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.

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 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
"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.