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.
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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Electoral Reform – The Ballots

Having recently reviewed a few of the more commonly used voting systems that may be considered by the proposed committee to examine electoral reform in Canada I thought it might be useful to collect some examples of the type of ballot that such systems would require. These examples are from various existing or proposed systems across the world, it was surprisingly difficult to find good examples of some types of ballots. Click on the examples to get a clearer view.

First up Mixed Member Proportional – Closed List where you have one vote for your local representative and one vote for the partys extra candidate of your choice. The Party chooses the individuals needed to make up the number of MPs needed to satisfy the proportionality of the vote.

Next up MMP – Open List where you have one vote for your local represntitive and one vote for the partys extra listed candidate of your choice. The individuals needed to make up the number of MPs needed to satisfy the proportionality of the vote are decided by who gets the most votes. I was unable to find an example of this type of ballot but it would look something like this which is a combination of the above and an open list proportional ballot.

The third example is that of a, Single Transferable Vote ballot based upon a sample from the BC STV proposal, the instructions were added from a Scottish STV ballot as no such information was included in the original. It is the same as AV shown below in that you rank the candidates except that the list contains the names of candidates from 2 or more ridings and the one per riding are elected. Those who win (using the ranked method of selection) represent the combined district..

A far better example of an STV ballot is this one from the U.S., it has the additional quality of being machine readable, something that I believe ALL ballots should encompass but particularly any that have ranked voting.

Finaly we have this simple machine readable Alternative Vote, Ranked Ballot (or whatever you wish to call it, I wish we could settle on a common name for this voting method). Here you rank you local candidates and your choices are taken into account when non of the candidates get more than 50% of the #1 votes.

One final note here. In MMP all votes (for both the local candidate and the Party or their choice list) are counted using First Past The Post, there is nothing stopping one or both of these choices being a ranked choice (except to make an already complex system more complex) thus eliminating those with less than 50% of the vote from automatically winning a seat. Such a ballot for Ranked MMP – Closed list might look something like this.......

As with each voting method there are many different varietys of ballots and what constitutes a valid or spoiled ballot as well as how said votes are counted. Any proposal must include a sample ballot which includes clear instructions on its use printed ON the ballot as well as, where appropriate, exactly how that vote is distributed. (i.e. The number of ridings represented in and STV ballot)
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

This week I will once again discuss some of the voting systems that may be considered for our future electoral reform. Single transferable vote (STV) is often touted as a “proportional” system, it is not, it is merely Instant Run Off (otherwise known as Alternative Vote or AV) with a wider choice of candidates by combining several ridings and having voters indicate their choice of candidates in order of preference. The representatives for the 2 or 3 or 4 ridings are then selected using the instant run off method from the combined list of candidates.

That is:-
An STV election starts with every voter's first choice, according to the following steps:
  1. A candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota (usualy 50%) is declared elected.
  2. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, surplus votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner go to the next preference.
  3. If no-one new meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred.
  4. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates.
As with all voting methods there are variations, such as how to transfer surplus votes from winning candidates and whether to transfer votes to already-elected candidates. As usual the devil is in the details.

The advantage of this system compared with MMP (proportional) alternatives is that the number of elected MPs remains the same as the number of existing ridings (even after they have been combined for voting purposes) however for those who are determined to have a fully proportional system this will not produce such results despite it being described as 'somewhat proportional' in many write-ups. There are no 'extra' MPs and thus no artificial limits upon national votes that eliminate a smaller party from equal opportunities or any method to make the results 'proportional' with the popular vote.

The problem with STV in a country a large and diverse as ours with some riding’s covering hundreds of square miles is that whilst combining ridings and electing multiple representatives to cover that area may work in urban areas, in other parts of the country it could result in the election of MPs totally unconnected with distant parts of the combined riding and the wishes of larger centres within the combined district overriding those of the more distant areas. The combination of just 3 ridings in my rural area (in SW Ont) would result in a riding of more than 14, 000 sq km twice the size of the GTA with its 58 seats, this would be a 'small' riding compared with some other areas of the country. This system is only partly proportional anyway.
As mentioned above STV is merely Instant Run Off (AV) but with combined ridings.

