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

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