Mon. Oct 21st, 2019

Yes, you can waste your vote – here’s how and why

Elections wasted voteUncovering the truth behind the dreaded wasted vote.

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Is there such a thing as a wasted vote on small parties in the South African electoral system? Jan-Jan Joubert checked the facts.

Every election guarantees a catfight between large and small opposition parties. The large ones claim you should not waste your vote on a small party, thereby splitting the opposition vote and assisting the governing party. The small parties state that there is no such thing as a wasted vote in a proportional system.

What are the facts? Is it possible to waste your vote?

The facts, in short, are that there is such a thing as a wasted vote, but that it is not as common as the larger parties state.

The golden rule is that your vote is wasted the moment your party fails to win a seat in the jurisdiction (provincial or national) for which you cast your vote because then your vote is allocated to another party without your input – and it might be the party you would least like to benefit.

If you cast your vote for a party which, at least, is strong enough to win a seat in the province, your vote is not wasted even if it is for a smaller party.

Examples of a wasted vote

The best practical example is deeply unpopular with smaller parties possibly because it is so clear. It comes from the 2011 local government elections in the Kouga municipality, which is based in the Eastern Cape town of Humansdorp and also includes such towns as Jeffreys Bay and Hankey.

Quite a number of its voters are retirees who used to live in Pretoria and surrounds, so there is a stronger tendency to consider voting for right-of-centre political opposition parties than is normally the case in the coastal provinces.

The Kouga municipality has 29 members and after all the votes were in, the ANC polled 33 791 votes, the DA 32 952, the Freedom Front Plus 526 votes, Kouga 2000 had 486 votes and a party named Sapco got 68. The ANC and the DA each had enough votes for 14 seats, but the three smaller parties did not win any seats and their votes were transferred to the party which came closest to winning the final seat – and that was the ANC.

Thus, the ANC ended up with 15 seats and the DA with 14, so that Kouga had an ANC government.

If those who cast their votes for the Freedom Front Plus and Kouga 2000 had rather cast their votes for the larger opposition party, namely the DA, the DA would have had 33 944 votes against the ANC’s 33 791 (or 33 861 if the ANC had added Sapco’s vote).

Had those votes for the small opposition parties rather gone to the large opposition party, the DA would have run the Kouga municipality, not the ANC – and those votes cast for the small opposition parties would not have ended up going to the ANC.

The opposition voters of Kouga learned the 2011 lesson well. In 2016 they did not split their opposition vote much, which means that Kouga is now under DA control – the ANC has been unseated, for better or for worse, depending on your preference.

Understanding the electoral system

Many people are mystified about how the system works, but it is actually quite simple: The number of votes cast in every jurisdiction (national or provincial) is divided by the number of seats in the jurisdiction to ascertain the number of votes per seat. That would show each party how many “full” seats they have won. But, of course, in reality, it does not work out quite that neatly – parties achieve a few votes more or a few votes less than they need for an exact number of “full” seats.

Those votes which do not divide exactly into the “full seat” number – the leftover votes, if you want – are then all thrown together to decide the so-called “fractional seats” – the seats which still remain to be filled in every jurisdiction once those neat “full” seats have been allocated.

In Kouga in 2011, because of the wasted votes on small parties, it was the ANC which came closest to winning the next seat, so the votes cast for the Freedom Front Plus and Kouga 2000 actually benefited the ANC. The fact that votes were cast for one party but ended up ensuring victory for another meant that they were wasted votes.

Resentment amongst small opposition parties

This issue of a wasted vote for small opposition parties causes so much tension between the DA on the one hand and especially the Freedom Front Plus and ACDP on the other that the latter two almost opted out of working with other opposition parties in municipal coalitions and cooperative agreements after the ANC majorities evaporated in the 2016 local government elections.

In fact, the ACDP and Freedom Front Plus only agreed to support the DA in municipal coalitions on the express condition that the DA will stop claiming that a vote for a smaller party is a wasted vote.

2019 General Election

Nevertheless, the issue seems to be perennial, coming up in every election. The world is larger than Humansdorp, one swallow a summer does not make and this year’s election is national and provincial, not municipal, so does the argument about wasted votes hold?

It certainly does because the seat calculation, full seats, leftover seats and fractional seats are for all intents and purposes calculated similarly to the municipal system explained above (there are differences, but they are not material to our discussion on wasted votes). Let us, therefore, avoid the self-serving lies politicians tend to spew on the matter, and look at the facts.

In 2014 there were 29 parties on the national ballot. Of them, only thirteen (the ANC, DA, EFF, IFP, NFP, UDM, Freedom Front Plus, Cope, AIC, Agang, PAC and APC) won seats in parliament. The other sixteen parties’ votes were redirected to other parties – they were wasted votes.   

This year we have 48 parties on the national ballot, which means an increased option to waste your vote. An even greater number of parties are trying their luck in the different provincial elections.

So what are the cold facts about wasted or redirected votes in our most recent national and provincial elections, which were held in 2014? Because they are always raising the issue, we will specifically focus on whether votes for the ACDP and Freedom Front were wasted and redirected on the provincial ballots.

Looking back to the 2014 provincial ballot

In the Eastern Cape, the last party to win a seat was the AIC with 16 786 votes. The ACDP’s 7 291 votes and the Freedom Front Plus’ 6 818 votes ended up with other parties.

In the Free State, the last party to win a seat was the Freedom Front Plus with 21 339 votes. The ACDP’s 5 150 votes were given to other parties. 

In Gauteng, the IFP gained the last seat with 34 240 votes. The ACDP’s 27 196 votes benefited other parties.

In KwaZulu Natal, the last seat went to the Minority Front with 38 960 votes. The ACDP’s 16 803 votes and the Freedom Front Plus’ 7 695 votes benefited other parties.

In Limpopo, Cope won the last seat with 12 573 votes. The 10 102 votes cast for the Freedom Front Plus and the 6 988 votes cast for the ACDP ended up in other parties’ columns.

In Mpumalanga, the Bushbuckridge Residents’ Association, with 15 368 votes won the last seat. The Freedom Front Plus’ 11 018 votes and the ACDP’s 5 324 were lost to other parties.

North West saw the Freedom Front Plus win the last seat, mustering 18 746 votes. The 5 728 ACDP votes went to other parties.

In the Northern Cape, the 15 214 Cope votes were enough for the last seat. The 4 600 Freedom Front votes and the 2 421 ACDP votes benefited other parties.

In the Western Cape, the ACDP won the last seat with 21 696 votes. The Freedom Front’s 11 587 votes went to other parties.

In conclusion

So is there such a thing as a wasted vote? The facts show there definitely is, and the circumstances under which a vote is wasted are clear.

Read: Elections 2019 – Here’s how to find your voting station

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheSouthAfrica.com.

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