The Malta Independent 23 January 2021, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Electoral districts – For more stability

Friday, 27 November 2020, 07:55 Last update: about 3 months ago

Each time an election is approaching, there is always some kind of debate related to the system through which voters get to elect their representatives.

So much has been said and written about our complicated way, the single-transferable vote system that we carry from one election to the next and which, in spite of all the protestations and complaints, is never really challenged. It is hard to imagine that there will be changes to the way we vote anytime soon.

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What changes are electoral districts, and this happens as a result of demographical shifts.

Our laws lay down that, with the exception of Gozo, the other 12 electoral districts have to be more or less similar in size in terms of registered voters, and the difference cannot exceed 5%.

People move and change residences in between elections, and it often happens that some districts grow while others shrink, creating discrepancies which must be addressed before the election takes place. This time, it is the seventh and 12th districts which have grown – more than 6% of the average, and so, according to our laws, changes have to be made to reduce their size to within the 5% limit.

Such changes irritate candidates on the said districts and in others which have to be modified to accommodate the system, as it upsets the voter bases, reducing the number of potential voters on one side and increasing them in another. It is also irritating to the voters themselves, who vote in a particular district and to particular candidates one time, and find themselves in another district with a different list of candidates the next.

As things stand now, the Electoral Commission is proposing changes to the seventh and 12th district – which would affect the sixth and 10th districts – but without the endorsement of the Nationalist Party representatives, who are proposing different alterations. The usual political bickering is set to follow, with accusations of gerrymandering making the rounds.

When, before the 2008 election, it had been realised that Gozo, as a district, would have exceeded the 5% limit, there had been talk of shifting the locality of Ghajnsielem to the 12th district, the one incorporating Mellieha. There were protests against the idea and ultimately the law was changed to allow the whole of Gozo to remain as one district independently of the number of registered voters.

Gozo has since become the largest electoral district in terms of voters and it will be so again in the next election, with over 30,000 listed. The other districts, as the law stands now, must have a minimum of 25,576 and a maximum of 28,268.

Perhaps the time has come for another change, similar to the one reached regarding Gozo. Electoral districts should be set in stone, as Gozo is, irrespective of the number of voters, so as to avoid all the trouble that changes in demographics create every five years.

It would also eliminate the need to divide localities, as is happening in the case of Fgura, Zebbug, Luqa and Naxxar.

This one-time effort would establish electoral districts once and for all, eliminating the haggling over a number of roads and creating more stability, both for residents as well as candidates.

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