Sunday, December 28, 2008

More evidence that BC-STV is not too complicated

I discussed in my Criticism #1 post of how BC-STV was simple enough that twelve year old children were able to use it without any problems. Here is another article that again illustrates that BC-STV is so easy to use that children were able to use it to vote for their favourite reindeer. Honestly, what are people so frightened of? How people can continue to be cowed and scared into such hysterical hand wringing and apprehension by the naysayers is beyond me.

STV voting is child's play

Wanda Chow, Burnaby NewsLeader, November 26

Children had no trouble voting for their favourite reindeer after the Edmonds Santa Claus Parade Saturday, even when using the single transferable vote system (STV).

In fact, interest was so strong it may bode well for consistently low voter turnouts in elections.

Then again, Santa's reindeer may be easier to choose from than politicians.

For the record, Dasher and Cupid came out on top as the reindeer voters most wanted to lead Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve. Out of 73 ballots entered, mostly by kids with some adults, only two were ruled invalid.

Nevertheless, organizers of the vote say they proved their point, that the STV system is so easy a child could use it.

Iain Macanulty of STV proponent Fair Voting Burnaby/New Westminster said in 2005 a provincial referendum saw only 58 per cent of voters in support of the STV system, just short of the 60 per cent required to implement it. The belief is that the result was due to a lack of publicity of STV.

So the province agreed to allow the system to go to referendum again as part of the next provincial election May 12.

STV was the system chosen by the BC Citizens' Assembly, formed amid the outcry at the results of the 2001 provincial election, when the Liberals came away with 77 seats to the NDP's two, a result of the current first-past-the-post system.

STV is used to elect different levels of governments in Ireland, Malta, Australia and some municipalities. It counts more of people's votes, and more than 80 per cent of voters would get one of their top choices, said Macanulty.

It works this way: B.C.'s 85 ridings would be combined into 20, with each riding represented by more than one MLA. For example, Burnaby's four constituencies would merge with New Westminster's one to create one new riding represented by five MLAs.

People would vote by marking candidates in order of preference. To be elected, a candidate must receive a minimum percentage of the vote, determined by the number of seats available to be won in a particular riding.

Voters' first choices are counted and those meeting the minimum are elected. Of the rest, the bottom performers are dropped off and then second choices are counted, and so on, until all the seats are filled.

Macanulty noted a significant number of people vote across party lines. And the new system would allow people to vote for less-established parties like the Greens, without worrying that they're throwing their vote away.

As for the reindeer vote, he said children were crowding around Fair Voting's table before it had been completely set up. "You hardly had to tell them anything," he said.

"Dasher won in the first round-he was most popular by far," he said. "Cupid was second on the first round but not enough to be elected."

Dasher, Prancer and Blitzen were quite popular as well. After the second round, Comet dropped off the ballot. But in the end, after second and third choices were tabulated, Cupid grabbed second spot.

"Cupid was in second place and ran a good race and beat out the other reindeer," Macanulty said, stifling a laugh.

As for the two spoiled ballots, they were ruled invalid because they had two reindeer marked as first choices. There's no indication whether it was a child or adult who filled it out, he said.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Criticism #4: BC-STV will mean less accountability and representation from MLAs

This is probably the second most common criticism that I’ve encountered against the single transferable vote system (BC-STV) with critics claiming that the relationship between the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and constituent, either by geography (“huge ridings”) or neglect (MLA’s passing the buck), would somehow be irrevocably damaged.

On his knowstv.ca website, Bill Tieleman writes:
"There will be less local representation and accountability because STV will mean much larger constituencies and MLAs will be representing far more people over a wider geographic area."
Keep in mind that the ratio of voters per MLA would actually remain the same under BC-STV as it is under our current system. Also on his website:
"Q: STV supporters say local representation is very good in Ireland under STV. What’s the difference with BC?

A: BC and Ireland are quite different geographically, with BC many times larger. However Ireland’s population is very close to BC’s 4 million people and they have 166 representatives in their parliament, called the Dail, while in BC we have just 79 MLAs in the B.C. Legislature."
Note that Mr. Tieleman indirectly acknowledges that accountability is good under STV; it’s just that it wouldn’t be in BC, according to him, because of geography.

I actually kind of addressed this in my “Criticism #3” post when I talked about riding sizes; but I’ll go over it again.

So here is a picture of what ridings would likely look like under BC-STV. Here is what federal ridings look like currently (click on BC to zoom in). Notice the striking similarity in riding size. Also note that the federal ridings are served by only one Member of Parliament (MP) whereas the provincial ridings would be served by two to seven MLAs.

So how is it that representation and accountability is ok federally but not ok provincially where you have at least doubled the number of MLA's for a given geographical area compared to MP's serving the same area? Clearly, geography is not an issue.

But how about the other argument for reduced accountability due to neglect? Former premier Dave Barrett writes (letter posted on knowstv.ca):
"importantly voters will lose accountability because they will have between two and seven MLA’s representing them in huge ridings. On every difficult issue buck passing and finger pointing would replace true representation."
So the premise is that combining ridings under BC-STV will allow for MLAs to avoid being accountable to their constituents by allowing them to pass off voters who come to them for help onto other MLAs.

This isn’t necessarily true and the reason why has to, again, do with greater voter choice.

I remember back when I was playing rugby for SFU and was undergoing physiotherapy treatments for an injury I had sustained. As often happens when you’re bored, strapped to a muscle stim machine for 20 minutes, I’d get into conversations with the physiotherapist and other patients. We were talking about politics one day and the physio recounted a story about a classmate of his in high school; let’s call him Joe.

A nice guy, they got along well enough, but not very bright, quite lazy and, well, just a little off. If you think of Steve Stifler from the “American Pie” movies or Cousin Eddie from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" then you get the idea.

Skip ahead a few years and Joe decides to go into politics and runs for the Liberal Party. Running in a “safe” riding, he easily wins election and sets off to serve as an MP in the Chretien government. How exciting.

Unfortunately, for the next two terms, Joe’s service as an MP was as uninspired as his scholastic career. Knowing that his seat was safe as it was a strong Liberal riding, Joe was content to simply go through the motions of his service: voting as dictated by the party, glad handing when politically beneficial and otherwise remaining pretty much anonymous as a backbencher. He introduced no new bills, didn’t work on any committees and if his political career could be described in a word, it would have to be “mediocre”.

The problem was that it didn’t matter what he did. If the voters wanted to vote Liberal, they would have to vote for him; they had no other option.

Now contrast that situation under BC-STV. Under BC-STV, Joe would have had to run against not only candidates for opposition parties but also against members of his own party. He can no longer coast through his terms because if he does, his disenfranchised voters, who still wished to vote Liberal, now have the option of voting for another Liberal candidate who may serve them better.

Increased choice for the voters means greater competition for the MLA which means increased accountability.

Back to Criticisms Mainpage.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another Andrew Coyne blog post on proportional representation

I better be careful about posting too many Andrew Coyne articles. People will start thinking that I’m in love with him or something. Either that or he decides to sue me for copyright infringement. But he is a strong supporter of electoral reform, proportional representation more specifically. And almost all of his thoughts on electoral reform make sense and mirror a lot of mine.

