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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

This week I will once again discuss some of the voting systems that may be considered for our future electoral reform. Single transferable vote (STV) is often touted as a “proportional” system, it is not, it is merely Instant Run Off (otherwise known as Alternative Vote or AV) with a wider choice of candidates by combining several ridings and having voters indicate their choice of candidates in order of preference. The representatives for the 2 or 3 or 4 ridings are then selected using the instant run off method from the combined list of candidates.

That is:-
An STV election starts with every voter's first choice, according to the following steps:
  1. A candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota (usualy 50%) is declared elected.
  2. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, surplus votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner go to the next preference.
  3. If no-one new meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred.
  4. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates.
As with all voting methods there are variations, such as how to transfer surplus votes from winning candidates and whether to transfer votes to already-elected candidates. As usual the devil is in the details.

The advantage of this system compared with MMP (proportional) alternatives is that the number of elected MPs remains the same as the number of existing ridings (even after they have been combined for voting purposes) however for those who are determined to have a fully proportional system this will not produce such results despite it being described as 'somewhat proportional' in many write-ups. There are no 'extra' MPs and thus no artificial limits upon national votes that eliminate a smaller party from equal opportunities or any method to make the results 'proportional' with the popular vote.

The problem with STV in a country a large and diverse as ours with some riding’s covering hundreds of square miles is that whilst combining ridings and electing multiple representatives to cover that area may work in urban areas, in other parts of the country it could result in the election of MPs totally unconnected with distant parts of the combined riding and the wishes of larger centres within the combined district overriding those of the more distant areas. The combination of just 3 ridings in my rural area (in SW Ont) would result in a riding of more than 14, 000 sq km twice the size of the GTA with its 58 seats, this would be a 'small' riding compared with some other areas of the country. This system is only partly proportional anyway.
As mentioned above STV is merely Instant Run Off (AV) but with combined ridings.

AV (instant runoff) where your second and third choices are taken into account in electing a single LOCAL MP work exactly the same but just one MP is selected from the resulting voter preferences, otherwise all remains the same, I now (having previously voted for MMP in the Ontario referendum) personally flavor this way (AV / Instant Runoff) of electing our local representative (even within a proportional system should that happen, i.e. AV+), it is after all a known and well used system used by political party’s and others to elect leaders. It is the 'first past the post' thing that has everybody complaining about it so why would we still elect out local MP this way as most MMP systems do? It does not (except in its 'plus' format) add to the number of MPs in the HoC. It is not proportional in the true sense but may reflect the wishes of more electors in perhaps electing their second choice and does to some extent let folks spread their votes between a choice of person and party. It is also simplifies the ballot compared with most other systems and may be better understood by the general public..

For clarity AV+ is basically MMP but with the local candidates selected by an Instant Run Off method. Any system which calls upon voters to select or rate multiple candidates and / or party representatives will by default require a much more complex ballot and a more robust method of counting (and selecting the winners from preferential lists) than currently employed. If you thought the line ups were too long during the recent election wait till you have to rate candidates in order or select multiple candidates or select 'party candidates' as well as local ones.

As I have said before, I am all for voting reform but fear that it is not as simple as some would believe and some of the choices may well come with voter confusion, more spoiled ballots, longer line ups, more results challenged due to not understanding counting methods etc etc. I do not envy the “committee' in their work to 'recommend' a replacement system to FPTP!
One final note, there has be some commentary that this system or that give advantage to this party or that, I do not believe this is the case. Taking past results and applying them to a new method of voting tells us nothing. With each method and voter choices the voter selections made may have very little to do with past preferences and no one can predict the outcome, which is perhaps the single best thing about the change.

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Unknown said...

And, with STV running multiple candidates for the combined ridings, who is to decide which of the candidates for each party gets, "wait for it", appointed - by the party?

The only process I have seen so far that has MP's, who represent them or the majority of them, elected by the voters in a riding is some form of FPTP. And the best of those is Preferential Balloting or, if you prefer, AV.

Rural said...

I cannot help but agree, James, that Pref Ballot / AV would appear to be the best compromise (and least complex) voting system.

Frank A. Pelaschuk said...

AV is just a simple ranking system that would likely benefit centrist parties I would think. If that's the case, it would certainly benefit the Liberals (nothwithstanding their faux drift to the left Oct. 19) but not necessarily reflect the vote with representatives in office. MMP might be preferable to AV if we are looking for "real change" the Liberals promised rather than their preference of the Ranked Ballot. Any change for change is not what's required particularly when the change would likely benefit the centrists.

Owen Gray said...

It seems to me that, if things get too complicated, voters won't show up at the polls. We need reform. But we should not make it to byzantine.

Kirbycairo said...

I continue to support PR in its simplest form. And I still maintain that the whole notion of riding representation is largely a fantasy fostered by FPTP and the false consciousness it has generated. Regardless, this is good work on your part Rural.