|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial:
We hope and pray that the four peace activists
currently held as hostages in Iraq will be released unharmed.
For example, the British hostage, Norman Kember, actively
opposed the war in Iraq and does not support the USA's and
UK's policies in Iraq, so those who hold him and the others
should have no cause to hold or harm them. But in that kind
of situation it can be the case that 'anyone' will do as a
hostage or a target ' just as paramilitaries in Northern Ireland
often targeted those who simply happened to be in the wrong
place at the wrong time and resultantly at times killed 'their
The four men held - Tom Fox, James Loney, Harmeet
Sooden and Norman Kember - are associated with Christian Peacemaker
Teams (CPT) which, ironically given the current situation,
has been involved in Iraq since 2002 and has, among other
things, worked to document ill-treatment of detainees. The
slogan on the CPT website
asks the question 'What would happen if Christians devoted
the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking
that armies devote to war?' But this is not just a question
for Christians, and an organisation like Peace
Brigades International works in other risky situations,
providing nonviolent accompaniment to those at risk of attack.
Sometimes those who support nonviolent and peaceful
solutions to violent conflicts are accused of being na‹ve
and not taking risks. At times there is truth in this but
there are also those who are fearless in their defence of
justice. The four people being held fit this description and
it is to be hoped that their courage will be rewarded with
release. It was courage and not foolhardiness which took them
to Iraq, the opposite of the policies of the governments of
the USA and UK of which two or them are citizens (the other
two are Canadian).
Peace does not require that everyone takes such
risks but it does require that some do. There are many different
roles which concerned people can play in violent situations
and conflict-torn countries, or in support from outside the
situation, and a wide variety of organisations are trying
to develop such responses. There are always risks in such
situations of being the person in the wrong place at the wrong
time; being taken hostage means that there is still hope that
those holding them will release them, realising that their
aim is to work for justice and that they are not involved
in the war being fought by the UK and USA and in fact are
there to ameliorate the effects of that war.
What should be the public response to the fact
that someone is accused of a Troubles-related crime now as
opposed to before 'the agreement?' Yes, the war is over and
therefore the states can afford to be lenient in an atmosphere
where leniency has already been shown to so many. But those
in prison in 1998 still had to wait for a couple of years
to be released, and be released on licence, i.e. an ongoing
probationary situation which meant that returning to involvement
in violence would mean a return to prison. Those in exile
may have paid a penalty in having to live away from home,
but those not already charged have paid no such penalty.
Not surprisingly, victims groups in the North
have reacted angrily to the proposals. What is more disturbing
from a civil liberties viewpoint is that those who committed
crimes while in the service of the state will also be eligible
for the schemes. So soldiers and police who were meant to
upholding the law but broke it in the most callous way will
be eligible in the same way as those who were involved in
violence from a loyalist or republican standpoint; those who
served the state will be held no more accountable by that
same state than those who opposed it.
One of the problems in the Northern Ireland
situation is that, given the nature of the Troubles and killings
coming more from non-state than state sources, there cannot
be a simple truth and reconciliation process because those
involved cannot be compelled to be involved. If we did have
such a general process, fully involving all parties and with
all baring their souls and their deeds and misdeeds, the process
envisaged might well make sense. Action is needed to resolve
the situation of 'on the runs' but both Northern and Southern
proposals need some modification including release on licence
rather than pardon in the Republic, and the exclusion of state
servants from the scheme in the North.
- - - - - - -
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:
At the end of November the Ulster Wildlife Trust
in Conjunction with Fermanagh Local Council lunched the Fermanagh
Local Biodiversity Action Plan in the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen.
This is a three-year project to help conserve, preserve and
enhance the biodiversity of the county. The keynote speaker
was Professor Chris Baines, a noted environmentalist and broadcaster.
Baines, speaking with passion and humour, explained biodiversity
in holistic terms. He said that it is about:
- Working with nonhuman nature rather than
- Making use of local labour, skills
- Having a sense of place
- Consuming less
- Politics: persuading and prioritizing
The promotion of biodiversity is a win-win situation
for people and eco-systems, locally and globally. This is
illustrated by the fact that buying local food not only benefits
local farmers but leads to a reduction in the distance food
travels, and thus a saving in the emission of gasses that
cause global warming. The more organic food that is bought,
the less harmful chemicals are used on the land, which benefits
biodiversity. Organic food also means less mechanization and
Baines said that the success of local biodiversity
action plans, and there are many throughout Ireland and the
UK, depends on two things. The first is environmental education,
which in a rural county like Fermanagh must include the farming
community. The second is marketing the quality of life benefits
that arise out of healthy bio-rich eco-systems, as well as
local distinctiveness. This inevitably means eco and cultural
tourism. The danger in marketing a place, as Baines pointed
out, is that people often destroy what they come to see and
One of the more interesting questions asked
of Baines was how to educate people about environmental issues.
