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Why I'm for STV

I’ll gladly take on opponents, because the way we vote now produces bizarre results.

Rafe Mair 14 Apr 2005TheTyee.ca

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You can tell a lot about a proposal by looking at those who oppose it. I don’t mean these as personal attacks – far from it. I simply want to point out that those who oppose STV are, for the most part, old political types set in their ways and have their eyes and ears closed. I want to deal with some of the objections.

It is said that STV gives a person more than one vote and that some votes are more important than others. This is silly semantics. By this theory when you vote for eight City Councilors out of a list of, say 50, and you mark eight choices you have eight votes. If that’s technically correct and is undemocratic all our civic elections are voidable. Are some civic votes more valuable than others? In one sense they are, for if you select for your 8 councilors Mickey Mouse, Mr. Peanut, Charlie McCarthy, and so on through eight minority candidates who will lose for sure, your vote hasn’t counted as much as others. Suppose we had a rule that the mayor had to win by a majority not a plurality and Candidate A got only 40% so there had to be a run-off, dropping off the also-rans, to find the winner. Elections all over the world are run like that. But supposing it was decided to avoid the costs of plural elections, you had one election where people could mark their preferences, 1,2,3,4,5 etc so that if A didn’t get a majority, second preferences would kick in? In effect, this would be a run-off in advance and in fact is a system used in many jurisdictions. No one suggests that such systems are a denial of justice.

Weak objections

It’s said that electoral boundaries would have to be re-drawn. So what? We have a permanent electoral commission now that recommends changes on a regular basis.

It’s said that the ballot would be hard to understand. That really does insult your intelligence. The ballot simply lists all the candidates and invites the voter to mark against their names in order of preference all the way from just one down to everyone on the ballot. If you only vote for one person, and he doesn’t win outright on the first count, your ballot has done all it can do but that’s your choice. Again, if your bag is voting for people no one has ever heard of before or for fringe candidates, your vote will be counted but it won’t elect anyone.

Some of the Noes suggest that STV will make the parties stronger. That is not the experience elsewhere … indeed it’s quite the opposite. Parties in five member ridings, for example, would know that this constituency would have people of many and varied backgrounds and monetary status so they would have to be careful to select candidates that could have a broad appeal. Smaller parties would have a much better chance than now as would independents. Just suppose you normally vote NDP but you see Green Party candidates and let’s say, an independent like past Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen on the ballot. You might well vote for three NDP candidates but say “I think a Green should be in there and I admire Mr. Owen” so I’ll give the Green and Mr. Owen my fourth and fifth choices.”

All or nothing yields the bizarre

It’s said that rural ridings will be too big for MLAs to handle. This is one of those arguments that looks a hell of a lot better on paper than in fact. In the days before faxes and emails this might have been true. Under STV if you had a large rural riding and four members no matter where you lived, you would have four choices of MLAs to contact. Most of the MLAs work is done out his office by a secretary anyway. MLAs are not overworked no matter what they say.

The noes seem to be saying that STV destroys the British Parliamentary system. Well, the system needs a lot of reform and while STV doesn’t deal directly with how the legislature works, by altering the voting system, we’re bound to have MLAs much less bound by party discipline and thus more able to represent the wishes on their constituencies.

What’s also interesting is to hear the noes claim that the present system can be improved upon without offering any ways, none of the ones who were MLAs are remembered for their vigorous pursuit of reform. They like the all or nothing at all system where a party, almost always with less than 50% of the vote gets 100% of the power.

The present system has led to bizarre results. Three results come to mind – in 1972 the NDP won a landslide getting 39% of the popular vote and got 39% again in 1975 and lost a landslide to the Socreds. In 2001 the Liberals got 58% of the popular vote and 98% of the seats.

A hundred and sixty of our fellow citizens, hearing all the evidence deliberated and concluded that the present system was badly flawed and by a huge majority recommended STV.

I think we should accept that recommendation.

Rafe Mair, a regular columnist for The Tyee, can be heard on 600AM weekdays from 8:30-10:30 and weekly in the Metro Valley community newes papers. His website is www.rafeonline.com  [Tyee]

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