This time, Mr. Coyne is writing about how the current fiasco that we’re seeing in parliament is not indicative of what politics would be like under proportional representation (and BC-STV by extension). Politics would be more inclusive, civil and conciliatory compared to the childish mud-slinging that is actually encouraged under our first-past-the-post system which I talked a bit about in my "Why change to BC-STV?" post.

Different electoral system, different coalition

Andrew Coyne - Wed, Dec 10 2008

Against the notion, often found in the comments here, that the the last two weeks is just a preview of life under proportional representation, the folks at Fair Vote Canada offer a timely rebuttal. Recalculating the party standings as they would obtain under PR, they suggest a very different coalition would have emerged:
Most likely, the three people sitting at the front of the room at the recent coalition press conference would have been the Liberal leader representing an 81-member Liberal caucus, the NDP leader representing a 57-member NDP caucus and the Green Party leader representing a 23-member caucus. Assuming a proportionate assignment of portfolios, the resulting coalition cabinet might have been 13 Liberals, 8 NDP and 4 Greens.

The regional composition of the coalition would have been dramatically different. The coalition would have boasted about 43 MPs in the west, rather than just 21, and in Quebec 30 MPs rather than 14.

What about Mr. Duceppe? He would have been sitting on the opposition benches with just 28 Bloc MPs, rather than the 49 he has today that give him the power to pull the plug on a federal government.

Of course, even this is misleading, since elections held under PR would not just spit out the same parties with different seat-counts, but more and different parties, with different electoral bases — less regional, more ideological — and different incentives. For example, Green voters today go to the polls in the certain knowledge that they will elect no one. How many more people would vote Green if they knew their votes would actually count?

In other words, the present instability and division is not a reflection of what would obtain under PR, but is rather a direct consequence of the anomalies of first past the post:
A fair voting system would also have provided a more stable and effective government. The expiry date on the proposed coalition is three years at best and more likely less than two years. Because first-past-the-post voting allows a relatively small shift in support to produce a windfall of seats for one party or another, the current system subverts stable and effective government.

“Today the parties’ spin-meisters are working hard to divide voters into warring camps and pit entire regions against one another,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. “When careers in Ottawa are on the line, country be damned. Will Canadians turn on one another rather than the real culprits? Or are we finally fed up with this madness and the old-guard party leaders who defend an electoral system that serves their own interests but not those of the voters?”

Fair Vote Canada is calling on Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green voters to stand together – call it a people’s coalition – to demand equal and effective votes for all and legitimate majority rule for Canada.

Pie in the sky? An Angus Reid poll released today suggests not:
Following two weeks of political turmoil in Ottawa, Canadians are taking a second look at their existing electoral regulations, and almost half of them believe the implementation of a proportional representation system would be good for the country, a new Angus Reid Strategies poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample, 33 per cent of respondents believe the current first-past-the-post system, where candidates win seats by getting more votes than any other rival in a specific constituency, is the best one for Canada. However, 47 per cent of Canadians would be open to trying different guidelines.

Almost three-in-ten (28%) would switch to a proportional representation system, where parties win seats in accordance with their share of the national vote, and one-in-five (19%) prefer a mixed- member proportional voting system, which would allocate some seats on a constituency basis, and others by proportional representation.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More thoughts on proportional representation from Andrew Coyne

This was a blog post from Andrew Coyne’s own blog on Maclean’s Magazine’s website. The article was mainly written to discuss whether the coalition that was proposed by the Liberals/NDP/Bloc Quebecois would actually be a good idea; but at the end (I highlighted it in red) he also provides a good synopsis of how minority governments would be much different, much more stable, and much, much, more conciliatory under proportional representation (ie single transferable vote) than under our current first-past-the-post system. That would certainly be a big improvement over the brouhaha that's going on in Ottawa right now.

Notes on a crisis: the coalition is not illegitimate, just ill-advised

ANDREW COYNE | December 3, 2008 |

To be clear: there is nothing unconstitutional or illegitimate in the notion of a coalition government, per se. Nor would the Governor General be committing any sin against democracy were she to disregard the prime minister’s advice, following his defeat in a confidence vote, and call upon the coalition to form a government, rather than dissolve Parliament and call new elections. Constitutional scholars are virtually unanimous that she has that option, and only slightly less so that she should in fact exercise it.

But it is not a slam dunk. She must take into consideration whether the coalition is likely to last, or whether its in-built volatility is such as to condemn Canada to a prolonged period of instability and uncertainty. But even if she does hand them the keys — and that is much the more probable result: whatever misgivings she might have, she would doubtless feel she lacked the legitimacy to exercise such discretion — that doesn’t make it a good idea.

My beef is not with the notion of a coalition, as such. It is with this coalition, at this time. My criticisms are not that it is undemocratic, but that it is unstable; not that it is illegitimate, but that it is misdirected and unjustified. (The opposition is entitled to vote no confidence in the government for any reason it likes — but I am entitled to say that the reasons it offers are humbug.) The policies it pursues are, in my judgement, likely to prove calamitous for the country, and ruinous for the Liberal party. But if that is what the majority of the House decides, that is how our system works.

Up to a point. The public’s views of the result cannot simply be ignored. It may be that the Conservatives are appealing to popular ignorance of parliamentary government, with their demands for an election before any change of government. But it may also be that there is a broader question of legitimacy at play: past a certain point, if a thing is rejected by the public, it becomes illegitimate. This is such a bizarre situation, such an extreme application of the traditional Parliamentary prerogative to choose a government — defeating a government so soon after an election, and propping up such a rickety contraption in its place, even leaving aside the question of the Bloc’s involvement — that the public’s response may well be, like the child in the New Yorker cartoon, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

MOREOVER: A number of people have written to ask how I could have a problem with the coalition, given my support for proportional representation, with its tendency to produce coalition governments. But the two are entirely separable questions. First, as I say above, I have particular problems with this coalition, as opposed to coalitions in general. But second, and more fundamentally: the present situation is not a template for what would obtain under PR.

A minority government is a very different thing under first-past-the-post than under PR, and so would be the coalitions that arise. There would be different parties, with different bases — less geographical, more ideological — and different incentives: whereas FPTP, with its highly leveraged outcomes — a 2 per cent swing in the popular vote leading to a 60 seat swing in Parliamentary representation — encourages parties to push the button on an election the minute they think they have the upper hand, under PR there is no such payoff — a 2% swing means 2% more seats — and no such incentive. As a result, modern PR systems tend to be more stable, not less, than FPTP. And the coalitions are typically formed before elections, not after: the National Party and the Liberals in Australia run as a ticket, as do the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union (and, more often than not, the Free Democrats) in Germany.

Under PR, there would be fewer Bloc seats, and thus less likelihood that it would hold the balance of power. There would be more parties, and thus more possible coalition partners. And there would be much less incentive to partisan rancor: majority governing coalitions would be formed, not by splitting votes, but by combining them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A nice piece from the Fair Vote UBC blogsite

There’s another blog on electoral reform that was started by some UBC students in which they wrote an article that kind of follows along one of the themes in my "Why Change to BC-STV" post. In it, they discuss how our First-Past-The-Post system encourages campaign strategies that concentrate on character assassination, and demoralization of the voters of other parties as opposed to trying to appeal to the entire electorate.

Negative Campaigns: Is it in their nature or is the system to blame?