AV (instant runoff) where your second and third choices are taken into account in electing a single LOCAL MP work exactly the same but just one MP is selected from the resulting voter preferences, otherwise all remains the same, I now (having previously voted for MMP in the Ontario referendum) personally flavor this way (AV / Instant Runoff) of electing our local representative (even within a proportional system should that happen, i.e. AV+), it is after all a known and well used system used by political party’s and others to elect leaders. It is the 'first past the post' thing that has everybody complaining about it so why would we still elect out local MP this way as most MMP systems do? It does not (except in its 'plus' format) add to the number of MPs in the HoC. It is not proportional in the true sense but may reflect the wishes of more electors in perhaps electing their second choice and does to some extent let folks spread their votes between a choice of person and party. It is also simplifies the ballot compared with most other systems and may be better understood by the general public..

For clarity AV+ is basically MMP but with the local candidates selected by an Instant Run Off method. Any system which calls upon voters to select or rate multiple candidates and / or party representatives will by default require a much more complex ballot and a more robust method of counting (and selecting the winners from preferential lists) than currently employed. If you thought the line ups were too long during the recent election wait till you have to rate candidates in order or select multiple candidates or select 'party candidates' as well as local ones.

As I have said before, I am all for voting reform but fear that it is not as simple as some would believe and some of the choices may well come with voter confusion, more spoiled ballots, longer line ups, more results challenged due to not understanding counting methods etc etc. I do not envy the “committee' in their work to 'recommend' a replacement system to FPTP!
One final note, there has be some commentary that this system or that give advantage to this party or that, I do not believe this is the case. Taking past results and applying them to a new method of voting tells us nothing. With each method and voter choices the voter selections made may have very little to do with past preferences and no one can predict the outcome, which is perhaps the single best thing about the change.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gone tilt!

New content on this site has been temporally suspended due to a computer failure and the time and effort needed to reinstall everything on a new one. Normal service will be restored as soon as possible!

See http://ruralcanadian.blogspot.ca/2016/01/things-that-piss-me-off.html Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Problem with Proportional.

Fair Vote Canada in an open letter sent to the Prime Minister has come out strongly for
the Democratic Voting Task Force to involve citizens from the beginning on Trudeau's pledge to have reform studied by an all-party committee, that is as it should be. However as with the NDPs platform pledge (and now even the Greens) they then say, while calling on the Task Force to conduct wide-reaching consultations, that Fair Vote Canada is clear - the government must come down in favour of some system of proportional representation (PR).
Having been looking at electoral reform options for a number of years now, and having previously come out in flavor of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional, the only truly proportional system) I now, after further study, am not at all totally convinced that a fully 'proportional' system is practical or even desirable in Canada. Something that more closely reflects the voters wishes is most certainly desirable, as is some modernization to our voter identification and balloting systems. Given the way our system works it would certainly be nice to be able to separate somewhat our wishes as to the local representative and our wish for the party to hold power but what of the problems that such a system may bring. Is the solution worse than the problem?

Several countries use a form of Mixed Member Proportional voting however few if any the size and diversity of Canada. There is a great deal of difference between adjusting for proportionality in a country the size of say New Zeland at 268,000 sq km, a population of 4.5m and 71 electorate seats, and Canada with almost 10 MILLION sq km and a population of 36 million and 338 ridings!
In the debate about proportional representation you will see a lot of arguments that go something like this.....

Winner-take-all gave Canada a House of Commons in 2011 of 166 Conservatives, 103 New Democrats, 34 Liberals, 4 Bloc Québécois, and one Green. TOTAL 308
Instead, the proportional results would have been roughly 127 ( 41% ) Conservatives, 97 (31%) New Democrats, 56 (18%) Liberals, 17 (5.5%) Bloc Québécois, and 11 (3.5%) Greens.

That is NOT however how it works, irregardless of what 'proportional' system we use based upon the national vote (or a separate vote for party) the local MPs will be still elected for each riding (using a first past the post method) and thus cannot / will not loose their seats in order to make the results proportional thus the final make up of the HoC would look more like this....

166 ( 41% ) Conservatives (the number actually elected), 125 (31%) New Democrats, 72 (18%) Liberals, 22 (5.5%) Bloc Québécois, and 14 (3.5%) Greens. TOTAL around 400 MPs (rough figures / rounding errors / no partial MPs!) Note that the Greens and the Bloc would 'appoint' more MPs than were elected! (I also note we now have more than 308 ridings to start with!)
Having established that with this system we will have to have more MPs, let us examine the way they would be selected. Two basic methods exist, Open List where your 'extra' vote goes to an individual proposed by the Party of your choice and Closed List where your additional vote goes to the Party of your choice. Within these two options there are multiple ways in how such lists and choices are made, I will not try to fully explain each of these (check out the following links for more on that) but will try and outline some of the possible problems and potential solutions.
All Open List proportional voting systems chose from preordained list of 'extra' candidates provided by the party however there are several methods by which voters may chose said candidates and how such choices translate into who on the list actually is chosen.

