Saturday, January 24, 2009

Criticism #5: BC-STV doesn’t guarantee proportional results

This is one of the more bizarre arguments thrown out by BC-STV critics and I think it's a sign of just how desperate they are if they have to resort to such ridiculous and backward thinking criticisms.

In his website, Bill Tieleman tries to make the case that we shouldn’t vote to change to the Single Transferable Voting system (BC-STV) because it doesn’t guarantee proportionality:
  • Q: Does STV give proportional results? That is, if a party gets 10% of the popular vote in B.C. would it win 10% of the seats?

  • A: No. STV supporters say it is more proportional than first-past-the-post (FPTP) but there is no guarantee that seats won will correspond with popular vote. Proportional representation electoral systems such as List PR are designed to ensure such proportionality, not STV.

    If a party got 10% of the vote under STV it would be unlikely to win a seat in any constituency in BC. Look again at the example of a constituency of 100,000 voters electing three members: the number of votes needed to win is 25,001, which means that a party would need at least 25% support to win one seat of the three.
Funny how he doesn’t use a 7 or 6 seat riding for his example which is where the Green Party would be making their gains. What's also curious is if a two or three seat riding is supposed to be so bad, then how are our current single member ridings any better?

Mr. Tieleman’s buddy, David Schreck, former MLA, adviser to Premier Glen Clark and now Secretary-Treasurer of the No STV campaign, has his own website for disseminating misinformation about BC-STV called Strategic Thoughts. In one of his essays (November 1st, 2004), Mr. Schreck presents a hypothetical situation under BC-STV where a Green Party candidate would win 10% of the vote without getting elected. Of course, he relies on this dream scenario playing out by making the assumption that out of 100,000 voters, not a single one is willing to vote outside of party lines.

A scenario that is so unlikely to the point of absurdity. Notice also how in both examples, they only look at single ridings instead looking at elections as a whole. When BC-STV supporters talk about proportionality, we're referring to the results of an entire election, not individual ridings.

Now on January 13th, 2009 during his CKNW debate with Shoni Field, Mr. Schreck actually did point to one election in Malta in 1981 where one party one more seats while the other party won more of the popular vote. But what he failed to mention was that in that election, the parties were only separated by a margin of 1.8% in the popular vote, with the seat distribution being 34 to 31, almost a tie.

No matter what electoral system is used, there’s always a risk of distortion in close races. The point is that under our current system, distortions occur even when the race isn’t close, such as when parties win 50-60% of the seats with only 40% of the vote.

The thing is if you take a step back and look at election results in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Malta over the long term, you see that the percentage of seats a party wins is consistently around 2-3% of their share of the popular vote. Election results more closely mirror the percentages of votes that have been cast. That’s how it should be. Conversely, one only needs to look at our own country to see that in our FPTP system, a party's share of the seats is consistently off by as much as 10% to 20% of the their share of the popular vote.

So while BC-STV may not be perfectly proportional, it’s a heck of a lot more proportional than our current system. That‘s the whole point.

Back to Criticisms Mainpage.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dr. Fred Cutler: Understanding the Yes Vote in 2005

Dr. Fred Cutler is a professor at UBC and, as his research, had conducted a series of surveys in both BC and Ontario during the run-ups to their respective referendums on electoral reform. He published based on his findings. For me, Dr. Cutler's topic was the most interesting of the three speakers because it gave great insight into people's views and attitudes towards electoral reform, the Citizen's Assembly (CA), and what reasons factored into them deciding to vote Yes. Most importantly, his findings had real implications with respect to strategies that should be adopted by the Yes side during the upcoming campaign and the message we need to be getting out.

As background, he got some base-line information on people's attitudes about proportional representation (PR) and people in politics. With respect to PR, people surveyed largely were in favour of its general principles. They actually liked the idea of coalitions, the idea of greater choice, and disliked the artificial majorities produced by first-past-the-post (FPTP). However, they did have concerns about the possibility of government instability with PR. Surprisingly enough, they didn’t have much concern about the complexity of the electoral system. On their views on politicians and people in politics, I have to admit that my notes a re little hazy here; but I’ve got written down that “ordinary folks will trust and believe ordinary folks when expertise is not required” which I think is supposed to mean that they will tend to be more trusting of fellow citizens. However, the people polled believed that ordinary people can become experts over time.