October 21, 2008

Further thoughts on the recent Federal election. One of the reasons people are so apathetic and upset about elections and politicians is the negative tone that is so prevalent. It seems that one of the primary strategies for winning an election is character assassination. If one of your opponents has a perceived weakness then attack that weakness and forget about talking about policy or issues. A good example this past election was Liberal leader Stephane Dion. He had a perceived leadership weakness, which even he now admits. It doesn’t matter if it was true or not, the appearance was there that he was soft, elite, not decisive, not a great communicator. The Conservatives and the NDP went after that. They talked about policy as well, but you could argue they got a lot of mileage out of tearing down Dion. Just look at how much time Jack Layton spent attacking Dion in the debates. Whether Mr. Harper or Mr. Layton were doing it, it hurt Dion and in the end helped the Conservatives form another government.

Is there any way out of this? Isn’t this just because politicians are bad people who have no goodness left in them? Just empty husks of human beings who have sold their souls for power?

Call me an idealist, but I don’t think so. I wouldn’t remove personal responsibility from any choice a political leader makes, but the current electoral system we have provides certain incentives. Politicians are competitive, goal oriented people who optimize their behavior based on the system of incentives that is in place. The fact of the matter is that first-past-the-post voting lets you win government with much less than a majority (in this election, just 38% was needed). So there is no need, no incentive to appeal widely to everyone. The optimal strategy is clearly:
  • mobilize your base
  • try to cause infighting amongst your opponents to encourage vote splitting
  • be vague enough not to scare off all the undecided voters
Ah…democracy.

No one party is to blame here more than another, the system rewards you for negative campaigns that sow doubt based on character. It rewards a strategy of dividing your opponents against themselves. The essence of this strategy is that by dividing your opponents and unifying your side you ensure that many more votes on the other side won’t count. Thats because in our system the winner wins and the losing votes are thrown away. So, under this strategy, the Conservatives don’t need care if the Liberal voter they are convincing votes NDP or Green or Conservative. Regardless who they vote for, their vote will likely not contribute to the make up of parliament or its for you, either way you win, as long as it isn’t a vote for your closest opponent.

So, if we just set the question of the existence of good politicians aside for a moment, we’ll never get a better, more respectful campaign where these strategies aren’t optimal until the system changes.

In a proportional system, even if you attack one leader and shift their votes away, those voters will still be heard. Voters who are torn between two alternatives on the left, for example, will still contribute to the makeup of parliament if there are enough to pass the threshold. And in Canada the Greens and NDP regularly pass this threshold. What’s more, once people know this is how it works they will start new parties or vote for other alternative voices. The only optimal strategy then will be to appeal to the widest population of voters. Furthermore, you couldn’t burn all your bridges with character assassination of your close opponents, because if you want power, you may need to work with them to form government.

So next time you hear someone complaining about negative campaigning and blaming politicians think about how the system motivates their actions. One day we’ll have a better system (like May 12, 2009) Then we can see if politicians rise to the challenge of putting issues and ideas before character and strategy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Interesting Andrew Coyne Article

Here's an interesting article about how our first-past-the-post electoral system is really only adequate to deal with two political parties at a time, that it is being used to handle five political parties, and failing. And because of it's failures to do so, it creates a situation that encourages the type of behaviour, that Canadians profess to find so distasteful, in politicians and political parties in their desperate attempts to manipulate the electorate into inadvertently voting in a majority. Where, instead of building themselves up, they have to resort to tearing each other down.

What if they gave an election and nobody won?

We now know one thing: this electoral system is broken

ANDREW COYNE | October 16, 2008 |
On Friday, Aug. 29, as the Conservatives were putting the finishing touches on election planning, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 13,771 — down from its record earlier in the summer, but still at historically high levels, and rising. A week later, just before the election call, it was down 955 points. Four days later, another 670.

Still, for all the turmoil on the markets, the gathering crisis in global finance remained for many Canadians a distant thunder — troubling, but not yet occasion for a cold-sweat panic. For all the stock market's gyrations over the first weeks of the campaign, the trend was unclear, and Conservative support held relatively firm. Through the end of the campaign's third week, the Tories maintained a healthy 10-point lead over the second-place Liberals.

And then everything went to hell.

The economy was not just the most important issue of this election. It was the only issue. It wasn't even an issue, as such: nobody really had much to offer in the way of significant policy differences. It was more like a natural disaster. It was like holding an election in the middle of a hurricane. Nobody much wants to know what your policy is on force nine gales. They just want to know how well you'll stand up in it. They just want to know if you can get them in to port.

All elections are about leadership, to a greater or lesser extent. This one became, as few elections are, a test of leadership under fire, played out in real time. Surprisingly, that did not automatically redound to Stephen Harper's benefit.

In the early part of the campaign, the Conservatives had some reason to hope that a diffuse unease over the economy would work to their advantage: that steady-as-she-goes would be an appealing message, that Harper's image as a "strong leader" would attract undecided voters to his side. But when the storm clouds turned into a deluge, it became clear that the "strong leader" image was built on sand. Harper had had great sport beating up on St├ęphane Dion, he'd shown a tactical mastery of the House of Commons, he'd bullied and bruised virtually anyone he'd come into contact with. Politics engages the primitive part of our brain, and Harper's appeal was that of the lead wolf, "red in tooth and claw." But what did it amount to in the end? All those broken promises, all those abandoned convictions, all those jaw-dropping about-faces — they'd won him the element of tactical surprise over his opponents, but at the cost of any relationship of trust with the broader public.

It turns out that matters. Way back at the start of the campaign, it was commonly framed as a contest between strength (Harper's preferred "ballot question") and trust (Dion's presumed comparative advantage). Apparently strength depends on trust. When the crisis broke, Harper was at first unable to call upon those reservoirs of trust a leader needs if he is to, well, lead. A leader whose appeal was based on always being in control was peculiarly vulnerable when it became clear he wasn't in control — not of the markets, not of the televised debates, timed with cruel precision for the very week of maximum turmoil, where a blinking Harper was subjected to a non-stop, four-party barrage of abuse: you don't care (not true), you're not aware (surely not), you have no platform (you got that right).

It must have been bewildering to Harper. In policy terms, he was absolutely right: the Canadian economy was hardly in as bad repair as the American, nor were the sorts of remedies being contemplated there in order here. We were bound to be affected by the crisis in American finance and there were sure to be hard times ahead, but in the short term there was little that any Canadian government could do about it, and even less that any party leader was actually proposing. Yet for a week or 10 days after the markets collapsed, no one was listening. Or not enough people were listening. Or not the right people: the undecided, the swing voters, the voters in parts of the country Harper needed to reach if he was to achieve the majority he sought.

What happened, in that first flush of public panic, was that everybody returned to their corners. Polling data from Harris/Decima tells the story. Of those who said the economy was the issue that would decide their vote — and there were many more of those midway through the campaign than at the start — a disproportionate share broke Tory, from Manitoba west, while from Ontario east, they tended disproportionately to vote Liberal. The regional and partisan split correlated closely with people's views of the nature of the threat to the economy. Those who saw the threat in more general terms were inclined to look for a steady hand at the tiller, Harper-style — and more of them were to be found in the prosperous West. Those who saw a threat in more personal terms — my job, my future — looked for someone who cared about them. And so was born the brief Dion boomlet, in those parts of the country where people are more inclined to see the government as their protector. He may have been slow to recognize how completely the economy had come to dominate public concerns — at the expense, say, of climate change — but he was quicker than the others.