He said that trying to get an audience to come to you does
not work. That one must go to where people want to be. The
problem with this suggestion is that today people want to
be supermarkets and shopping malls, which are not public spaces
in the town square sense of the word, and one cannot do anything
in them other than shop and eat. The last thing the corporations
who own these complexes want is someone asking potential customers
to buy less and shop with a conscience.
Chris Baines gave an inspiring talk. The
one important thing the event lacked was the opportunity for
members of the audience to interact with each other, share
ideas and pool resources to the end promoting biodiversity
and eco-sustainable living.
by Peter Emerson
Consensus can be achieved, either verbally,
and/or votally, or should I say, both verbally and votally.
But first, a few facts.
The 2,500-year-old majority vote is the most
inaccurate measure of collective opinion ever invented. One
of the most accurate measures, in contrast, is a combined
Majority voting is based on closed questions,
‘Option A, yes or no?’ or ‘Option A versus
Option B?’ More accurate methodologies use open, or
Any use of a majority vote - whether simple,
weighted, qualified or consociational – tends to suggest
the question is dichotomous. Yet most questions, if asked
correctly, are multi-optional. For example, the question should
not be, “Hanging, yes or no?” but rather, “How
shall we deal with the convicted murderer?” Another
question, George Bush’s “Are you with me or against
me?” was blatant manipulation – or worse. And
closer to home, the stark choice of “NI in a United
Kingdom or a united Ireland?” would be better replaced
by a more multi-optional approach. (There is perhaps one political
question which is two-optional: which side of the road shall
we drive on? Yet the only country ever to hold a referendum
on this topic actually had three options on the ballot paper!1
) Some countries do use multi-option voting: Sweden in her
parliament, for example, and New Zealand, one of many, in
The majority vote is a means by which he –
it’s usually a he – by which he who writes the
motion thereby dominates the agenda; little wonder, then,
that majority voting has been used by Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin,
Mussolini, Hitler, Duvalier, Pinochet, Khomeini and many other
“democratic dictators”, so that they could get
Furthermore, the majority vote and/or a belief
in majoritarianism has often been a cause of war. This was
true in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, to name but two recent tragedies.
Finally, a majority vote cannot measure consent;
it is, of course, the very opposite, a measure of dissent,
so many ‘for’, and so many ‘against’.
Consensus can be facilitated by means of open
questions and multi-option preference votes. Such, after all,
is the basis of conflict resolution work. Whether the problem
is between domestic partners or warring nations, mediators
invariably rely on open questions, so to identify the options;
in the second stage, they collate all of these options and
propose others; and finally, they identify that option which
receives the highest average preference – and an average,
of course, involves not just a majority but, literally, everybody.
This last step of identifying the most acceptable option can
be done verbally, in a rather protracted process of shuttle
diplomacy. Or it can be done votally, via a multi-option preference
vote under the rules of a modified Borda count. A number of
steps are involved.
a) Allow all (and/or their representatives)
to participate, under the guidance of independent consensors.
b) Allow all parties to forward a proposal (as
long as it conforms to some agreed norm like the UN Charter
on Human Rights); the consensors will collate these proposals
into one balanced list of options, with composites if need
be, and display this list (on a computer screen).
c) Allow for a full debate; any new ideas arising
from the debate, the consensors will add to their list of
options… and if any unanimous view suggests that a certain
option may be removed, they will comply.
d) If, at the end of the debate, only one option
remains, this may be regarded as the verbal consensus (though
few outside observers will know the degree of consensus).
If, instead, a number of options remain – and if the
topic is contentious, there will invariably be quite a few
options remaining – the chair should first verify that
all parties agree that their particular proposals have been
taken on board, either verbatim or in composite, and then
ask all to proceed to a vote.
e) The consensors’ final task is to count
the vote. If the outcome is an option with a very high average
preference score, it may be termed a unanimous viewpoint.
If the winning outcome has a smaller score, it may be regarded
as the common consensus or at least the best possible compromise.
