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Under EU law each member state must elect their MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) by a system of Proportional Representation (“PR”). However it is left to member states to choose which particular version of PR system they will use.

PR is designed to ensure that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. So if 20% of voters support a particular party then roughly 20% of seats will be won by that party. At least that is the theory. In practice you will get different results depending on which system you use.

The United Kingdom (UK) uses two different systems. In Great Britain (England, Scotland & Wales) MEPs are elected on a regional/national basis using the D’Hondt system whilst in Northern Ireland the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system is used.

GREAT BRITAIN

For purposes of the D’Hondt system Great Britain is divided into 11 electoral regions: nine in England, plus Scotland and Wales. Voters are asked to cast their single vote for a party not an individual. Each voting paper lists the parties in alphabetical order together with a list of all the candidates (up to the maximum seats available in that electoral region even though they would need to get 100% of the votes for each of them to be elected) ranked in the order of preference that the particular party desires. Voters cannot influence the order and only vote for a party.

Once the votes have been counted and the total votes for each party are known seats are allocated to the parties using the system devised in the 19th Century by a Belgian lawyer, Victor D’Hondt.

This is how it works:

  • In the first round of counting the party with the most votes wins a seat for the candidate at the top of its list.
  • In the second round the winning party’s vote is divided by two, and whichever party comes out on top in the re-ordered results wins a seat for their top candidate.
  • The process repeats itself, with the original vote of the winning party in each round being divided by one plus their running total of MEPs, until all the seats for the region have been taken.

Clear as mud isn’t it? So here, as an example, are the results for the West Midlands region in last week’s election when there were seven seats up for grabs. There were 11 parties on the voting paper but for simplicity’s sake, I’m only going to use the five largest parties by vote share.

Round One

The Conservatives win the largest number of votes, and the candidate at the top of their list is elected.

Party Votes MEPs
UK Independence Party 428,101 1
Labour 363,033 0
Conservative 330,490 0
Liberal Democrats 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

Round Two

As UKIP already have one candidate elected, their vote is divided by two (one, plus the number of MEPs they have). Now Labour comes out on top, and the candidate at the top of their list of candidates is elected.

Party Votes MEPs
Labour 363,033 1
Conservative 330,470 0
UK Independence Party 214050 1
Liberal Democrats 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

Round Three

After Labour’s vote is divided by two (one plus the number of MEPs they have), the Conservatives wins and their top candidate for the region is also elected.

Party Votes MEPs
Conservative 330,470 1
UK Independence Party 214,050 1
Labour 181,516 1
Liberal Democrats 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

Round Four

After the Conservative vote has been divided by two, the UK Independence Party are back on top. The candidate in second place on their list is elected.

Party Votes MEPs
UK Independence Party 214,050 2
Labour 181,516 1
Conservative 165,235 1
Liberal Democrats 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

Round Five

Since two UK Independence Party candidates have now been elected, their original vote tally is divided by three (one plus the number of MEPs elected), and the Labour secure top spot gaining their second MEP for the region.

Party Votes MEPs
Labour 181,516 2
Conservative 165,235 1
UK Independence Party 142,670 2
Liberal Democrat 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

Round Six

The Labour vote is now divided by two (one plus the one MEP from round 5), leaving the Conservatives to top this round and win a seat for the second person on its list.

Party Votes MEPs
Conservative 165,235 2
UK Independence Party 142,670 2
Labour 121,011 2
Liberal Democrats 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

Round Seven

The Conservative vote is now divided by three (one plus the two MEPs already elected), leaving the UK Independence Party to top this round and win a seat for the third person on its list.

Party Votes MEPs
UK Independence Party 142,670 3
Labour 121,011 2
Conservative 110,156 2
Liberal Democrats 75,648 0
The Green Party 71,464 0

For the record, the actual MEPs elected for the West Midlands were:

Party MEP
UK Independence Party Jill Seymour
UK Independence Party James Carver
UK Independence Party Bill Etheridge
Labour Neena Gill
Labour Sion Simon
Conservative Philip Bradbourn
Conservative Anthea McIntyre

NORTHERN IRELAND

In Northern Ireland, a different system is used to elect its three MEPs.

Voters have a “single transferable vote” and vote for individuals not parties. They are able to rank the candidates in order of preference if they so wish.

The STV system works by setting a “quota” and candidates reaching that quota are elected. In the case of the Northern Ireland EU elections the quota is calculated by taking the total number of valid votes cast and then dividing it by four (the number of seats available plus one) and adding one.

In the first round, if any candidate secures more first-preference votes than the quota, they are elected. Surplus votes, i.e. those received above the quota, are redistributed among the other candidates. If not enough candidates have yet reached the quota, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and the lower-preference votes of their supporters are again re-allocated.

This process is repeated until the three posts have been filled. Here are the 2014 results from which you can see that unlike in the rest of the UN each party only put up one candidate.

European Parliament election, 2014: Northern Ireland
Party Candidate  % 1st Pref Count 1 Count 2 Count 3 Count 4 Count 5 Count 6 Count 7 Count 8
Sinn Féin Martina Anderson 25.5 159,813
DUP Diane Dodds 20.9 131,163 131,831 131,845 133,465 139,791 143,009 179,302
UUP Jim Nicholson 13.3 83,438 84,418 84,426 86,672 92,301 99,260 135,993 158,212
SDLP Alex Attwood 13.0 81,594 81,790 83,845 87,028 88,147 112,822 114,981 115,273
TUV Jim Allister 12.1 75,806 76,182 76,195 77,065 84,438 86,020
Alliance Anna Lo 7.1 44,432 44,978 45,292 53,953 55,347
UKIP Henry Reilly 3.9 24,584 24,914 24,945 26,017
Green (NI) Ross Brown 1.7 10,598 10,923 11,038
NI21 Tina McKenzie 1.7 10,553 10,823 10,862
Conservative Mark Brotherston 0.7 4,144
Electorate: 1,225,771   Valid: 626,125   Spoilt: 9,968 (1.6%)   Quota: 156,532   Turnout: 636,093

 I hope that helps those of you who have asked how MEPs are elected – as least as far as the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is concerned.

Category: Political Comment

 

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