Monday, November 21, 2016

Is there a form of "colour blindness" when it comes to electoral reform?

I've written a number of articles on this site on what I call "Electoral Modernization" because I consider First Past the Post to be vastly inappropriate for modern times.  While there are a number of different criteria for success of a modern voting system, FPTP doesn't meet any of them. In PR doesn't necessarily "make every vote count" I discussed the two major types of voters I've observed: those who vote for individuals to represent them and those who vote for parties to represent them.

I continuously bump up against people who have something akin to a "colour blindness" when it comes to electoral reform.  Lets use the RBC colour model in an analogy of voting system features (what some want to call voting outcomes, but that is a bit presumptuous).
  • Lets assign how well the voting system grants seats for people in proportion to their support in the population the colour "Red"
  • Lets assign how well the voting system grants seats for parties in proportion to their support in the population the colour "Blue"
  • And for this analogy lets ignore "Green" for now, as I don't have a third thing for this analogy :-)

Black is what you get when you don't shine any lite at all, and that would be a voting system that does't work well for either electing the right people or the right parties in proportion to that support.

White is what you get when you shine all colours brightly, representing a voting system that works well for both electing the right people as well as the right parties in proportion to that support.

The colour "Red" would represent only people support and "Blue" would represent only party support.


Lets look at some of the core issues these different types of voters see.

For people who support parties, the largest problem they see is that the percentage of support that voters gave to those parties isn't adequately represented in the seats assigned in the parliament.  Any system that solves that problem, including a system that counts percentages across the entire geography that the body governs (entire province, entire country) and assigns seats to political parties to fill (open or closed party lists), works great for them.


The people that are focused on the individual candidates tend to be less partisan, and with that they no longer believe there is only one right answer for ballot questions.   They support one person the most, but think two others are OK, but then there is the 3 remaining that they think are horrible options.  For them the problem is vote splitting between the 3 that they think are worthy to be elected, and thus worthy to get their vote.  They don't want votes split such that one of the horrible options wins with minimal voter support -- something they often see under the current system.

Any system that only allows them to vote for one option with a single X will be a failure for them, and they will not believe that the person who wins will have an adequate proportion of the support of the electorate in order to have won.  For them a ranked ballot is required in order to demonstrate that support, and any other system will be seen as a failure.

When these people use the phrase "winner take all" they are talking about the single X where the person and/or party that "wins" the ballot wins the entire thing.  When they say "Make every vote count" they mean making the vote transferable to other choices so that it will count and not be split to allow candidates with low voter support to win.

For them, switching the ballot from having one "X" on a line that has both a persons name and a party name, to a system that has two "X"s where the party name and person name are separate questions isn't an improvement at all.  It was the movement of one question with an unclear answer to having two questions with two unclear answers, where the second question is often not considered very important to them.  This is how they see MMP, as yet another "winner takes all" system that doesn't "make every vote count".

The problem is that we can't have the debate about a "best" voting system as there are far too many people active in the debate who only see the colour "Blue" (support for political parties).   I see the full spectrum of colour and even though "Blue" isn't the issue that concerns me, I still acknowledge it.  I'm trying to support a system which would have all the colours represented.   

I keep being told, however, that the only colour that exists is "Blue" and that I'm just crazy for talking about this "Red" thing that I must have made up.  I'm told that nobody sees this "Red" thing, so stop talking about it. Sometimes I'm told this quite aggressively, and with quite a bit of anger.



Our current vote counting system is First Past The Post which is like "Black", meaning supports everyone equally poorly.   

The most popular replacement for FPTP in Canada appears to be Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) which is a light-blue,   It's not what some call a "pure proportional" system where all seats are assigned based on party lists, but where only 30% would be party lists and 70% of the seats would be allocated the same way they are now.   There is no "Blue" in this system at all, and thus this system is not deserving of being claimed to "make every vote count" as only those who are colour-blind to only see blue believe that every vote is blue.


The simplest of the systems to fix the problems for those who aren't partisan and are voting for people is to introduce a ranked ballot to the existing system.  Everything would stay the same except that instead of a single "X" you would move to ranking people (First choice, second choice -- leaving those you don't support blank).  There are mathematical problems when you only elect one person per district where all the votes that didn't go to the single winning person were "wasted" in that they couldn't help to elect other people who had popular support.

The larger problem for those of us who are not colour blind is to notice that while a single-member ranked ballot (often called Alternate Vote) is quite red, there is no blue in it for those who think and/or vote differently.  


The solution to the math as well as the desire to not be colour blind is to mix ranked ballots with multi-member districts to create a proportional representation system that both recognizes less partisan voters focused on the individuals despite any party affiliations with the fact that partisans want to see a parliament that has percentages of party affiliated parliamentarians more closely related to how the parties were supported by voters.


This brings us to Single Transferable Vote (STV) , the only system that I've been made aware of so far that takes into consideration the interests both of voters who vote for people and voters who vote for parties.


But, I'm told from the colour blind who can only see "Blue", it is parties that form government and we want to elect the government?

Implementing that change would take far more change that only the voting system, as that is not how the Westminster system works.  We, the voters, vote people to become parliamentarians and it is those parliamentarians that then vote in the government.  In a functioning Westminster system, and sometimes I wonder if Canada still qualifies, a government can change without there being a general election because the people we voted to represent us changed configuration in some way.   A minority government could be replaced with a coalition government, or a minority government could become a majority government (or the other way around) if enough people crossed the floor.

I believe it is important for people thinking about vote counting systems to put those systems into the context of the actual body the voting system will be used to elect.

Nobody has told me what would happen if an MP that was appointed to a seat based on a party list wanted to cross the floor to become a member of another party. Would that be allowed? If not, then are we not creating two different classes of MPs which would have major implications across all of parliamentary procedures? How much of Marleau and Montpetit will have to be revised to handle these second-class MPs?  Will critical features of the Westminster system have to be changed to disallow any floor crossing or reconfigurations of the HoC without an election?  What type of change will require a general election: the resigning of any party leader, or only the leader of the governing party?  Will by-elections still be allowed if that might change the percentages of seats allocated to parties?  Have proponents of party-list systems given this any thought to any of these issues?

Will we have a referendum on each individual change separately, or only on those arbitrarily decided by special interest groups and partisans are worthy of being (allowed to be) scrutinized?

It should not be surprising that STV avoids all of these complex and as of yet unknown issues.

While the size of districts change for multi-member districts to support the PR aspect of STV, all MPs would be equal in the same way they are now and thus this form of proportional representation would not require rethinking any other aspect of how government would work. It wouldn't have the potential to throw us into a constitutional crisis. The only change will have been to have fixed a problem where the elected candidates don't necessarily have a high percentage of support from voters, nor the resulting body reflecting the support people have for candidates nominated by political parties.




Note from last week.

One colour-blind electoral reform organization that I was previously associated with (until I recognized the blindness) was Fair Vote Canada.  In their desire to call out the government for hosting what they considered a "biased" online poll about electoral reform they gave their own biased interpretation of the leaked poll questions.

When I called them out on that, their answer was to block me on twitter: they don't see my tweets, and I don't see theirs.


At this point I'm not sure if they are colour blind in that they don't see that other people have their own criteria for success, but that they have become so tribal and partisan in their "one true problem, one true solution" that they want to block any conversation about any other criteria for success in electoral reform.

While I'm not a Liberal party supporter, I really feel sympathy for the predicament they have found themselves in.  They are now being accused of breaking promises by people so biased on the issue as to consider discussing any other criteria for success to be a broken promise.

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