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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Electoral Reform – Voting Systems

I have said that simply calling for PR (Proportional Voting) is not sufficient but that we must understand the various systems that are generally promoted as 'proportional', and the alternatives. I wrote about the various systems some 3 years ago and will simply re-post part of that article with some updates and additional thoughts here in this series on Electoral Reform.

First however I must point out that non of the systems thus far proposed can be compared with what is often touted as the outcome from FPTP in so far as 'the popular vote'. We currently vote for an individual who may or may not be associated with a particular political party and the much used 'party A or party B got XX% of the popular vote” is actually not true and may be misleading. How many folks are voting for the individual and how many vote because of their association with the party? I suspect mostly the latter and a system that changes this dynamic will have a big impact upon the results which will not necessary be comparable with the 'popular vote' under the FPTP system.

That said here is a very brief look at the major voting systems generally proposed and a couple of personal comments upon them. I note that such systems may have different names and slightly different features in different countries, it is unknown if or when such choices will be presented to the Canadian voter or which systems will be part of that choice.

FPTP - First Past The Post
The status quo, simple winner takes all.
Not proportional, can lead to strange results when multiple candidates split the vote.
(Voters are faced with a dilemma in that given the power of the 'party system' do they vote for the individual based upon their suitability to represent them in the HoC or for them as a member of a particular party who they wish to see form government)

MMP – Mixed Member Proportional
Proportional, allows voting for MP and Party separately, ridings remain unchanged
Creates 'extra' MPs to produce proportionality, methods of selecting 'extras' complex and controversial.
This is the one that failed to get support in Ontario
(The above dilemma is eliminated by the ability to vote for an individual Candidate and for a political party to govern separately giving a 'popular vote' for the various parties irregardless of the votes cast for the candidates. Extra MP must be selected or nominated somehow in order to satisfy the party vote numbers, how that is done and who they represent and are accountable to is where this system runs into trouble)

STV – Single Transferable Vote
Somewhat proportional, many more individuals to choose from when voting.
Complex, hard to understand, multiple MPs for greatly enlarged riding’s
This is the system that failed to get enough support in BC
(This system combines several riding’s in order to let voters select more than one MP, instead of a choice of 4 or 5 candidates one would have a choice of 15 or 20 from which you select several. This may work in small urban riding’s but in the large rural riding across Canada is in my view totally impractical both from a point of 'knowing your candidate' and for ensuring that you MP is from a relatively representative area as the voter)

Party List
A system in which parties make lists of candidates to be elected, and seats get allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes the party receives. Voters may vote directly for the party or for candidates whose vote total will pool to the party depending upon which particular system is used.
(I have not researched this system in depth but letting political parties select MPs from a list and not having a local representative chosen by the local voters is not in my view a viable system in such a large and diverse country as Canada)

AV – Alternative Vote
(also known as Instant-runoff voting (IRV), transferable vote, ranked choice voting, or preferential voting)
Allows voters to indicate their 2nd and subsequent choices, no 'wasted' votes, simple, easily understood, ridings remain unchanged
Not truly proportional, however use of 2nd & 3rd choices make it more so.
This is the system proposed but not adopted Great Britain in 2011
(This give the voter the ability to vote for their choice of candidate and the ability to say in effect if this candidate does not win then here is my second choice which will come into play if no candidate gets more than 50% of the first choice. More voters would be 'somewhat satisfied' with the results and voters could (if they so desired) vote for the best candidate and preferred party candidate with their first and second choices. Results would be quite unpredictable in tightly contested races. Several political parties select their leader in a similar fashion.)

AV+ Alternative Vote Plus or Alternative Vote Top-up
AV+ was invented by the 1998 Jenkins Commission which first proposed the idea as a system that could be used for elections to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. (It was not however the system put to the referendum) The important difference from AV is that an additional group of members would be elected through the regional party lists system to ensure proportionality.
(This is another system which I have not yet researched but sounds like one that may well be a good compromise between AV and PR. I will be looking into this system further and will have more to say here as I learn more in the next few months.)

You can see from the above why I say that just saying I want a change in the voting system or even I want PR voting is insufficient, in addition each system may have various different details as used in different countries or districts. We must try and narrow the choices and try to find consensus on which system to promote if and when we get a government willing to consider such changes!

Whilst I previously preferred MMP (due to the ability to choose candidate and party separately) I now am leaning towards AV for a couple of reasons, firstly it is simple, easy to understand and gives some weight to a voters SECOND (and possibly 3rd) choice so that voters who do not get their first choice (and that will invariably be the case for most voters) do get some satisfaction from their votes actually impacting the results. Whilst not truly proportional this use of second and third choice is perhaps better as more voters will be somewhat satisfied with the result. (even with truly proportional systems as many as 60% of voters may not see their choice of individual or party elected,) It eliminates the dilemma of how to choose extra MPs created by a truly proportional system. AV is a compromise, and perhaps one which all sides can agree upon, it would sure be better than the status quot!

For those who want to see which systems various countries around the world are using a good overview can be found at http://www.idea.int/esd/world.cfm. These sorts of discussions may be somewhat academic given the chances of seeing any move to actually place such choices before us, but are still important to have to try and reach some sort of consensus as to where we want to go WHEN such a move is made. A look at the 8 Principals of Electoral Systems as provided by Ontario’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform a few years ago may help put things in perspective.

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toronto mike said...

One method you don't mention is run-off elections as used for presidential races in many countries.

How it would work; if no candidate in a given riding gets 50% plus one, then a second round of voting is held a week later in that riding. Only the top two candidates from the first round would be on the ballot.

This would be better than PR in that we would still have local representatives not party-men from a list. It would be better than AV in that the voters would be making a real, rather than a hypothetical choice.

Only downside would be a one week delay in the final results and some added cost. Well worth it I think.

Rural said...

Thanks for pointing that out Mike. I wonder however with the difficulty in getting Canadians out to vote just every 4 years how they would feel about voting twice in a matter of weeks!

Anonymous said...

Mount Holyoke University has an in depth discussion on proportional representation including which countries use which method and the fact that 88 countries use PR but only two use our system.

Mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy will get you onto the site.

Anonymous said...

Or better yet just google proportional representation Mtholyoke. Everything you wanted to know including an example of ballots.

Rural said...

Thanks for that Anon, an excellent resource!