Monday, April 27, 2009

New TV ad for BC-STV!

Hey, good stuff. We finally got a TV ad together (you can check it out here) to counteract the one the No side's putting out.

Ads like this will be really useful in raising awareness about BC-STV; but getting it on the air will not be cheap. Donations are really needed as the No side has an extra $225,000 to spend on TV time slots. If we have any hope of closing that gap, it will have to come from grassroots support. You can go to the website to make a donation to our cause. Even if you can only donate $5, that will still help. No contribution is insignificant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

March Letter to the Editor I wrote in response to another ridiculous opinion piece.

I’m a little late in posting this but… oh well.

So there was a letter to the editor that came out in my local paper (Langley Advance) at the end of March in criticism of STV. It was full of the usual half truths and deceptive argumentation that has become the bread and butter for the No camp. So I decided to write a letter in response. Interestingly enough, I had put the link to my blog at the end of my letter but it wasn’t included when it was actually published. I found it curious as the editor has made no secret of his complete and utter disdain for BC-STV and the Citizen’s Assembly (he’s actually a snotty prick about it). Anyways, below is the letter and I’ve put my responses in red under the pertinent points.

STV system not that simple

Dear Editor,

After re-reading the technical report of December 2004, published by the Citizen's Assembly, entitled Making Every Vote Count - the Case for Electoral Reform in British Columbia, here are some comments for voters' consideration in the forthcoming second round:

Elections: Politicians don't like STV

Dear Editor,

Some of D.B. Anderson's points [STV system not that simple, Mar. 20 Letters, Langley Advance] need to be clarified.

1. Be careful what you wish for.

2. Gordon Gibson and other proponents of STV keep saying that, if the Irish can do it, so can we. However, page 11 of the report says, "The Irish government has twice tried to use referendums to abolish STV." Did the reform attempts fail, as they have in Italy and Israel, as to their fractured Proportional Voting Systems, because it takes 60 per cent approval to be rid of these things?

While there were two referendums in Ireland to abolish STV, they did not fail because of a required 60 per cent threshold. They failed because the Irish voted to keep STV, 52 per cent in the first referendum and 61 per cent in the second.

The Irish referendums to change from STV were initiated by politicians and rejected by citizens, while the B.C. referendum was to change to STV, and was initiated by citizens and campaigned against by politicians and political insiders.

3. How many voters in 2005 knew the assembly's ballot question meant that, with STV, you get multi-member ridings? For suburban ridings, they recommend as many as seven MLAs. The logic has never emerged, and there could be dozens of names on the ballot. While B.C. has had two-member ridings in the past, it means MLAs must spread their time and energy over all of the riding's communities, instead of a few.

Under BC-STV, there will only be one riding with seven MLAs; the majority will have four. This is because multi-member ridings provide more accurate and proportional election results. And there will not be dozens of names on the ballot. Based on sample ballots from Ireland, there will be around eight to 16, which is hardly overwhelming.

4. Although the 2005 vote was 55-58 per cent yes province-wide, with two ridings dissenting, 60 per cent of voters later polled said they voted yes even though they did not understand the issue.

The fact that 60 per cent of voters voted yes in the 2005 vote without understanding the issue only tells half the story. What we do know is that, when voters do understand STV, approval goes up to around 80 per cent. So the fact that STV missed passing the ridiculously high 60 per cent threshold is simply due to people not being fully informed.

This is why people should be taking the time to educate themselves on this extremely important issue.

5. How many have heard of the Droop quota and the weighted Gregory method? Well, those are formulae used to count the ballots in this system that the advocates always say is "simple." Look it up.

Droop decides who wins a seat outright. It divides the total votes in a riding by the number of MLAs to be elected, plus one, then adds one.

In a single MLA riding, the result would be total votes over, plus one plus one plus one. The result is 50 per cent plus one wins the seat - the same as at present, when only two people run.

But once you have multi-members, the percentage needed to win drops dramatically. If three MLAs are to be elected, Droop dictates that the total votes are divided by three, plus one. Then 25 per cent wins a seat. How is this more democratic than our current, first-past-the-post system?

Next, the Gregory method calculates what fraction of surplus votes goes to your second, third, etc. choices.

It is the surplus votes cast for an elected MLA over the total votes received by that MLA. Rarely will a whole vote be transferred, as some think. It'll be a fraction - a tiny one.

Wait. It gets even "simpler."

If there are still surplus choices, that MLA's fraction can be multiplied by another MLA's fraction to give an even smaller one. Our vote can count - and count - and count.

The Droop quota decides how much a candidate needs to win a majority of the vote; it's 50 per cent plus one in a single-member riding.

The percentage goes down in multi-member ridings, because the ridings are bigger, with more voters. The actual number of votes a candidate needs to win remains roughly the same. The Gregory method determines the fraction or percentage of a vote that gets transferred from an elected candidate to remaining candidates. So if a candidate has 10 per cent more votes than needed to win, all of those candidates' votes get transferred to the next choice that's listed, at a value of 10 per cent. It's a different concept, but by no means complicated.

The principles underlying STV are actually very logical and simple.

6. So who does this counting? At present, even the most unsophisticated poll clerk or scrutineer can count our Xs. STV will certainly require that we trust contracted nerds with costly high-technology to count and report.

The media will be shut out. No more CBC predictions.

STV will use paper ballots, just as we use now. Just like in the Vancouver city elections, scanners will probably be used to speed up the count, but the ballots can be counted by hand, if needed.

Ireland has managed for 80 years; I'm sure they can give us one or two pointers.