It didn't last. In the end, Harper was able to pull out a surprisingly strong win — at least compared to where he had been with a week to go — maintaining his party's numbers in Atlantic Canada and Quebec while gaining seats in Ontario and the West. Across the country, the Conservative vote was about four percentage points higher than the polls had predicted. It may have been superior Conservative organization, a more motivated base, a late blast of good news from the markets. But it seemed also that Harper found his feet in the last week.

Oddly, things had to get worse in the financial crisis before they could get better for Harper. Measures that he would have been justified in rejecting earlier in the crisis, such as the $25-billion government airlift of bad mortgages off the bank's books, by the last week of the campaign had become entirely justified, given the alternatives, even to the most doctrinaire free marketeer. Just as the prospect of a global financial implosion galvanized world leaders to action, so it freed Harper to break out of a passivity that, whatever its merits as policy, was political poison. By the last weekend of the campaign, Harper was promising to "protect" the economy with something approaching passion, and something very near conviction.

But let us not lose sight of big picture. The Conservatives entered this campaign with a real shot at a majority — perhaps their best shot, perhaps their last shot. This is not a victory for the Tories, except in the most literal sense. It may not have turned out the catastrophe it looked to be at one point. But the Conservatives can hardly be congratulating themselves. In particular, the utter failure of their Quebec campaign — they finished third, behind the Liberals — must be dismaying to a party that had convinced itself, and a good share of the commentariat, that it was the natural inheritor of the federalist vote in Quebec, that it might even knock off the Bloc.

This is an indictment, not just of the particular tactics of this campaign, but of the whole strategic vision of the party's "pragmatists." They have led the polls since they were elected, yet they have been chasing all the way — chasing the middle, chasing Quebec — only to see their quarries recede ever further from their grasp. All that tacking about, all their attempts to denude themselves of anything resembling an ideology, has not produced a more conservative public: it has never been more liberal. The effect of Tory efforts to woo Quebec nationalists has not been to bring Quebec into the Conservative fold, still less to make them more Canadian: it has only persuaded them to withdraw still further from national life, to consider Canada as little more than a ready source of cash and favours. Think of all that the Conservatives have thrown at Quebec. Billions of dollars in the name of the fictional "fiscal imbalance." The status of nation. A growing role in foreign affairs. And it all falls to pieces over a few paltry cuts in arts funding?

But then, it's hard to see the result as a victory for anyone. The Liberals, at less than 27 per cent, have limped home with the worst popular-vote showing in their history, giving up one-quarter of their seats. If Liberals think this is merely a problem of leadership, a simple matter of giving Dion the old heave-ho and running off with that dreamy Michael Ignatieff — or is it Bob Rae? — they should think again. This is the third election in a row that the Liberals have seen their popular vote drop. Indeed, they have been operating with a narrower and narrower electoral base, not just of late, but for the past five decades. While pundits fretted about friendly dictatorships and "gritlock," the Big Red Machine has been dropping one wheel after another. They lost the West in the Diefenbaker sweep, and have never recovered. (Across the West, the Liberals won just seven seats this election. Seven seats.) They lost Quebec in the Mulroney sweep, and have never recovered. And now they have lost Ontario. They have become, for all intents and purposes, the Montreal-Toronto party, with pockets in Atlantic Canada.

But why pick on the Liberals? The NDP, for all the impression of momentum it gave off during the campaign, finished it no higher in the popular vote than it was last time, and no closer to its professed goal of knocking off the Liberals as the government-in-waiting. The Bloc held on to most of its seats, but only with a large assist from Conservative mistakes — and its popular-vote share declined. Even the Greens, the one party to significantly increase its vote, fell far short of expectations — and elected no one. Is it possible for everyone to lose an election?

And the biggest losers? Try the public. Five weeks of campaigning and $300 million in public funds later, the parties finished within a percentage point or two of where they were at the start. It's almost as if the election never happened — and might as well not have, for all the public cared. All those polls, all those ads, all that breathless coverage, and the turnout in this election, it appears, will be the lowest ever: just 59 per cent of registered voters. At some point it will occur to someone: we have a democratic crisis on our hands — a crisis of legitimacy, a crisis of efficacy. We are stuck, spinning our wheels, unable to find a sense of direction. The prospect is for more hung Parliaments, more bootless elections, more stall and drift, and less and less public interest.

If this election proves anything, it is that the process by which we elect our governments is broken. We are trying to run five-party politics through a system that was designed for two parties. The Conservatives look at their steady, incremental progress, slowly spreading eastward, election after election, from their Alberta-British Columbia base, through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and now Ontario, and see a majority in the making. But the other way to look at it is that this is as close as they're likely to get.

It has become almost structurally impossible to form a majority government in this country. If you start each election, as it appears we are condemned to do, with 50 seats off the table — the Bloc's gift to Canadian democracy — then it is not 50 per cent of the seats you need to win a majority, it is 60 per cent: 155 of 258. Add to that the growing, institutionalized fragmentation on the left, and the mathematics become almost insurmountable. Eight years ago, the NDP and the Greens took less than 10 per cent of the vote between them. Today, it is 25 per cent. Throw in the Bloc, and the two parties with any chance of forming a government, the Liberals and Conservatives, are working with just two-thirds of the vote between them.

In a two-party system, majorities can be won with very little margin between first and second: in the theoretical limit, just one vote. A generation ago, when the two main parties were more dominant than today, you could win a majority with a margin of as little as nine points, say 44 to 35. But the more parties there are, and the more the vote is dissipated among them, the more the leading party must rely on the accidents of split votes to engineer a majority — meaning the larger the gap it must open up between itself and the second-place party. This explains some of the Tories' heavy reliance on negative ads. It wasn't enough for them to raise their own vote. They had to suppress the Liberals' vote, to somewhere close to the NDP's, to have any chance of a majority. As it was, they wound up with an 11-point gap, and still fell short.

THERE IS nothing wrong with minority governments, per se. It depends what kind of minority. Do we want the kinds of minority Parliaments we have had in recent years, a clutch of hobbled regional or quasi-regional parties, fingers perpetually on the button, endlessly threatening to pitch us all into another pointless election in the vain hope that, if the swing voters can be distracted in their direction, if the splits go their way, if they can demean and belittle their opponents enough, if they can depress turnout even further than before, they might just fluke their way into a majority? Or will we accept that, whatever the ancient glories of the two-party system, it no longer exists?

If we must have five-party politics, let them at least be parties with real differences, and national appeal. Away with the system that guarantees the Bloc two-thirds of the seats in Quebec on the strength of little more than one-third of the vote. Away with the ghettos of Conservative Alberta, or Liberal Toronto, where it is scarcely worth campaigning, so predictable are the results. Away with "strategic voting," and other attempts to tell people they may not vote for the party they support, but must vote against the party they fear. Away with the disgraceful situation of a party winning almost a million votes, as the Greens did this time out, and getting zero seats.

