Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Nice Explanation of BC-STV by Nick Loenen

I thought that this was a great article by Nick Loenen, who’s been a real driving force behind the movement for electoral reform in BC. He’s also written a book on the subject, called "Citizenship and Democracy, a case for proportional representation".

Anyways, Mr. Loenen gives a great overview of how STV works and even addresses some of the more common myths that are thrown out by its critics.

A New Voting System: How it Works

by Nick Loenen, Ladysmith Chronicle, March 11, 2009

On May 12, British Columbians will be asked if they wish to keep the current voting system or to accept a new way of electing MLAs, as recommended by the Citizens Assembly.

The assembly selected the single transferable vote, adapted it to our provincial needs and called it BC-STV. It joins existing ridings into multi-seat ridings consisting of two to seven seats. Within those larger ridings groups of like-minded voters will elect one MLA as their representative.

When filling in the ballot, voters do not select one candidate among many, but rank candidates 1, 2, 3 etc. On average, there will be fifteen to twenty names on the ballot and voters can rank as few or as many as they wish. To make it user-friendly, candidates will be grouped on the ballot by party affiliation. Many voters go only to the party box of their choice and rank one or all the candidates in that box. Voters may rank candidates from different parties if they want. Independent candidates, too, will be listed and have a very good chance of being elected for simply being good local representatives without any partisan affiliation.

What happens to all these rankings? Think of your vote as one dollar. When ballots are counted, your vote, all one hundred pennies, goes to your first choice candidate. If that candidate is eliminated for not having sufficient votes, your vote, all one hundred pennies, goes to your second choice candidate. If that candidate is elected, but with a surplus of say ten percent, it means ninety pennies of your vote have been spent and the remaining ten pennies will go to your third choice candidate. And so on, until all of your vote (pennies) has been spent. In the current system you lose all one hundred pennies if you don't vote for the single winner.

Is it possible for the more populated areas to snatch all seats? No. Each existing riding has sufficient numerical strength to elect its own MLA. The more densely populated areas cannot elect more MLAs than they are entitled to by their numbers. Each MLA goes to Victoria representing the same number of voters. To ensure nearly all voters can point to someone in Victoria they helped elect, MLA’s surplus votes are redistributed among remaining candidates according to voters’ wishes. Some MLA will need the few scattered voters in the more remote regions of the riding to get to Victoria. No area or neighbourhood will go without representation.

During the 2005 referendum, it was suggested BC-STV is too difficult. Vancouver Sun reporter Neal Hall asked voters in Ireland if they thought it difficult and found no one to support the claim. Ireland has used this system since 1921, and twice the Irish voted by referendum to keep it.

With such a large riding, is it not more work and more expensive for candidates to campaign in an election? No. Candidates do not need all the votes, just enough to fill one seat. Candidates will carefully pitch their platform to one group of voters. BC-STV establishes a very close link between each MLA and a particular group of voters. This also explains why independent candidates do get elected with BC-STV.

Nick Loenen is a former Richmond City Councillor and MLA. For more visit: or contact:

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