Consider, for a moment, a five-option debate,
with the five options A, B, C, D and E. If everyone gives
option B, say, their 1st preference, B will get the highest
possible outcome, an average preference score of 1. If everyone
gives option A their last or 5th preference, then A will get
the worst possible average preference score, in this instance,
5. And if everyone gives option D their 3rd preference, or
if 50% give D a 2nd preference and the other 50% give it a
4th preference, then D will get an average preference score
of 3, the mean.
The chances, in real life, of everyone, collectively,
giving every option the exact mean score of 3, is just about
zilch. Something will always be above the mean, and something
else below.2 “The Borda count always gives a definite
result.”3 If, in such a five-option example, the winning
option gains an average preference score greater than 1.5,
then, as above, we may talk of unanimity. If the winning score
is about 2, the outcome can be said to represent the common
consensus. If, again, it is nearer 2.5, then it’s the
best possible compromise. And if it is only 2.9, then it’s
very close to the mean, and so must be everything else, in
which case the debate should be resumed.
No matter what the result, however, any use
of this voting procedure will ensure that all concerned know
the exact degree of consensus. And transparency, after all,
is a vital part of consensus, democracy, and mutual understanding.
1 Defining Democracy, p 11.
2 In some instances, not everyone will wish to submit a full
ballot, in other words, not everyone will want to express
a preference on all five options. In which case, the modified
Borda count (or preferendum, as it used to be called) should
be used, so to cater for such instances of partial voting.
3 International Political Science Review, Vol 23, No 4, p
The de Borda Institute
- - - - - -
All the definitions shown in this glossary are taken from
Defining Democracy, ISBN 0 9506028 8 4, which was published
by THE DE BORDA INSTITUTE in 2002.
NB Items marked § are described elsewhere in this glossary.
Proper names are emboldened.
Absolute majority see majority.
AMS, (additional a partially
proportional electoral system based on one vote and two counts,
the first under FPP§,
member system) the second, PR-list§; see also MMP.
Approval voting a voting mechanism
which can be used in decision-making and/or in a (non-PR election).
The voter votes for as many options/candidates as he/she wishes;
each ‘approval’ has the same value, and the option/candidate
with the most ‘approvals’ wins.
AV, (alternative a voting mechanism
which can be used in decision-making and/or in a (non-PR)
election. It is a
vote, otherwise form of preference voting where the voters
vote 1, 2, 3... for their first/second/third... preferences;
known as single the count no option/candidate gets 50% + 1
first preferences, the least popular option /candidate is
transferable vote) eliminated and its votes are transferred
according to its voters’ second preferences. The process
continues until an option/candidate gets or exceeds 50% +
1. See also PR-STV.
Binary where every decision is based on a two-option, for-or-against
choice, or a series of such
decision-making majority votes§.
Block vote a (non-PR) electoral
system where the party which wins the majority§ or plurality§
vote thus wins all the seats. (The term “block vote”
is also used to describe the vote of, for example, a trade
union delegate, whose single vote may represent perhaps thousands
of members whose views are not necessarily unanimous.)
Borda The Borda count or points
system is a voting mechanism which can be used in decision-making
and/or in a (non-PR) election, though it is more suitable
in the former mode; (for its application to PR§ electoral
systems, see QBS).
Where there is a choice of n-options or candidates, the voter
gives n points to their most preferred option/candidate, n-1
to their next favourite, n-2 to their third choice, and so
on, as he/she wishes; the winner is the option/candidate with
the most points. See also modified Borda count.
Citizens' a mechanism whereby
a minimum number of citizens can demand a referendum§
on a topic
initiative of their own choosing.
majority a coming together of some parliamentary parties to
form a government which then commands a simple majority§
in that parliament;
all-party a power-sharing government involving all the main
Condorcet A Condorcet count
or pairings vote is a voting mechanism which can be used in
decision-making and/or in a (non-PR) election. The voter casts
his/her preference on all options/candidates; in the count,
pairs are examined separately and, in let us say a three-option
contest, if option/candidate A is more popular than B and
if A is more popular than C then A shall be the Condorcet
winner. See also paradox.
Consensor In consensus§ decision-making,
the chair or facilitator is assisted by a team of impartial consensors who recommend
which voting mechanisms if any are to be used, and which options are to be included
on any relevant ballot paper.
Consensus (see also level of)
verbal an agreement, usually taken after lengthy discussions
and after all concerned have agreed to a compromise;
votal an agreement, usually taken when all concerned (a) accept
the principle of compromise and (b) find that compromise via
a multi-option (Borda§) vote.