Indeed, when you think about it, many of the problems identified in this piece have their origins in the perverse incentives of our highly leveraged, winner-take-all electoral system. Why have the Tories degenerated into mush? Because they face no competition on the right, Reform-style uprisings being more or less outlawed for fear of "splitting the vote." Why did the Liberals ignore their growing weakness all these years? Because they could still count on the bizarre distortions of first-past-the-post to reap a bushel of seats from one region or another. Why has the Bloc become an immovable blot on the national scene, long after its original purpose was exhausted? Ditto. Why have majority governments become next to impossible? Why has politics degenerated into such vicious, empty partisanship? Why do so many people no longer bother to vote? Because the system is broken, and if this election won't persuade us to change it, nothing will.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Criticism #3: BC-STV will mean less women getting elected.

This is an interesting criticism that I’ve seen or heard put forward about a handful of times, the allegation being that if we switch to the single transferable vote (BC-STV), this will lead to a decrease in women being elected to the BC legislature.

On his knowstv.ca website, Bill Tieleman even presents some hard numbers to back up his claim:
"In Malta women make up just 9.2% of the country’s legislators, with only 6 women elected out of 65 representatives. In Ireland just 13.3% of elected officials are women.

By comparison, in British Columbia under our First Past The Post system, women make up 22.8% of our MLAs, 18 out of 79. While it isn’t representative of our society, it is significantly better than under either STV system.

And in Canada women represent 21.1% of all elected Members of Parliament, with 65 women out of 308 seats."

The implied conclusion is fairly apparent: somehow, STV is a deterrent to getting women elected.

So the question that then begs to be asked is: by what mechanism is STV able to influence an election outcome? Maybe the STV system can, in some way, recognize a listed candidate as being female and then siphon votes away from her? What if the candidate’s name is a little sexually ambiguous? Like Chris Scully? Or Pat Maclellan? Jiang Yuyuan?

This is, of course, absurd. The STV system can no more prevent women from getting elected than the First Past The Post (FPTP) system can aid them. The fact is that the degree to which women are elected to representative government is dependant on many factors that are independent of the type of electoral system utilized. Such factors could include women’s access to education, the level of a society’s acceptance of women in positions of leadership or the percentage of women that actually run for office in the first place.

But let’s give Mr. Tieleman the benefit of the doubt. In another article written in opposition to STV (Feb 10, 2005, Georgia Straight), he does actually cite Christy Clark who at least tries to give some rational as to why woman may be elected in smaller numbers under STV: geography.
"the fact that STV performs poorly in ensuring that women are represented in legislatures is never mentioned. Liberal MLA Christy Clark rightly points out that STV, where every constituency is much bigger and elects between two and seven MLAs, makes it harder for a woman MLA to meet the challenges of personal life while serving a very large riding."

Interesting theory, although it ignores the fact that the ratio of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) per 10,000 people (or whatever the number is) will still be the same under STV as it is now. But at any rate, if this holds true, then expanding the size of government ridings for a given geographical area should lead to a significant decrease in female representation in elected officials. Gee, if only there was some way of testing this hypothesis out…. I wonder if we had any countries or territories where we can compare female representation under different sized ridings but the same electoral system…

Actually, we can and we can turn to Mr. Tieleman’s example as inspiration. As he has stated, in BC women make up 22.8% of our MLA’s. Now jump up a level to our federal government, where the size of the federal ridings in BC are more than twice as large as our provincial ridings. Do we see a significant decrease in the percentage of female Members of Parliament (MP) compared to MLAs? No, we actually see an increase, to 27.7% (as of 2007).

Furthermore, you can expand this test to the whole of Canada, where our 308 federal ridings are, on average, almost 3 times larger than the provincial ridings which, when combined, total 846. Here, we find female representation, provincially, does not increase significantly as Mr. Tieleman and Ms. Clark would suggest but actually decreases to 19% (as of 2007) from Mr. Tieleman’s number of 21.1%. Geography is simply not relevant.

So with all due respect to Ms. Clark, I believe she is confusing issues as her line of reasoning on why BC-STV should not be accepted (that it would be too much work for women trying to juggle career and family) can be applied to a whole host of situations outside of electoral reform.

For example, being a cabinet minister or even a premier would also make it difficult to balance the conflicting obligations of personal life and political careers because of the increased responsibilities that they hold. In fact, by her logic, any job that is in any way challenging would be discriminatory to women. Unfortunately, she is mixing the issues of electoral reform with the issues of women in the work place and how we support them as they try to balance the competing responsibilities of personal and professional life.

But what I find most incredible about this whole line of argumentation is just how badly Mr. Tieleman, in his blind zeal to latch on to any and every argument against BC-STV, no matter how spurious, contradicts himself from article to article.

In the Georgia Straight article, he tries to argue that BC-STV is bad because the larger ridings will lead to fewer women getting elected, but then on his website he cites Ireland as an example with their lower percentages of females in elected positions (compared to BC).

Has he seen the size of the ridings in Ireland?

Here is a picture of the Republic of Ireland’s electoral map wih it’s 43 constituencies:




Here is one for BC and our 79 ridings:




And here is a map of the world, just to get a little perspective (click the pic to zoom in).

World_pol_map cropped2

BC, at about 925,000 km2, is more than 10 times the size of Ireland at 70,000 km2. This works out to an average size of roughly 12,00 km2 per riding for BC, more than 7 times larger than Ireland’s constituencies (which are around 1,600 km2 in size). Yet despite the huge increase in riding size BC has way more women elected to representative government, exactly the opposite of the point Tieleman is trying to make in his Georgia Straight article.

It should be obvious that Bill Tieleman is not being very honest in presenting his point of view. It seems evident to me that he has not made his decision about BC-STV based on actual merit but has simply decided from the outset to take a stance against it, and then has just thrown any and all arguments out there with the goal of confusing or deceiving his readers. That should call into serious question his credibility as a commentator on this subject.

Back to Criticisms Mainpage.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Criticism #2: BC-STV will lead to more minority governments.

This is another common argument presented that switching to BC-STV will lead to more minority governments, with critics trying to paint this apocalyptical picture of never-ending minorities mired in legislative stand-offs with political life being relegated to one long campaign as endless elections, being called every 6-12 months, usurp political discussion.

First off, I’ll start off by saying that, yes, there will be more minorities. And that’s how it should be; it’s pretty rare for a majority of the population to vote for a single party. So if a party only wins minority support in the ballot box, then it should likewise only win a corresponding minority of seats in the House or Legislature. Conversely, a party should be awarded a majority government only if the electorate wants one i.e. a majority of the electorate votes for that party. So when you think about it, the critics’ argument that FPTP is better because it produces more majorities is poor because it has to do so by misrepresenting the votes of the people.

But that’s not the only flaw in their argument. The critics’ assertion that switching to BC-STV will mean more elections because of more minority governments is based on the assumption that minorities under BC-STV will be as unstable as under FPTP. This isn’t true. In the Republic of Ireland, the average life of a minority in the last sixty years has been 3.7 years. Over the same time period Canada and BC, governments have lasted 3.15 and 3.55 years respectively (info courtesy of Antony Hodgson). And don't forget that we have had more majority governments. There is actually a page on the Elections Ireland website that lists the election years along the top. If you take a look, you see that elections actually happen relatively infrequently, with some minority governments even lasting as long as 5 years.

Why is this? Because there is a flaw, inherent to FPTP, that actually provides incentives for politicians to bring down minority governments sooner rather than later. Since STV addresses this flaw, the incentive is removed, leading to longer lasting minority governments.

