needs of different classes and sections, it is hardly desirable that each representative should represent exclusively one set of particular interests or opinions: we want for legislators men of some breadth of view and variety of ideas, practised in comparing different claims and judgments and endeavouring to find some compromise that will harmonise them as far as possible. For a compromise of this sort is largely the kind of result to which the deliberations of the assembly as a whole ought to be directed: it is well, therefore, that the members of the assembly should be persons qualified to find it. Now it certainly seems to me that this is likely to be less the case if the community is not locally divided for electoral purposes. If the citizens are left to aggregate themselves into constituencies by free combination they are likely to form electoral bodies of a more uniform character, whether the combination is based upon identity of interests or similarity of opinions. The legislators will tend to represent either particular trades or professions, or particular religious sects, or other associations, tending to be somewhat fanatical, of persons combining to effect special legislative ends---total abstainers, anti-vivisectionists, anti-vaccinationists, and the like: unless---as is possible---the result should be a more elaborate organisation of the great political parties, in which they would be subdivided into constituencies by a central committee, so that the elector's freedom of choice would disappear.

On these grounds I am opposed to the introduction of Mr. Hare's, or any similar, scheme for the representation of minorities, as applied to the country as a whole. But granting that the principle of local divisions be adopted, it still remains to be considered how the divisions are to be formed. The simplest plan is to divide the country into as many approximately equal parts as there are to be members in the representative assembly, so that each such part may elect one member: and the simplicity of the plan is an undoubted merit, since any more complicated arrangement is through its complexity more liable to inequalities tending to become grievances. It has, however, been urged as a strong objection against this plan that it gives too much advantage to a candidate of local, as compared with one of national reputation: so that it leads to the election of less distinguished men as legislators. There is some force in this argument; but the disadvantage seems likely to tell rather against the lesser than the greater luminaries; since a statesman of great national reputation could hardly fail to command a majority in some one small division, unless he were so generally unpopular that he would be likely to be rejected by the majority in a larger division. And, undoubtedly, what I have regarded as the main aim of the representative system---to secure in the legislature adequate knowledge of and concern for the various needs and interests of different sections of the community---is, on the whole, more likely to be realised the more numerous the electoral divisions are, supposing that only majorities are represented. On the other hand, the simplicity of this plan of division is artificial, and involves the disadvantage of breaking up for electoral purposes portions of the community,---such as towns generally are,---which tend to have an intimate internal coherence in their economic and social life, and consequently important common interests. Generally speaking, to understand adequately the legislative requirements of any division of a town, a man must have a grasp of its economic life as a whole; and this is a strong reason for arranging that the representatives of a town---or any other naturally distinct and internally coherent parts of the country---should represent it as a whole. If, however, the electoral divisions are thus made to correspond as far as possible to natural divisions, there will in many cases be divisions which will require to be represented by several members: so that the question will arise again whether all the members of each electoral division should be elected by the majority---each elector voting for all---or whether some representation of minorities should be devised. In this more limited application the obvious advantages of minority representation seem to me decidedly to outweigh the drawbacks: and it is chiefly from this point of view that the plan is now recommended by its leading advocates.

There are various modes of securing the representation of minorities in an election in which several candidates are to be chosen: the most effective are framed on the plan of allowing any party or group of electors to have a representative, if the votes given for him reach the quota obtained through dividing the whole number of votes given by the number of places to be filled. I will briefly describe two leading varieties of this plan. The first---Mr. Hare's---may be distinguished as the Preferential vote. According to this each elector only gives one vote, but he is allowed to deliver a voting-paper on which the names of candidates may be written in any number not exceeding the number of places to be filled up. The names are understood to be in order of preference. Then if a vote for the name first on the list turns out to be superfluous, because the candidate's quota of votes is already made up, the vote is counted for the name second on the list; and similarly, if need be, for the third, and so on. The weak point of this scheme is that no thoroughly satisfactory method has been devised for selecting the particular votes that are to count for any candidate who has votes in excess of the required quota. This defect is avoided in a Swiss form of the method of the quota, which combines party-voting with voting for persons. According to this plan each of the different parties of electors puts forward a list of candidates; and the primary division of votes is among lists, not persons. Each elector votes for one or other of the parties, giving as many votes as there are places to be filled up, and at the same time naming any candidate or candidates whom he prefers; but he cannot indicate a preference among the names that he expressly selects. He may include among these names one or more candidates of some other party: but if so, for each such name a vote will be subtracted from the aggregate of votes given for his own party, and counted for the party to which the candidate belongs. Then any party which obtains a number of votes amounting to the quota will have one representative, or if they amount to twice the quota, two, and so on: the particular candidates selected in each case being those who have received the largest number of express personal votes.

Whatever principle of dividing electoral districts be adopted, it is important to provide for a rectification of the division from time to time, to meet changes in population. Such a rectification should not, I conceive, be regarded as a constitutional change; it should be performed regularly, as a natural consequence of a periodical census; and where party government prevails, it will be better that it should not be performed by the legislature but by a permanent commission---in order to avoid or reduce the danger of ``gerrymandering''.

Assuming that the plan of local divisions is adopted, a question arises as to the length of residence that should be required as a condition of voting in any district. It seems desirable that it should be long enough to secure, on the average, some knowledge of local affairs in the voter, and at the same time to hinder---by rendering costly---attempts to introduce strangers on a large scale into the constituency, in order to make up an artificial majority. But it is undesirable that it should be so long as to exclude from the franchise any considerable number of otherwise qualified citizens.

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