Not surprisingly, when he first started surveying people in January ’05, only half of the people surveyed were aware of the CA and what they were all about. Even less (about 30%) were aware of an upcoming referendum, and even less that that (~20%) had a working knowledge of single transferable vote (BC-STV). As expected, awareness of the referendum and BC-STV ramped up in the months leading up to the referendum. Still, referendum awareness never got higher than 50-60%, knowledge of BC-STV remained even lower, and awareness of the CA only increased by a small amount (a few percent).

Nevertheless, people generally liked what they learned and the more they learned, the more likely they were to vote Yes for BC-STV, which is shown in the following slide (click to expand):

What’s apparent from the slide is that a key factor in getting BC-STV passed is ensuring that people are well educated about both the CA as well as BC-STV. Interestingly, Dr. Cutler did an ideal extrapolation, where he looked at what would happen in an ideal situation. He speculated that if an ideal situation were to occur where 100% of the population had a good working knowledge of both the CA and BC-STV, BC-STV would pass with 80% support.

Along that line of thought, Dr. Cutler investigated the question of how awareness of the CA influenced voters’ decision. He found that knowledge of the CA satisfied two kinds of citizen: the populist (who comprised 2/3 or the public), and the non-populist (the remaining 1/3).

Populists are kind of your “Ordinary Joe” type of citizen. They are generally skeptical of the so-called “elites” and their decisions and fall into the “ordinary folks trust ordinary folks” designation; knowledge of the CA was more important than the actual elements of the proposal. So for them, the message needed to emphasize the representative nature of the CA.

On the other hand, Non-populists were the opposite in that they tended to be more accepting of “elite” decisions; they needed to know that member of the CA became experts. Also, they needed to know more about the proposal itself. For them, the message needed to emphasize the expertise of the CA; however, knowing about how BC-STV worked was still twice as important.

Nice to know, but as Dr. Cutler pointed out, there’s no way of knowing if a person is a populist or non-populist; it’s not like you can ask a person. So basically, one needs to get both messages out simultaneously if one wants to cover one’s ass.

In terms of hard numbers, Dr. Cutler found that knowledge of specific aspects of the CA raised the yes vote by differing amounts. If people were told that CA “members wanted what’s best for BC”, the yes vote went up by 22.8%. if they knew that the CA “represented people like me”, +12.8%. if they knew that CA members “became experts”, +7.6%.

Dr. Cutler then went on to discuss why the yes vote only got 37% in the Ontario referendum. The public’s views on PR were no different than in BC, the CA in Ontario was set-up the exact same way in both provinces, and like BC-STV, the more people knew about Ontario’s Mixed Member Proportional system the more likely they were to vote for it. So what changed?

Apparently, the CA didn’t get the same level of publicity in the media so awareness of it didn’t have the same impact as it did here in BC. Also, there was more frustration in BC as compared to Ontario in light of recent election results, so there was a greater appetite for change.

So ideally, when talking about BC-STV, we would discuss the CA first, highlighting that they were ordinary citizen’s from across the province, that their goal was to do what was best for BC, that they became experts on electoral reform, and that their decision was nearly unanimous. But of course, ideal is hard to achieve. So the lesson that Dr. Cutler thought should be taken is that we ensure that British Columbians are as educated as much as possible about both the CA as well as BC-STV.

Back to Musings Mainpage

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dr. Ken Carty: BC-STV and the Electoral Boundaries

Dr. Ken Carty is a professor at the University of British Columbia and was the Chief Research Officer for the Citizen’s Assembly (CA). His talk at the 2009 BC-STV Conference was mainly about what the electoral maps, as proposed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC), would look like under the single transferable vote (BC-STV), a topic that was about as exciting as it sounds.

All credit to Dr. Carty, he’s actually a very good speaker and he did well to make his topic more interesting for his audience. It was just the case that his topic happened to be a bit on the technical and dry side.

At any rate, Dr. Carty started off by talking about how, under BC-STV, our 83 provincial ridings would be combined into 20, with 2-7 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in each. The electoral map that was proposed in the CA website is actually pretty close to what was but together by the EBC. The northern ridings would look like our current federal ridings while the Vancouver ridings would be a bit larger (Apparently, the current Vancouver provincial ridings already look like their federal counterparts. I’m not sure how it works out that way, but whatever).