This flaw, again, has to do with our FPTP system’s failure to produce proportional results; it simply is not cut out to deal with elections where there are more than 2 candidates. Because it is not able to account for vote splitting, margins of victory etc., you have these elections where small changes in the polls can lead to wildly skewed election results.

Let’s take our 2008 federal election as an example.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives ended up winning 143 seats, a 15% increase from 2006, despite the fact that their share of the popular vote only increased by 1.3% (from 36.3% to 37.6%). On the flip side, Stephan Dion and the Liberals lost 27 seats, a 26% fall from 2006, even though they only dropped 4% in the polls. (wikipedia)

And this is why politicians call elections so frequently under minority governments. Because they know that small changes in public popularity can lead to huge swings in election results. So they wait until the political winds shift ever so slightly in their favour, and then bring down the government, hoping to capitalize on the windfall.

Mr. Harper called an early election for this very reason, banking that the polls would shift just enough to give him a majority. If the polls went in the other direction, you can bet it would be Mr. Dion working to bring down the government.

Now let’s take this scenario and apply it to the context of STV. Under STV, because it is proportional, a small increase in the polls would lead to.... only a small increase in seats won and visa versa. So the Conservatives 1.3% boon would only translate to about an extra 3-4 seats in the House; calling an election wouldn’t have really changed the look of parliament. The incentive has now been removed because public opinion usually doesn’t vary that much so politicians don’t have a reason to call an election since it’s not going to lead to a dramatic shift in power.

Back to Criticisms Mainpage.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Criticism #1: BC-STV is too complicated.

This is by far the most common argument presented against BC-STV and there is some truth to it in that BC-STV is more complicated than the First Past The Post (FPTP) system we use today. This is mostly due to the calculations involved in weighting transfer votes if they are derived from a winning candidate’s surplus votes (in order to adhere to the “one voter-one vote” rule). However, as explained in my “How Does BC-STV Work” post, the underlying principles of BC-STV are fairly straight forward and using it from a voter’s point of view is exceedingly simple. At the bare minimum, all you need to do is write a “1” by a candidate’s name. So all you’re doing is replacing an “X” with a “1”.

But critics will hammer on this point, hoping to scare citizens away from BC-STV despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Ireland has been using this system for 80 years. Scotland has recently used it for the first time in their last national election. Are the Irish and the Scots more intelligent than British Columbians? I don’t think so. But, that’s basically what the critics’ arguments boil down to. We British Columbians, apparently, do not have the mental capabilities of the Irish, Scots, Australians, New Zealanders, Maltans and yes, even Americans who have all used STV somewhere in their respective countries.

Heck, I even remember reading an article (I think it was in the Vancouver Sun) about BC-STV that came out just before the last referendum. It discussed how a teacher had taught her grade 6 class to vote using STV; they voted on what kind of pizza they wanted for lunch. In other words, and lets be very clear on this, this is a system of voting that 11 and 12 year old children have demonstrated an ability to utilize. Are you smarter than a 6th grader? I like to think so. Mr. Tieleman and his ilk do not.

But the fear mongering doesn’t stop there. In the run-up to the 2005 referendum, Tieleman wrote several articles in opposition to BC-STV, an example of one was written for the Georgia Straight in 2004. In it, he writes about how overwhelmingly confusing ballots would be under BC-STV:
“the number of candidates (in a seven member riding) would be staggering. If the B.C. Liberal, New Democrat, Unity, Green, Conservative, Reform, and Marijuana parties all ran full slates, there would be a minimum of 49 candidates. Then add any other parties and independents.”

Wow, sure sounds scary, doesn’t it? Fortunately, there’s this little thing called reality that gets in the way of their claims.

The thing is when you look at countries that use STV, political parties don’t automatically run full slates; they run the number of candidates depending on how many they expect to elect. So in a 7 member riding, a party like the Liberals or NDP would run only 3-4 candidates (Because they’d only get around 30-40% of the vote, they’d expect to win around 30-40% of the available seats). Small parties like the Green and Marijuana Parties would only run one because they don’t want to split the few votes that they have amongst their own candidates. So instead of having 49 candidates to choose from, as Tieleman would have you believe, based on the parties he listed you would have around 15 or so. (There is another website that tries to twist this fact as another false criticism of STV; I’ll address that as its own point).

You can actually see an example of an STV ballot used in the Irish General Election in 2002 (right click and hit "view image" to take a close-up look at the ballot). If you look closely, you’ll see that there are only 15 candidates listed for the 5-seat riding. Another example of an STV ballot from Australia can be found in wikipedia. In both examples, we find that the claim that voters will be “faced with a very large ballot and dozens of candidates in larger ridings, making it hard to rank the candidates knowledgeably” (knowstv.ca) is unfounded.

But this is a pretty common strategy of STV critics: dream up these wildly remote, hypothetical situations that never happen, hoping to scare people away from making a change.

Back to Criticisms Mainpage.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Are Some Criticisms Of BC-STV? (or Lies About BC-STV from Lying Liars Who Lie A Lot)

There are certain people out there who have taken the stance that British Columbians should not accept the Citizen’s Assembly’s recommendation to accept the Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV). Most of them seem to be from former political insiders or politicians, the most rabid opponent being Bill Tieleman who has his own website, knowstv.ca (get it? k-“no”-w STV? yuk, yuk, yuk, so clever). Incidentally, there is another blogger who has written an excellent rebuttal to Tieleman’s “factual” Q and A section of his website. In his blog post he, point-by-point, dismantles each and every criticism presented by Tieleman and shows the dishonesty inherent in the majority of these arguments.

Now, no one is claiming that BC-STV is perfect and there certainly are legitimate criticisms of it as a system of voting. Unfortunately, perhaps because legitimate concerns are few and hard to come by, the bulk of the arguments are largely derived from half truths, double standards, or just deliberate misrepresentations of the truth. So what are these claims? Let’s take a look at some of the major ones. This post is going to be quite long and I’m going to be adding to it as I go along, so each section will be treated as it’s own essay.

Links to Sections:

Criticism #1: BC-STV is too complicated.
Criticism #2: BC-STV will lead to more minority governments.
Criticism #3: BC-STV will mean less women getting elected.
Criticism #4: BC-STV will mean less accountability and representation from MLAs.
Criticism #5: BC-STV doesn't guarantee proportional results.
Clearing The Mists: A Response To A David Schreck Essay

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How Can I Get Involved?

The first thing that should be noted is that something like this will only happen by ordinary citizens taking charge. Politicians will not help to educate the public about something that shifts power away from them to voters; so it's really important that we all do what we can to spread the word about this opportunity for change. There are a number of ways that you can get involved:
  • Check out the stv.ca website. There you can learn more about BC-STV, volunteer to host meetings, assist with distributing information etc, or even make a donation to help out financially.

  • If you are on facebook, there is a Yes for BC-STV (I can’t link to the group page) group that you can join to keep informed on the things that we're doing to get the word out about the upcoming referendum.

  • Tell your friends and family about this. The biggest impediment to BC-STV passing was that people just didn't know about it. The more people that are informed the better.

Most importantly, get out and vote yes to BC-STV! This is the single most important thing that we all need to do. We were really close last time missing out by only 2%; every vote is going to be just as important the second time around.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why Change to BC-STV?