Con- a form of government where
decisions are taken by simultaneous majorities§ from
sociationalism all communities: from both unionist and nationalist
(Northern Ireland), from both Czech and Slovak (Czechoslovakia),
and so on.
Constituency A non-PR electoral
system is used in a single-seat constituency, a geographical
area represented by just one elected representative. In a
multi-member constituency, a PR§ electoral system is
used to elect two or more representatives. The word ‘constituency’
may also be used in a non-geographical sense, to describe
a particular group of people who, inter alia, relate to one
or more representative.
Cycle see paradox of voting.
Democracy… in theory,
rule by the people, demos;
…consensual rule by as many representatives, of all
political parties and none, as is feasible;
…consociational rule by an 'inter-ethnic' and/or 'cross-community'
…majoritarian rule by a group which has the support
of a majority§ of elected representatives.
d'Hondt see divisors.
Divisor system a rule of thumb
for allocating seats according to party strengths; (see also
quotas). Every party’s vote total is divided by a prescribed
set of divisors to give a series of descending scores. Seats
are awarded to the parties with the highest resulting scores.
Different sets of divisors give marginally different
results, with d’Hondt favouring the larger parties:
d’Hondt 1 2 3 4 .......
St. Laguë 1 3 5 7 .......
modified St. Laguë 1.4 3 5 7 .......
Droop see quota.
Electorate all those eligible to vote.
FPP, (first-past- a (non-PR)
electoral system where the voter casts one 'x' only. If there
are only two candidates, the candidate the-post) with the
majority§ of the votes is the winner; that is called
a majority vote§. With three or more (a plurality§
of) candidates, the candidate with the most votes wins; in
some instances, the winner does not receive an absolute majority
of the votes but only the largest minority, a plurality. FPP
elections with three or more candidates may also be called
Franchise, the the right to
vote in public elections.
Gerrymander the 'art' of fiddling
constituency boundaries so that your own party benefits.
Hare see quota.
Level of When using a Borda§
or modified Borda count§, the level of consensus for
consensus option is a measure of either the average preference
or the average number of points which the electorate gives
to that option.
The level of consensus for a particular option is calculated
by dividing the total number of points cast for that option
by the maximum total that it could have received; this figure
is then expressed as a percentage. See also consensus.
Majoritarianism the belief
in and/or practice of majority rule.
Majority (see also coalition)
…absolute 50% or more,
…consociational see consociationalism,
…qualified this is used in the EU, where different countries
have different numbers of votes and where the result depends
on a certain weighting,
…relative/simple may be only the biggest minority,
…weighted 2/3rds or some such other ratio greater than
Majority vote see FPP.
Matrix vote a PR§ electoral
system by which an electorate can elect a fixed number of
persons to the same number of what may be very different positions.
It is ideally suited for a power-sharing administration in
which the parliament or assembly wishes to elect a cabinet
or an executive consisting of a fixed number of ministerial
posts. The matrix vote is based on a QBS§ count.
MMP (multiple- a PR§ electoral
system based on two votes and two counts, the first under
member FPP§, the second, PR-list§; see also AMS.
Modified Borda a voting mechanism
which can be used in decision-making or in a (non- PR) election.
count or It differs from the Borda points system§ in
that it allows for partial voting, as follows:
modified points if someone casts preferences for all n options/candidates,
points are awarded as in a
system Borda points system: n, n-1, n-2 etc.; if, however,
the voter votes for only m options/candidates, points awarded
will be m, m-1, m-2, etc..
Modified St. Laguë see
Multi-member see constituency.
Pairings see Condorcet.
Paradox of the situation which
can occur in binary§ or Condorcet§ voting when there
Voting (also more than two voters with more
than two opinions and in which, for example, A is found to
known as a cycle) be more popular than B, B more popular than
C, and C more popular than A. This can be written as:
A > B, B > C and C > A or
A > B > C > A > ...
Partial vote see modified Borda
Plebiscite is usually a referendum§
on the topic of national sovereignty.
Plurality the largest minority.
Plurality voting a voting mechanism
in which the voter casts an ‘x’ only. It can be
used in decision-making and/or in a (non-PR) election. In
the latter instance, it is like FPP§ whenever there are
three or more candidates.
Points system see Borda.
PR (proportional An electoral
system which tries to ensure party candidates (and sometimes
representation) independents) are elected in proportion to
the number of votes gained. PR electoral systems are used
in multi-member constituencies§.
Preferendum A modified Borda
count§ or modified points system of voting.