The ballots can become quite complex with some such systems with the necessity to list not only the local candidates but the party lists (chosen by the party hierarchy) of each of the partys vying for power. A national list for our system could have to contain as many as 25 names
per party but even if chosen on a regional basis the ballot could contain 20 or more names in total, with some folks complaining about the delays at the voting booth to just select one candidate this could become an issue. Even if reduced by having party lists for each province it is still will take longer to vote and remember there is no guarantee that any or all of these folks will ever see the floor of the HoC and how does one choose which province (or district) has the extra MP(s) if and when needed for top up? Presumably by the ones that get the highest number of vote (first past the post!) and would that mean that those in more populous Provinces / districts would get their choice over and above less populous areas.
In closed list systems, each political party has pre-decided who will receive the seats allocated to that party in the elections, so that the candidates positioned highest on this list tend to always get a seat in the parliament while the candidates positioned very low on the closed list will not. The party executive or party leaders generally control the list; consequently closed-list systems transfer political power to the un-elected persons who author the party's list of candidates. The choices at the ballot box would be simpler with just selecting a local candidate and a preferred party but I seriously doubt that many folks will not select the party that the candidate belongs to, unless perhaps an independent is running. It should be noted that in this, and most other, 'proportional' systems there is normally a limit set as to the minimum popular vote below which the 'party' will not be considered for 'top up' MPs. Where should this be set, 5%, 10%, higher , lower?

The problem with both open and closed list MMP systems is that a candidate who perhaps has received considerable support from his ridings voters but not quite enough to be elected would in some situations be replaced by an individual, put on a short list by the party hierarchy, who many of those voters do not know from Adam. Who does this individual represent and is accountable to, the party, the district, the province in which he resides or who? It is obvious that it will be the party thus increasing the already overly amount of power the party bosses hold over our MPs.

One possible partial solution to some of these problems is to use Local Lists, that is to NOT have any pre ordained lists but to choose the extra MPs from those in the party who were not elected but received the highest proportion of the votes in their riding as compared with all other ridings. This would reduce the party control over the choices, at least use individuals that stood for election in the usual fashion and received an endorsement from many of his or her local citizens. Of course this still brings into question as to who they represent and are accountable to, and adds the perception that said riding has two MPs, a situation that would probably also occur to some extent with party list choices. It would however somewhat balance the desires of an area that was strongly in favour of party 'A' when the national popular vote favoured part 'B' by giving that area a greater chance of getting some of those 'extra' MPs! As noted previously in all of the above variations a lower limit is set below which a given Party would receive NO extra MPs, the setting of this threshold could have an enormous impact upon the outcome. For instance in the example above if set at 5% the Block would retain their 22 MPs but the Greens would be reduced to just one, all of a sudden its NOT proportional! I also note that in some MMP systems there is also an upper limit on the percentage of 'list members' that can be appointed in relation to the directly elected members 20% , 39% etc.. These little 'details are important.

With the number of MPs varying depending upon results and possibly as many as 20-25% extra MPs having to be 'nominated' (and accountable to an unspecified authority) this is not an acceptable situation IMHO, the cost to the taxpayer alone, never mind the high percentage of 'appointed' MPs and where to put them, should make these systems (MMP, AV-PLUS) subject to a great deal of detailed study to see if the “cure” is worse than the problem. Any of those who openly promote “proportional voting” must in the same breath specify exactly which method of PR and which variation of said method they favour, anything less is meaningless. This is no less true of any of the alternative somewhat less proportional systems!
Non of the above will solve the real problem which is the apparent inability of our leaders and our MPs to drop the partisan rhetoric and work together for the good of the country (something which, given the probability of minority governments under PR they must learn to do) and the lack of any consequences (other than getting turfed from power when the electorate finally wakes up) when they fail to do so. We need parliamentary reform as much, if not more than electoral reform, let us hope that the new government will also work on that in the coming months and years..

Given the strong feeling about the various options, many of which unfortunately have been formed more upon the wish to change the results rather than any real knowledge on how such changes work in a practical sense, I expect my comment count to increase dramatically on this one. Please remember I am all for electoral reform (which encompasses far more than just the voting system) and more equitable results but see more problems than solutions in this option. Please dont shoot the messenger but do discuss the options.
The systems are many and varied and I hope to cover them in more detail in the future but for now check out the basics in my previous post on electoral reform here.
For much more information and opinion check out these post

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