A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Electoral Reform Online Survey Available

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform began witness hearings in July and this week, launched an electronic consultation to probe citizen views on electoral systems and other vital aspects of voting.

The introduction to that multiple choice survey says in part:-
The House of Commons has created a Special Committee on Electoral Reform to identify viable alternative federal voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system and to conduct a study of them, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting. As part of its mandate, the Committee is using various tools and methods to consult with Canadians. This e-consultation is one such consultation tool intended to solicit Canadians’ views both on voting and on the election of Members of Parliament. The Committee’s report to the House of Commons will take into consideration the results of this consultation.
What to Expect
Before completing the e-consultation, you will have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with background material on electoral systems.
If you consent to participate in this e-consultation, you can expect to complete the questionnaire within approximately 30 minutes. (or less)
You do not need to complete the questionnaire in one sitting. You can interrupt the e-consultation at any question, save your work, and return to it at a later time. If you plan to complete the e-consultation in more than one sitting, it is recommended that you bookmark the webpage.
Find the survey Here

Those with a greater understanding of the issues than the average citizen may find themselves wishing for the ability to further define their answers, there is however a comment section at the very end. As noted in a previous post those with more to say can send their comments via this web form or via email to ERRE@parl.gc.ca

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Irish PR-STV system

In my last post I promised to take a harder look at the Irish electoral system of Open List PR-STV which is, as I said before a combination of a multi riding STV and Preferred Ballot system. I will start by covering some of the remarks made by Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparative Politics, Trinity College Dublin and Michael Marsh, Emeritus Professor, Trinity College Dublin in their presentation to the Electoral Reform Committee.

“Nothing comes without problems, and there are two problems in particular that might be identifiable. One is that constituencies as we call them, ridings, would have to be much larger, both in geographical size and in population because proportional representation necessitates multi-member constituencies, so ridings would be much larger, and they already are huge in some cases. In addition, government formation becomes a much more complicated process because single party government would be very unlikely. It's very hard for any party under a really proportional system to win an overall majority.”
I note that whilst STV systems produce more proportionality than FPTP they are NOT a proportional system in and of itself.

“To expect an electoral system change to transform the whole nature of politics and make it more civil and so on, I think, is probably unrealistic. Generally we shouldn't try to over-explain things through the electoral system. A lot of people do look at countries, including Ireland, and say that Irish politics works this way, and it's got that electoral system, so it must be cause and effect. Very often it's not. “
I have said before in these pages that expecting a change in our voting system to cure all the problems in our system of governance and expect parliament to suddenly become more 'functional' is dreaming in technicolour!

“When voters go to vote, they see a ballot paper with all the candidates in the constituency listed. In Ireland they're listed in alphabetical order. That's not necessary, but that's the way it's done in Ireland. Votes are cast for their favourite candidate, their second favourite, their third favourite, and so on. They don't have to vote for any more than the favourite. They might vote for the favourite and then quit and not give a second preference. Or they might go from their favourite right down to the bottom of the ballot paper and cast number 17 for their least favourite.
This part is much the same as in Preferred Ballot systems except for the inclusion of candidates from 3 or more ridings.

“As to the counting process, if we went over a detailed, stage-by-stage, blow-by-blow explanation, it would all sound rather more complicated than it really is.”
I disagree with this statement, it not only sounds complicated but is VERY complex. See the fuller explanation of the counting system later in this post.

“The surplus distribution is the most complex part of (this system of) STV. What's more straightforward is that if a candidate fares very poorly, and gets only a few hundred votes, those votes are not wasted. The candidate is eliminated from the count and the votes are transferred to other candidates in accordance with the second preference marked. If that candidate in turn is later eliminated, the votes are transferred on in accordance to the third preference marked, and so on. The aim is that even if a voter votes for someone who doesn't do very well, this vote is not wasted as it is under the first past the post system. “
He makes it sound simple but in their particular system it is NOT.

“The counting is a multi-staged process. It takes much longer than a first past the post count. ......... Counting is not an instantaneous process—it can be several days before the full result emerges..........
When it comes to counting, the system that's used in Scotland, for instance, in local elections, is electronic, so it's instant. “
If this system were adopted electronic counting of the ballots and calculation of the results would, in my opinion, be essential. Recounts could still be assured by having the ballots both human and machine readable.