PR-list In PR-list elections,
each party “lists” its candidates in its own order
of priority. Seats are awarded to parties on the basis of
a divisor or quota system and, if party X wins n seats, then
either the most popular candidates and/or the first n names
from the top of the list are deemed elected.
PR-list, closed an electoral
system in which the voters vote for one party only.
PR-list, open in the three
main types of open PR-list electoral systems, the electorate
i) either one party or one candidate of that party,
ii) one or more candidates of one party only,
iii) one or more candidates of one or more parties.
Profile a voters’ profile
is the particular set of first and subsequent preferences
which those voters expressed, or would have expressed, when
or if they had voted.
PR-STV an electoral system
based on AV§, although the quota§, instead of being
set at approximately 50% + 1, is smaller:
approx. 33% + 1 when there are two candidates,
approx. 25% + 1 when there are three candidates,
approx. 20% + 1 when there are four candidates, and so on.
Transfers take place, not only from candidates eliminated,
but also from those elected with a surplus over and above
the quota. PR-STV constituencies§ usually have from 3
to 6 elected representatives.
QBS (Quota a PR§ electoral
system which is based on a modified Borda count§. The
Borda System) votes by casting preferences; any candidate
gaining the quota§ is elected; otherwise, any pair of
candidates getting the quota is 'elected', the seat going
to the one with the higher Borda§ score; and if seats
are still to be filled, a triplet of candidates getting the
quota will be deemed 'elected', with the seat going to the
one with the highest Borda score.
Qualified majority see majority.
Quota a specified number of
votes which, if attained, ensures the election of the candidate
concerned (see PR-STV); the most common quotas are the Hare
(which is defined as the valid vote§ divided by the number
of seats), and the Droop (which divides the valid vote by
the number of seats plus one). (See also divisor systems.)
Referendum usually a two-option
majority§ but sometimes a multi-option plurality§
or two-round§ vote by which the electorate may ‘decide’
a matter of policy.
St. Laguë see divisors.
Serial voting a decision-making
voting mechanism in which options are placed in order, from,
let us say, cheap to expensive, or left-wing to right-wing;
a majority vote§ is taken between the two extremes and
the loser is eliminated; a second vote is taken between the
winner and its new extreme opposite; and the process continues
until there is just one option remaining. In theory, and if
people don’t change their minds between votes, the outcome
will be the Condorcet§ winner.
Sincere voting In any voting
procedure, a voter is said to vote sincerely when s/he votes
for those options/candidates she considers to be the best,
without taking any tactical§ considerations into account.
Single-peaked A voter's preferences
are said to be single-peaked if, when the options are laid
out on, say,
preferences a left-right axis, his/her second and subsequent
preferences lie in descending order to one side and/or the
other of the first preference.
STV (single another name for
AV, (alternative vote).
Suffrage see franchise.
Tactical voting In any voting
procedure, a voter is said to vote tactically (as opposed
to sincerely§) when, instead of voting for his/her preferred
option or candidate, he chooses the option or candidate that
may result in what he judges, in the given circumstances,
to be his best possible outcome.
Threshold The threshold of
an electoral system is the minimum percentage of votes required
for a candidate to be elected; this is usually the logical
consequence of the specific mathematics of the electoral system
concerned, but there can also be a laid-down minimum of, say,
5%, as in Germany.
Top-up A top-up is the second
part of an election count, applicable to some electoral systems
like AMS§, in which votes are counted in a different
way and/or in a bigger constituency, to ensure a greater degree
of overall proportionality.
Turnout the number of people
who, literally, turn out to vote; it is normally expressed
as a percentage of the total electorate§.
Two-round a voting mechanism
which can be used in decision-making and/or in a (non-PR)
voting first round is a plurality vote§, and the second
round is a majority vote§ between the two leading options/candidates
from the first round. In some instances, there may be three
candidates in the second round, as can happen in presidential
elections in France.
Two-tier consists of two parts,
with one election (which may be PR§) in small constituencies,
electoral system second election or top-up§ (which must
be PR) in larger regional or national constituencies.
Valid vote the number of voters
deemed to have handed in a proper, valid vote; this figure
equals the turnout§ minus the invalid vote.
Win-win A win-win decision
is one in which (nearly) everybody wins something but (almost)
no-body wins everything. In other words, everyone settles
on a compromise. It is the opposite of a zero-sum decision§.
Zero-sum A zero-sum decision
places voters in a win-or-lose situation: some win everything
decision want, and others lose everything.
- This glossary will also appear on the de Borda
Institute website at www.deborda.org