Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Why you should yes for STV on Tuesday

VICTORIA - Elections are precious opportunities, despite all the flaws in our political process.
You get to help choose the party with the best policies, or leader, or the local candidate who will work most effectively for your community'.
This election is even more precious. You have a rare - maybe once in a lifetime - chance to improve our system by voting for a new, and better, way of electing MLAs and governments. If enough of us say yes to the single-transferable-vote system, it will be used for the 2009 election, bringing more representative, diverse legislatures and more responsive MLAs.
Under the new system there would be fewer, larger ridings, with two to seven MLAs each, depending on population. The total number of MLAs would be unchanged.
On election day you would no longer mark an 'X' beside one candidate, rejecting the rest. You would rank as many candidates as you liked, in order of preference.
When the votes are counted, the election results reflect the overall rankings. (Opponents make much of the complexity of counting the ballots. The method is admirably explained at But really all you need to know is that it has been used in countries like Australia for a century, and works.)
Today, most B.C. voters face one decision - do they want the Liberals, or the NDP, to form the next government. That drives their vote, and the local candidate is largely irrelevant. People who run as independents, or for an alternative party, have little chance. Nomination contests for the two main parties - often undemocratic and flawed - matter more than the election.
But under STV, voters have options, because they are helping elect more than one MLA. In a five-member riding, a Liberal supporter might rank three of the party's candidates as the 1, 2 and 3 choices. But if he admired an individual from another party, or felt its voice should be heard, that person might become his fourth choice. There is a chance for independent candidates, or ones who champion important local issues.
The result will be a more diverse, representative legislature, with fewer wasted or reluctant votes for the less offensive party.
That's not the only benefit.
It's significant that voters under the system voters would rank candidates from within the same party. That means a party label isn't enough. Liberal candidates, NDP candidates, they will all be competing with each other for your support. Their re-election won't depend on keeping the party happy, but on representing the community effectively. Candidates who put the party interests ahead of the interests of the people they represent will be punished by voters.
Overall, the system is expected to weaken political parties - a good thing, since they have gained too much power at the expense of individual MLAs or MPs.
Some critics suggest that voters should reject STV in the hope of some future opportunity for better change. But governments almost never allow for this kind of citizen-directed change (full credit to Gordon Campbell). There's no reason to think this chance will come again.
Which means the choice on election day is between staying with the current system, or moving to STV and STV.
It's hard to imagine anyone defending the current system, which has produced confrontation, polarization, cynicism and plummeting voter turnouts.
And bizarre results. In the last election almost 200,000 people voted Green. They have had no voice in the legislature. Some 345,000 people voted New Democrat - one in five voters - and they were represented by two MLAs, two per cent of the seats. In 1996, the Liberals received six per cent more votes than the NDP, but six fewer seats. The New Democrats governed for five years without a real mandate from the public.
No country in the world moving to democracy would chose a system that produced those kinds of results.
The STV system may isn't perfect. But it's far better than what we have.
Footnote: Campbell deserves credit for establishing the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, but he has treated their work shabbily by failing to provide enough money for effective campaigns for and against the change. It's an important decision, and people should have had easier access to information.


Erik Abbink said...

Hello Paul,

Many people complain about the STV being complicated. Here's a New Zealand website that explains clearly how the transfer of your vote actually works:

Anonymous said...

This example shows the quota changing after the transfers. This does not happen with BC-STV.