Malapportionment, the discrepancy in riding populations from riding to riding, would be improved under BC-STV so that there would be greater uniformity in the ratio of MLA’s per voter. Supposedly, it’s more difficult to draw maps with smaller ridings leading to the greater variability that we currently see.

The number of MLA’s per riding, also known as the District Magnitude (DM), would range from 2-7. Half of the ridings, 10, would have a DM of 4, only one riding would have a DM of 2 and one would have a DM of 7. 16 ridings would have a DM of 4 or greater. This is significant because the higher the DM, the more proportional the election results. Interestingly enough, the average DM under BC-STV would be 4.15 compared to 3.86 for Ireland. So elections under STV in BC could or should actually be more proportional than in Ireland.

Dr. Carty then got into consequences of adopting BC-STV, the most obvious being fairer election results. There’s likely to be increased diversity as citizen’s would now have the opportunity to get representation from more than one party/candidate. Political parties and candidates would likely behave differently as the incentives provided by BC-STV vs FPRTP would be different. Parties likely wouldn’t run full slates, and there would be greater intra-party competition between candidates, affecting candidate behaviour both before and after elections.

Back to Musings Mainpage

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dr. Dennis Pilon: Putting FPTP On Trial and Countering STV Myths

Dr. Dennis Pilon is a professor at the University of Victoria and author of the book, “The Politics of Voting”. His speech, as one would guess, had to do with the myths that are put forth by the BC-STV critics.

He started off by saying that he thought it would actually harder for the Yes side to achieve the 58% majority that we got last time. His reasoning was that the No side was caught by surprise the first time around, they thought that nobody would pay attention to the referendum and that it would eventually just fade away. That it almost passed means that they won’t be taking the Yes side for granted this time around. Combine that with the fact that they will be taking lessons from the Ontario referendum to go more negative and that they will also be better funded means that we’re going to have a nasty fight on our hands. I would agree.

So his proposed strategy involved a two pronged approach. One, was have reasonable but strong responses to the (many) negative distortions that are forthcoming. Two, and this makes a lot of sense to me, is to go on the offensive and turn this into a referendum on first-past-the-post (FPTP). Most of our energy has involved responding to the negative attacks and putting out the fires that keep popping up. Instead, include our own criticisms of FPTP, force the No side to justify sticking with the status quo and try to put them on the back foot.

Dr. Pilon then got into the myths that are being thrown out by the No side. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of his responses because, to be honest, I don’t really have the time; but also because I already have written, or will write, about these myths in my Criticisms section. But here’s a list of the myths that he addressed:
  • BC-STV is too complicated (done that)

  • BC-STV is anti-party (who cares, this is supposed to be about voters, not parties)

  • BC-STV will lead to less accountability ( done that)

  • BC-STV swill mean less diversity in our elected officials (sort of addressed this in my “BC-STV and Women” post

  • BC-STV is not proportionally representative (or not PR enough) (post to come)
He then went on to outline the (many) problems with FPTP:
  • Election results don’t reflect the actual vote

  • The winner-take-all nature of results oversimplifies the political views of a riding

  • The same all-or-nothing nature of FPTP suppresses diversity

  • FPTP gives artificial majorities

  • Creates situations of strategic voting
Dr. Pilon concluded by re-iterating the point that we have an uphill battle to climb. We have to convince people to make a change from the status quo (always more difficult), the population don’t know what they don’t know, and we have to achieve a supermajority as opposed to just a simple majority. These factors will make our goal much more difficult to achieve. So it’s going to take all of our collective efforts if we’re going to be at all successful in meeting the challenge.

Back to Musings Mainpage

Musings from the 2009 BC-STV Conference

I went to the BC-STV Conference this past weekend (January 10th and 11th) obviously being a BC-STV supporter and also to just satisfy my curiosity about what goes on during these events. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I was only able to make it to one day, and a half day at that.

Still, there was a lot to see and it was definitely worthwhile to hear the different speakers during the afternoon session. Below is a recap of some of the more salient portions of their speeches and presentations.

Speaker #1: Dr. Dennis Pilon: Putting FPTP On Trial and Countering STV Myths
Speaker #2: Dr. Ken Carty: BC-STV and the Electoral Boundaries
Speaker #3: Dr. Fred Cutler: Understanding the Yes Vote in 2005