You shouldn’t be voting to switch to BC-STV if you don’t have any problems with the following aspects of our political arena:
  • an electoral system that more often than not produces outcomes that misrepresent the actual votes cast in an election.

  • mud-slinging and partisan rhetoric dominating political discussion at the expense of mature, civil debate.

  • feeling that you are restricted to voting who you think is more likely to get elected, as opposed to voting for who you truly want.

These are some of the criticisms of our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and are aspects of elections and voting that really turn people off of politics in general and, in my mind, are significant contributors for the fairly high level of political apathy that we see today.

But what if there was a way to improve upon some, or even all, of these more distasteful facets of politics? Wouldn't you think it'd be worth it to even try? Especially given how important an issue this is; this referendum will have a direct impact on how we are governed as a province.

But can BC-STV really have a positive impact on these more unsavoury elements of our current electoral system? Let's take a closer look.

Proportional Representation:

This was the feature of our FPTP system that served as the impetus for the movement toward electoral reform in the first place. One of the most obvious flaws our electoral system is that elections results, with respect to seats won, are not often an accurate reflection of the actual popular vote. In fact, I’d say accurate representation is probably pretty rare.

This fact was highlighted during recent elections here in BC:
  • such as in 1996 when the NDP won more seats than the Liberals despite the fact that the Liberals won more of the popular vote

  • or in 2000, when the Liberals won 97% of the seats in the legislature (77/79 seats) despite winning only 58% of the popular vote

  • or the fact that the green party, despite consistently balloting at around 10-15%, never able to get elected to a seat anywhere.

With BC-STV, the percentage of seats that a party wins will, as much as reasonably possible, correspond with the percentage of actual votes that they win in an election. The Republic of Ireland is a good example of this and you can see an illustration of this at the Northern Ireland Elections Website which shows the 2007 election results and even shows past results from the 2003 election right underneath (scroll down a bit).

What you’ll notice about the results is how the number of seats won by a party corresponds fairly well with their percentage share of the vote. It’s even closer if you convert the number of seats won into a percentage of the total seats in the assembly, which is a more appropriate comparison anyway.

So, for example, the DUP won 36 seats which are about 33% of the seats in the assembly; they got 36% of the popular vote. The UUP got 18 seats which works out to be a little under 17% of the seats in the assembly; they won 14.9% of the popular vote.

If you continue on across the table, what you find is that the percentage of seats that a party wins in the assembly only differs from their share of the actual vote by around 2-3 percentage points. That’s quite improvement over the 40% difference that the Liberals achieved in 2001.

More accurate elections results that more accurately reflect the desires of the electorate. What a novel concept.

Political Antagonism:

This is probably the one facet of politics that I dislike the most and if it doesn’t annoy the heck out of you, it should. Political debates should revolve around a mature discussion about the merits of a public policy. If a politician has taken a particular stance on a particular issue, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect they be able to defend their position in a rational, mature manner without resorting to partisan rhetoric, mudslinging or character attacks.

Unfortunately, this, more often than not, seems to be the default mode for many politicians.

But can switching to BC-STV really discourage this type of infantile behaviour? Apparently, it can to some degree. There was an interesting article in the Washington Post that noted how the overall tone of campaigning had improved with the implementation of Instant run-off voting, the single member version of STV:

“Advocates said the new system has made campaigning more civilized -- candidates don't want to lose out on the chance to be a voter's second or third choice by appearing too negative”

The same thing was noted in a New York Times article covering the same election:

"An early effect has been to introduce a new civility among the candidates, something many San Franciscans have wholeheartedly embraced. Because the winner in each district might be determined by voters' second and third choices, candidates have quickly learned that it is best to be on friendly terms so as not to alienate their opponents' supporters."

This is only one example; but it does give one pause to think.

It actually makes sense if you think about it. In any election where you have more than two candidates running, it’s pretty rare for a candidate to win a majority vote in a single round of voting. So for any one candidate to win a majority under STV, they would have to be a second or third choice for an opposition candidate’s voters. That’s unlikely to happen if you’re constantly slagging your opposition or going overly negative on them. You have to become more respectful in your campaigning. I think that would be a refreshing change for voters.

Voter Choice:

This is just my opinion; but from hearing people talk, this strikes me as being one of the biggest reasons for voter apathy. It’s understandable; it’s hard to get excited about voting if you feel that your vote will just go to waste. But this is in part due to a weakness inherent to the FPTP system, vote splitting.

In any election where you have two or more parties of similar political philosophies or policies, you’ll get competition for the same pool of voters, splitting up the collective power of their vote. You can see this happening in our current federal election where the Liberals, NDP and the Green’s are splitting the left of centre vote. This gives an advantage to the Conservative party, who will win the election, not because people really like them, but because the people that dislike them like multiple parties. In fact, because of vote splitting, the Conservatives, or any political party, can win a majority government with only 40% of the popular vote.

What this means is that voters are often left with a choice of voting for not who they truly want, but voting for who they think has the better chance of getting elected (to beat who they dislike). They have to vote against someone as opposed to voting for someone.

BC-STV address this by giving the option for ranking more than one option. So that you can vote for who you truly want, and then rank your alternative choices after that, in case your first choice gets eliminated.

Now I’m not sitting around singing Kumbaya by the campfire with these pie in the sky delusions that simply switching to BC-STV is going to solve all of our grievances with our FPTP system or with politics in general; BC-STV is not a perfect system and never was it claimed to be. But it has been demonstrated to be better and to help improve some of the problems that a lot of us have with our current system. That in itself should be a good enough reason to vote for a change.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Three's Company election Part Deux

Part of the citizen’s assembly’s proposal involves combining ridings, so that instead of having one MLA per riding, you’d have multiple MLA’s, two MLA’s or more, per riding so that you’d be voting to elect more than one candidate at a time.


So how would that change things from our single-winner example? Not by much. Let’s go back to that example but instead of voting for one “Favourite Three’s Company Character”, we’re now voting for two “Favourite Three’s Company Characters” simultaneously. We’d have our first round voting results as before (Jack 33%, Janet 16%, Mr. Furley 25%, Chrissy 19% and Larry 7%) and, as before, we still don’t have a winner with a majority vote.

(Incidentally, the number of votes needed to win in this case, or any case where you are voting to elect more than one position simultaneously, would not be 50% + 1 because it’s mathematically impossible for two people to get 50% + 1 at the same time. In this particular case, with two positions being elected, a majority would be 33.3% + 1. There are calculations to figure that out; but you don’t need to worry about them right now, I’ll discuss them in a future blog post).

As with the first election, we’ll eliminate Larry, take a revote…

FTCC Part Deux: Second Round Results


and find that Jack now has enough votes to take the first of the two “Favourite Three’s Company Character” crowns that are up for grabs. Congratulations to Jack.

Great, we have one winner; we need another. So we’ll move on to the next round and as before, we’re redistributing votes. Except this time this time, instead of redistributing the votes on an eliminated candidate, we’re now redistributing the votes of candidate who has just been elected. (Also, because we’re now back to voting for one available position, the number of votes required to win will again be 50% + 1).

FTCC Part Deux: Final Round Results


And we find that a large majority of Jack’s voters, making their second or third choice, went to Mr. Furley giving him the second title (gee, fixing elections is kind of fun). Congratulations to Mr. Furley.

