Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Everything you need to know about the STV referendum

VICTORIA - It would be lame to vote against a new way of electing MLAs just because you couldn’t understand it.
So here, in a few hundred words, is how the single-transferable-vote system works. The issue of whether it’s a good change or not - and I think it would be - can wait for another column.
First, the number of MLAs in thelegislature stays the same at 79. No change there.
But the number of ridings would fall to somewhere around 20 larger ridings. Each riding would be represented by two to seven MLAs. Two current sparsely populated northern ridings with 65,000 people, like Skeena and North Coast, might be combined into a riding with two MLAs. Four urban ridings, with 130,000 people, might be combined into a new riding with four MLAs.
Clear enough so far, right?
So the election rolls around.
Each party can nominate any number of candidates, up to the number of seats in a riding.
So in a four-seat riding, expect the Liberals and NDP to nominate four candidates. But the Greens might decide they just want to have one candidate run, or independents may emerge.
On election day you stride into the polling booth.
Al the candidates names are on the ballot - four Liberals, four New Democrats, Greens, Dr BCers, Marijuana Party, Libertarian.
But you don’t have to mark an ‘X’ beside your single choice, consigning all the others to irrelevance. Instead you rank them - a 1 beside your first choice, 2 beside your next favorite, and so on. You can stop anytime. If you think one candidate is worthy and the rest are scoundrels, you can place a 1 beside her name and leave. If you want the maximum impact, you can rank everyone on the ballot. You can rank Liberal candidates 1,2,3 and 4, if the party is the most important factor in your decision; you can mix and match if you admire certain individuals, or want broader representation in the legislature.
The polls close. And things do become a little more complicated than the current system when it’s time to count the ballots. Right now, whoever gets the most votes wins.
The aim in the STV system is to ensure more faithful representation. The Green Party was supported by one in every eight people who voted in 2001; they ended up with no one speaking for them in the legislature. Many people believe it’s a problem for democracy when some voters feel silenced by the system.
Under the new system there’s an accepted mathematical formula for determining the number of votes needed to be elected.
Elections BC counts the ballots once, and anyone who has that number of first-place choices is elected. Simple.
But all the riding’s seats won’t be filled, so there’s a second count. The candidate who with the lowest support is dropped, but those ballots aren’t tossed away. Now Elections BC counts them again, this time looking at the second choice of those voters
In the same way, the ballots of people whose first choice was elected aren’t tossed, but are counted again. (Remember, four MLAs are being elected and everyone’s preference should be reflected in all four choices.)
OK, this next bit is a bit headache inducing. It would be unfair simply to move to the second choices of all those people. Their views have already been reflected in the legislature with the first canidate elected. So the next count includes their second choices, but on a discounted basis. If Joe Bloggs got twice as many first place votes as he needed to be elected, then all the second place choices of his supporters are counted, but at half their raw value, reflecting the success his supporters have already had in electing him as their MLA.
And so the process continues, until four MLAs have been elected. Each has been the first, or second,or third choice of enough people to emerge as their representative.
And that is how the system would work.
Footnote: It’s still a bit head-spinning, I know. For more detail, if that is your interest, visit Of if you are simply seeking comfort, know that Ireland and other jursidictions have successfully used the system for decades. If you have issues, email me.


Life in Victorola said...

A few comments on your latest opinion piece,
"Everything you need to know about the STV referendum" [ and I'm still afraid to ask ].

You contend, somewhat patronizingly I might add,
that it would be lame to vote against
STV just because you "couldn't understand it".
It would be far lamer however, to vote for STV if
one didn't understand it. It behooves proponents
of STV to successfully explain the system in layman's
terms. The problem is, one can't easily do that.

Your who's on first, capsule description does nothing to allay
one's natural suspicion that the occult statistical workings of STV is too
byzantine for Joe LunchBucket
to comprehend. Who "accepts" that WIGS quota
distribution technique is better than any other in apportioning "surplus"
votes. Where is the average voter's informed consent on STV?

If STV is "head spinning" as you yourself characterize it,
why should I vote for it? Why can't choose from a
menu of alternate voting systems as opposed to just STV
presented to us as a "fait accompli" by some unelected
committee. Why is List PR, or MMP inferior to STV?

Would the Green Party/Socred Rump benefit from STV.
Surely it would be in Adrian Carr's interest to endorse it
if it would, but she doesn't apparently. Also as for the
Greens, merely stating that 1 in 8 people voted Green
in 2001 doesn't reflect that fact that a significant part of
that number where parked NDP votes unable to stomach
a vote for the BC Fiberals.

FPTP nearly wiped out the NDP
last election but twin sisters of the post electoral apocalypse
have kept the flame alive despite Claude Richmond's and
Campbell's gang attempt to finish the job. So personality
can sometimes trump mere numerical advantage.

Until we can advance a more understandable
proportional alternative to FPTP, STV is doomed to
die an academic death it richly deserves. But perhaps that was the
point all along.

Doug said...

It seems to me that the FPTP system has consistantly provided lobsided government in this province for ages past. If anyone can put forward a system that better represents the views and asperations of all the voting public and, by virtue of it's makeup, offer a higher quality of representation - then I am for it. The currrent systsme works only because we refuse to consider any others while we put our continuously complaining head in the sand.

Anonymous said...

There are problems with the present system, that is true, but while I tend to favor the STV model as a change, I can foresee some real problems there also. I can see it becoming more and more like the USA where the corporation, insurance companies, banks, etc. "buy" the individual candidates by contributing to their campaigns. One has only to look south to see the very real consequences of that.
Look at the votes of Democrats that have been "bought" by those groups and you see the "goodies" for the wealthy and the "jabs in the eye" for the middle and lower income groups.