Wednesday, September 21, 2016

PR doesn't necessarily "make every vote count"

Fair Vote Canada (FVC) has a slogan that it wants to "Make Every Vote Count".  It has a list of voting systems it approves of, and a list it disapproves of.  The problem is that their list is composed based on whether the system is proportional, not whether it "makes every vote count".

A more honest name and slogan would be: "Canadians for Proportional Representation : Make every vote count for voters who vote like us".   While it may not roll off the tongue, it would be more accurate.

In other articles on electoral modernization I've discussed how there are two different criteria people currently use for voting in  Canada:

  • Party representative: Those who are voting for parties, and can be oblivious to or vote despite the local candidate whose name is on the ballet.
  • Local representative: Those who are voting for individuals, and can be oblivious to or vote despite the party affiliation of that local candidate.
While there are modern voting systems that take both groups into account, this is not the criteria that FVC is using. Their educational (marketing?) text is focused on the first group, those who vote for parties, and they discount those of us who are focused on individual representatives and believe that the individual person matters more than their (potentially temporary) party affiliation.

The problem with FVC's campaign is that rather than unifying Canadians towards what could be a common goal, their campaign only infuriates those of us who are in the second group.  Instead of allies, they end up with opponents.  Instead of unity, we end up with confusion as those for and against FVC's campaign only create confusion for that majority of Canadians who haven't yet given voting systems much thought.

While the marketing material from FVC is focused on party representation, Proportional Representation (PR) doesn't need to be focused on parties.  All PR is suggesting is that criteria beyond a single person from each geographic region are considered in the resulting makeup of parliament.  Some systems involve having multiple members elected from larger districts, and some systems involve a ballot question that allows that ballot to influence the makeup of parliament beyond an electoral district.   


I'll list some voting systems to illustrate:

  • First Past the Post (FPTP):  Two thumbs down, as neither group can be happy.  About the only people who have given it some thought who still like FPTP are party hacks who like the fact that their party can form government -- even a majority government -- with a minority voter support.   This is the "unfair" system everyone is talking about.
  • Instant Runoff Voting (AKA: Alternate Vote, or AV):  One thumb up from the local representative supporters, and one thumb down from the party representative supporters.  This system is the simplest upgrade from our current system, and solves the vote splitting (and thus party merging) problem.  It doesn't satisfy the criteria for the PR supporters, and thus most party representative supporters oppose it as they have been convinced that PR and party representation are the same.  Some PR supporters claim (without much support) that this system is worse than FPTP.
  • Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP):  One thumb up from the party representative (and PR) supporters, one thumb down for the local representative supporters.  While this system adds a second question for the party, it leaves the flawed FPTP in place for the local riding.  For some local representative supporters it is seen a lesser system than FPTP as you have the same system for the local representative, plus additional influence for political parties which some see as negative.
  • MMP+AV:  Combining the last two systems is discussed, and it often gets one thumb up and one unconvinced thumb.  It makes the PR folks happy, and the party ballot question makes the party representation supporters happy, but the local representation folks are left with mixed feelings.  They have the AV but in larger ridings, and they have that additional influence of political parties.
  • Single transferable vote (STV): Two thumbs up, except there are problems in less densely populated areas.  This system involves electing multiple members from larger districts than would happen in single member district voting systems.   While this is great for urban ridings for both local and party supporters, it works poor in less populated areas where the people in what would become massive geographic districts would have nothing in common.  While this system doesn't have a party question on the ballet, parties are supported though parties publishing their slate of candidates: a person can just vote for all the candidates in their district that are running under their party banner.  Those who are uncomfortable with the influence of parties prefer this system to any system that asks party as a ballot question, and it allows groups other than parties (Environmentalists, supporters of better representation from women, etc) to create their own slates of candidates for supporters to use.
  • STV+AV (AKA: BC-STV):  Two thumbs up, except some PR supporters strongly oppose any use of AV. The Citizens Assembly for Electoral Reform in British Columbia proposed a system which tried to solve the problem with STV in low density areas, but in doing so they raised the ire of the people from the PR camp who believe any use of single member ("Majoritarian") districts is wrong.  While I believe that BC-STV is the best choice for Canada, I can at least acknowledge the perspective of the PR camp.

I hope this illustrates the problem.

While STV and BC-STV are the systems that best match the diversity of voters, neither is without their problems and controversies.

The PR supporters, largely represented by FVC, believe they have the will of Canadians behind them for any type of PR.  If they only care about what they perceive as a "majority" of voters, can they really claim to be for "fair voting" or wanting to "make every vote count"?

In order to make voting fair and allow each of our ballets to have the most influence it can (for more to "count", and fewer to be "wasted" or "split"), there needs to be a recognition that there is no perfect system and we all need to compromise between the diversity of interests of Canadians.

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