“A few thoughts on how PR-STV might work in Canada. At the moment you've got 338 MPs, so if Canada had PR-STV there might be around 70 to 90 multi-seat ridings, each returning anything from maybe three to seven MPs, or it could be more. Just looking at a few particular provinces, we see that Newfoundland and Labrador currently has seven single-seat ridings that might become one three-seat riding and one four-seat riding, for example. Prince Edward Island currently has four single-seat ridings that would become one four-seat riding. New Brunswick currently has 10 single-seat ridings that could become two five-seat ridings. It could be that really large geographical areas like Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon would remain as single-seat ridings. I see that Labrador is a single-seat riding. Labrador is about three times as big as the entire island of Ireland, so to us it's unbelievable that this would be just one— “
Can you imagine a ballot with 4 (ridings) x up to 5 (parties) or up to 20 candidates to rate? Can you imagine the line ups waiting for folks to figure in what order to rate them?

Is there a preference built into the system for causing the more rural, more lightly populated areas to have a smaller number of TDs in order to keep the districts within a reasonable geographic size, and then do the opposite when it comes to the urban districts? That tends to have been the discussion in Canada, when we've debated this kind of system, that we would have larger numbers of members per district in the urban areas and fewer in the rural areas. Is it the same thing there, or is there a different logic? “
No, not really. In a word, there isn't. That would create a potential unfairness. The parties that were stronger in the cities would kind of lose out because they might not get their fair share of seats in the smaller rural constituencies, whereas the big parties would do better in the rural ones and only get their fair share in the urban ones.
This whole question of making our already large (rural) ridings even bigger (even with several Mps representing the area) leaves me shuddering with the thought of the possibility of ALL those chosen living hundreds of miles away from those the purport to represent.

The riding I represent in British Columbia is four times the size of the entire country of Ireland. My people come from Longford (Ireland) and I looked it up and my riding is 330 times the size of Longford. The notion we're looking at is to create even larger constituencies in the rural communities. You're designated by the constitution in Ireland. We're not limited that way here in Canada, I don't believe. The notion of having even larger rural constituencies, as you can imagine, gives some pause. There's been a notion to have a hybrid in which we had an STV or some sort of proportionality within the more dense urban populations, yet leave the rural constituencies as they are. Has anyone mused about that in Ireland, or are you simply constrained by your constitutional requirements to keep
 We are constrained by the constitutional requirements. In fact, there was a referendum back in the 1960s on allowing for a higher level of representation in rural areas, thinly populated areas, than in urban ones.”

I've always wondered how it is that STV can be proportional, given, as you say, that there's no proportionality that is privileged by the way the seats are organized; there's no separate set of seats to represent the imbalance that's created by voting at the constituency level.
 Within each constituency there's a reasonable degree of proportionality, especially in the larger ones, such as the five-seat constituencies. In three-seat ones, in particular, you might not get such proportional results, but what nearly always happens is that, simply on the law of averages, if a party loses out in one place they'll win out on another occasion.
I simply do not believe this would produce such results in Canada in part due to those huge districts and in part due to our greater number of political partys as compared with Ireland. I also note that the professors said that the more combined riding’s in a district the more proportional the results become the less number the less proportional. Thus this system and STV as a whole can be said to be more proportional than FPTP but is NOT fully proportional and should not, in my view, be called such.

Some member of the committee had difficulty understanding the counting system which as I said above is NOT simple. I have tried to assemble the concise explanation below gleaned from an official outline that left my head spinning.

In the Irish system of counting the Preferential part of the PR-STV voting system is totally opposite from the normal method where the bottom candidates are eliminated and the second choices are added to the previous count.

In that in this system they are electing several individuals per district they first count the number of ballots and then calculate the minimum number of votes required to be elected (in a 3 riding district a quarter of the votes plus one). Any candidate receiving more votes than this 'threshold' is deemed elected. Any excess votes for elected candidates over this threshold are distributed as per the second choice on the ballot, because the number of transferable votes may be more than the remaining ballots the votes are distributed in proportion to the number of selected secondary choices. With the removal of these ballots from any 'elected' candidate the 'excess' votes are recalculated and further votes removed over the elected threshold from any elected candidates for the next round.

Very, very complicated counting system that few would fully understand and takes several days to complete when done by hand as it is in Ireland......... !!

A complete explanation can be found here http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/migrated-files/en/Publications/LocalGovernment/Voting/FileDownLoad%2C1895%2Cen.pdf

Transcripts and submissions (briefs and witnesses) including my own submission can be found here-

Evidence (which can be found under the individual meetings listing at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/Meetings ) is the edited transcript of what is said before a Committee and includes both remarks made by Members of the Committee and those made by the witnesses. Please note that the Evidence is only published for public meetings and may take approximately 1-2 weeks to be posted to the Committee web page.

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