Always glad to be of help.

D.B. Anderson,


STV is not perfect, but it is better than our current system, which is badly flawed.

Regardless, there are no good reasons to not at least try it out. It's always a lot easier to change back to our current system, and you can bet it would be with the full support and blessing of our politicians.

Clifford Thai, Walnut Grove

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nice objective piece on BC-STV by the CBC

There was a nice backgrounder on the CBC website that gives a good, neutral take on BC-STV and how it came to be recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly. It’s a good place to start for people who are unfamiliar to BC-STV (although is probably an even better place to start, this is a pretty good option too) as it has accompanying links to external sites that are pertinent to the subject.

B.C.'s referendum on proportional representation

Is it time for a new electoral system?
Monday, April 6, 2009 By Mike Laanela, CBC News

For the second time in four years, B.C. voters will be casting a second ballot during the provincial election that could fundamentally transform the way we choose our provincial politicians.

Along with voting for their local MLA, voters will be asked to decide if they want B.C. to adopt a new proportional representation electoral system that would change how ridings are organized and MLAs are elected. Proportional representation is also known as the single-transferable-vote system, which in B.C. has been dubbed BC-STV for short.

Currently, B.C. is divided into 85 ridings, including six new ones created for this election. Voters living in each riding elect one candidate to represent them as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, known as an MLA.

This system is called first past the post, because only one candidate in each riding gets elected. It is the same system used to elect members of Parliament in Ottawa and the provincial representatives in every other province in Canada.

Several years ago, the province created a Citizens' Assembly to study the electoral system and determine whether there might be a better option for B.C.

In 2004, the assembly recommended that B.C. switch to a new proportional electoral system.

What is BC-STV?

The new system is very different from the current one in four main ways.

First, the number of ridings would be reduced from 85 smaller ones to 20 larger ones, known as electoral districts.

Second, instead of electing just one MLA in each riding, the voters in each electoral district would elect two to seven members to the Legislative Assembly.

The exact number of MLAs in each district would be determined by its size and total population. Large rural areas might only have two MLAs while smaller, densely populated urban districts might have as many as seven MLAs.

In simple terms, if there were five seats in a riding, the five candidates with the most votes would be elected as MLAs.

That would mean that candidates from parties that don't usually get enough votes to win a seat, such as the Green Party, have a better chance of getting elected, and that more than one member from a popular party, such as the BC Liberals or the NDP, might be elected in one district.

Because of that, the overall results would better reflect how people voted, according to the members of the Citizens' Assembly.

Transferring votes

The third way the system would change would be in the way people vote.

Instead of marking an X beside one name, voters would rank candidates from most favourite to least favourite, by writing 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., right on the ballot.

The fourth change would affect how the votes are counted. This is the most complicated part of the STV system.

Candidates would need a certain number of votes to be elected, based on the number of MLAs the district is electing and the number of people who vote.

If no candidate receives enough votes to be elected, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the counting, and all of the votes for that person are then distributed to the next choice on each ballot.

The votes are then recounted to see if any candidate has enough votes to win.

The process continues with the lowest candidate being eliminated and his or her votes being transferred to the next choice on the ballot until all the required candidates are chosen to represent the district.

No more 'wasted' votes

The counting system gets more complicated during the counting of the votes if a candidate gets more votes than the exact number they need to be elected.

If that happens, the so-called extra or surplus votes are redistributed to the next choice on the ballots.

But in order to be fair, everybody who voted for the winning candidate has their vote redistributed but only a fraction of each vote is transferred, based on how many extra votes the winning candidate had.

The reason for this is so that everyone's extra vote gets counted and no vote is ever wasted, according to those who designed the system.

In order to keep track of the thousands of calculations this would require, computers would be used to count the votes in the elections.

Why change?

There is much debate about how well the new system would work and what sort of results it would produce.

Critics of BC-STV have several complaints about the system.

Some say it is too complicated for people to understand how their vote will be counted, and therefore it may make the voting process confusing.

Critics also say the BC-STV system been unproven in real life situations, and other countries with similar systems have had trouble with the results.

They also say the electoral districts would be too large and voters would not know who represents them, and that while a majority government is possible, the BC-STV is more likely to produce unstable minority governments or coalitions of two or more parties.

On the other hand, critics of our current system have said it does not reflect the real choices of voters.

For example, candidates often win their seat with about 40 per cent or less of the votes, simply because they have more votes than any of the other candidates.

That means situations arise in which 60 per cent of the people, the majority of voters, did not support the candidate who was elected.

In addition, parties that might get only 10 or 20 per cent of the votes across the province never get any candidates elected because they don't have enough votes in one single riding.

This time, in order to encourage debate about the referendum, the B.C. government is funding two independent campaigns during the election, one on each side of the question. More information on the STV system can be obtained on the respective websites of the pro and con campaigns.

The second referendum

In 2005, voters in B.C. voted nearly 58 per cent in favour of adopting the new system. But according to a law passed by the government, more than 60 per cent of voters must approve the new system for it to pass.

Not only that, more than 50 per cent of the votes in at least 51 of the province's 85 electoral districts must support the change.

That's because the government believes the change must be supported by a significant majority of the population in all areas of the province to become the new electoral system.

Because the result was so close last election, but so many people said they did not understand the issue, the government decided to hold the referendum again.

There is also a neutral Referendum Information Office, with a mandate to provide objective information to voters about both electoral systems.

If B.C. voters approve the new system, by law, it would take effect in the 2013 provincial election.