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” ( 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.

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