Again, as in the single-winner example, the ballot itself remains unchanged; you’re ranking your choices as before. That's all you have to do. Except this time not only are you indicating “If my 1st choice is eliminated, this is who I would vote for next", you’re also saying, “If my first choice is elected, and there are still other positions to be filled, this is who I would vote for next”. Again, you can rank some of the choices…



… you can rank all of the choices…

…or you can rank just one.

The choice is entirely yours.

Now this may seem like a lot of work to vote in an election and it is; but not for you the voter. The only thing that changes for you is that you’re writing numbers down by a few names (or one, if you choose) instead of one X by one name. Then you can just walk away; the rest of the work is taken care of by the counters.

But by just making this minor adjustment in the way that we vote, we can have a significant impact in results of future elections. Results that are fairer and a more accurate reflection of the desires of voters. Don’t you think it’s worth it?

Back to How Does BC-STV Work? Mainpage.

If we were voting for our favourite Three's Company character

The following is an example of how The Single Transferable Vote works in a single-winner (eg voting for one MLA in a single riding) election.

Let’s say that we’re having an election, we’re voting for our "Favourite Three’s Company Character". Our four candidates, in no particular order, are:

And a vote is taken giving us results of:

  • Jack = 33%

  • Mr. Furley = 25%

  • Janet = 16%

  • Chrissy = 19%

  • Larry = 7%

Poor Larry, so unloved.

Anyways, under our current system, Jack would be declared the winner outright, this despite the fact that 67% voted against him. He would win with a minority share of the vote having benefited from opposition to his popularity being split amongst the other candidates. What would be nice is if there was a way of ensuring that whomever gets elected does so with a majority of the votes (in this case, more than 50%); because then it can be argue that the candidate truly has the support of the people.

One way of addressing this problem is by voting in rounds, called Run-off Voting (it's fairly commonly used, with variations used to in leadership conventions, some presidential elections etc., the CBC used it when we voted for the new Hockey Night in Canada theme song). With Run-off Voting, you take a vote, eliminate the lowest vote getter if there is no winner, take a revote of the remaining candidates, and then repeat until someone wins a majority vote, which in this case is 50% + 1. Let’s see how that would work.

So entering the second round of voting, Larry would be the first to go, having only garnered 7% of the vote. Now, in a revote, the people who originally voted for the remaining four candidates (Jack, Janet, Mr. Furley and Chrissy) wouldn’t be changing their vote; their candidates are still in it. It’d only be Larry’s voters who would have to make a switch. So what we’re really doing is simply taking Larry’s votes and redistributing them amongst the other four candidates: in other words, Larry’s voters are now going to have to vote for their second choice candidates.

And let’s say in the second round that about half of them vote for Jack and the other half vote for Mr. Furley, just to make it easy.

Second Round Results

Since we still don’t have a candidate winning over 50%, we’ll continue on to the next round. Where we eliminate Janet and find her voters favouring Mr. Furley and Chrissy a bit over Jack.

Third Round Results


Ooo… Jack’s got to watch his back.

Ok, one last round and…

Final Round Results

Schnikeys. Over half of Chrissy’s voters switched to Mr. Furley, giving him a dramatic come-from-behind victory. He wins the title “Favourite Three’s Company Character”. Congratulations Mr. Furley.

What Run-off voting does is ensure that a winning candidate does so with a majority vote, more accurately reflecting voter preferences. The only problem with this is that it’s very time consuming as it requires voters to make multiple trips to the voting booth along with the necessity of recounting votes every round.

STV does the same thing as Run-off voting and even improves on it so that you get the benefits of voting in rounds without the need to go back and forth to the voting booth. This is achieved in the way the ballot is set up:


This is what the ballot would look like in this particular election. You’d have all the candidates listed as before, except instead of marking an X by your candidate of choice, you would simply rank the candidates from you first choice to your last choice.

That’s it. It’s that easy.

What you’re saying by your ranking is “if my first choice gets eliminated, this is who I would vote for in the next round”. So instead of having to make multiple trips to the voting booth, you only have to make one. You can rank some of the choices, as above…

… you can rank all of the choices…

…or you can rank just one.

The choice is entirely yours.

Back to How Does BC-STV Work? Mainpage.

How Does BC-STV Work?

The way that the Single Transferable Voting (STV) System calculates votes and moves votes around can seem a little complicated and intimidating at first blush. But the steps themselves are not really that complicated when you break them down; it’s more of a matter of repetition. At any rate, it doesn’t really matter since you don’t need to understand the calculations to know how to use STV itself, and using STV is really quite simple. I posted about a website that walks you through an election and even create your own.

Nevertheless, I still think it’s helpful to have an understanding of the broader principles that form the basis of STV. This is especially true when you consider that the majority of criticisms of STV rely on fear-mongering, half-truths or outright lies in order to deceive people into voting against it; having a bit of knowledge will help you recognize the valid criticisms from the dishonest ones.

So the following is an explanation that works around the nitty-gritty math and calculations that can overwhelm those who are unfamiliar with STV. It’s very much a simplification; but one that, hopefully, will better help you understand the underlying principles. So that you don’t just know what is happening but why as well.

The system can basically be summarized into a handleful of steps:
  1. Voters rank the candidates on the ballot in the order of their preference (1,2,3,4 etc...) indicating "if my top choice gets eliminated or elected, my next choice is who I will vote for in the next round of voting"
  2. Count the votes.
  3. If none of the candidates has a majority share of the vote (eg. 50% + 1 for a single member riding), then eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes and transfer their votes to the next choice on the ballot. Repeat step two.
  4. If a candidate has a majority share of the vote and there are still seats to elect, then eliminate the elected candidate and transfer their votes to the next choice on the ballot. Repeat step two.
  5. Repeat the above until all seats have been filled.
If you can understand the above steps, then you can stop reading here. That's all you need to know. If you want a more detailed explanation, keep reading.

Explanation of BC-STV in a single-winner election.
Explanation of BC-STV in a multiple-winners election.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What is BC-STV?

BC-STV is basically the BC version of the Single Transferable Voting (STV) system, which is a form of preferential voting. It was designed to produce proportional representation meaning that the results of an election, i.e. seats won, would more closely mirror the percentages of votes cast. Another design goal is to ensure that election winning candidates do so with a majority vote, more accurately reflecting voter preferences.

The recommendation to switch to this system of voting from our current system (known as plurality voting) was first made by the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform. The decision to accept this recommendation was put to a referendum during the last provincial election in 2005. Unfortunately, it failed to get the required supermajority (60%), missing by only 2%. However, it can be argued that this was largely due to a lack of awareness as a lot of people went to the voting booth either not really understanding STV or not even being aware that a referendum was being held.

The good news is that because of the close result, we will be having another opportunity to vote on this very important issue. Hopefully, we’ll be able to use the time to raise awareness about STV as it has been consistently shown that when people who are introduced to STV and feel that they understand it, the vast majority of them are willing to vote for it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I can have a blog that sucks too!

Wow, my first post! Welcome to my blog! Dedicated to disseminating and sharing info about a bunch of stuff, although right now, I'll be dedicating most of my posts to BC-STV. Hopefully I'll be able to get built up sooner rather than later; but I'm a total noob when it comes to this stuff so the learning curve is going to be a bit on the steep side, I think.