Mon. May 20th, 2019

Voting: How the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is decided

IECIEC officials have their work cut out next week. Choosing how many seats each party gets in Parliament is complicated, so we’ve put together an explainer.

voting how the number of seats each party gets in parliament is decided 1024x710 - Voting: How the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is decided

e5b4a51a iec 2 1200x832 - Voting: How the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is decided

For us as voters, the 2019 Elections process promises to be simple enough: Arrive at a polling station, put our X in the box, and then enjoy the rest of the public holiday as we wait to see who will be in Parliament by the end of the week. But for those in charge of counting up the actual votes, it’s not as simple as making a few additions.

On Wednesday night, the real heroes will not be the politicians or the party leaders. No, that honour will belong to the 189 000 Electoral Commission (IEC) officials and volunteers who make voting days possible. A large chunk of them will be tallying up the votes throughout the night, with some difficult sums to take into account.

So, just how does the commission decide how many seats each party gets in our National Assembly? We’ve put together a brief explainer on the subject, to help you understand how the democratic process works. Calculators at the ready…

How the IEC decide the number of seats each party gets in Parliament

Okay, so there are 400 seats to play for in total. That’s how many MPs serve in Parliament during a five-year term. Official IEC data suggests that there are 26.7 million registered voters ready to go this campaign, but they are expecting a voter turnout of just over 70%. Current figures estimate that 18.7 million people will vote next week.

So, let’s say the election turns out something like this on Wednesday, in terms of how many votes each party receives. If we assume the majority of the votes go to five established parties, it could look something like this:

  • Party A: 2 398 000
  • Party B: 4 965 000
  • Party C: 9 700 000
  • Party D: 47 000
  • Party E: 1 490 000

How does the “quota” affect the vote?

Now, to translate those numbers into Parliamentary seats: IEC officials will have to divide the total number of votes (18.7 million) by the number of Parliamentary seats (400), in order to generate a “quota”.

On the face of it, things seem simple: You simply divide the number of votes for each party by the quota, and you get the total number of seats they should win. However, there’s another devil in the detail.

In order to make sure the votes are more fairly reflected, +1 is added to the total number of seats, meaning the official calculation is as follows:

5456361a votes 1 - Voting: How the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is decided
Photo: IEC

The quota is the benchmark for how many votes each party needs to gain one seat in Parliament. By doing the aforementioned sum, that gives us 46 634. So Party D, for example, would just be able to scrape one MP into the house with their total of 47 000.

Sjoe, we know it’s a little complicated. But basically, adding the +1 to 400 means that an extra seat is actually left open after doing the division. With 399 seats decided, the last one goes to the party with the “highest remainder”, once their total votes from across the nation has been divided by the quota.

7edb2a9a votes 2 - Voting: How the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is decided
Photo: IEC

Remember the remainder

As you can see, Party E has the biggest remainder of 0.951. Rather than letting all those votes go to waste, they actually end up counting as an extra seat in Parliament. Clever that, isn’t it?

And, as we’ve practically given away while trying to explain the remainder, our “proportional representation” system of voting means that a party which gets 52.5% of the votes will get 52.5% of the seats in Parliament.

For every 0.25% of the vote each party receives, that’s worth one MP getting elected to Parliament. You can now consider yourself up to speed, even if you did have to have two or three reads of how everything works. We’re going to take a lie down, and thank our lucky stars we aren’t the ones doing long division in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *