Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vote “NO to BC STV”

Yesterday my wife and I voted in the advance polls for the BC provincial election and referendum on election reform. We both voted to keep the current first-past-the-post system and NO to the proposed new Single Transferrable Vote (STV).

We voted "NO to STV" four years ago but our miserable weasel of a Premier, Gordon Campbell, decided not to take "NO" for an answer - so we’re voting again.

Today a National Post editorial reviews the many reasons our "NO to STV" vote was the correct one [my emphasis]:

One sign that a society is running out of real problems is that bored upper-middle-class types start inventing phony ones. Thus do we periodically get initiatives aimed at replacing our perfectly functional first-past-the-post electoral system with some hybrid alternative that few understand or support.

The STV system ostensibly was developed by B.C.’s Citizens’ Assembly, "an independent, non-partisan assembly of 160 randomly selected British Columbians,..." But the idea that ordinary citizens could spontaneously have come up with such a complicated scheme defies belief. Like all hybrid electoral systems, this one seems to have been engineered by theoreticians burrowed deep in the recesses of the local university political science department. [These "random" 160 people were, to a large extent, self-selected and who but those with a strong bias towards changing the current system would volunteer for such onerous ‘duty’?]

Then there's discussion of the complexities of the STV system:

...the "wasted" votes from marginal also-rans and the "surplus" votes from clear victors get shuffled to the middle of the pack in a manner that is algorithmically determinate, but — from a dazed voter’s point of view — effectively random. [The ridiculous notion of "wasted" votes is a favourite of PR proponents. As if a vote for any candidate is somehow "wasted". It’s a sure thing that candidates don’t think the votes they receive are wasted. This is somewhat like suggesting to a losing team in a soccer match that they had wasted their time and effort - that they might as well have stayed home and not bothered competing.]

... The effect is to arbitrarily reward voters who picked loony-toon candidates from the extreme left or right, while mainstream voters get their punching weight chopped down dramatically.

... At this point, let us ask our readers: Did you understand the preceding paragraph? Probably not ... And this gets to the heart of why STV is so misguided. The system’s architects have become so obsessed with the single, narrow goal of eliminating "wasted" votes that they have lost sight of a basic truth: No matter how many eggheads put their stamp of approval on STV, ordinary voters inevitably are going to be alienated by a system they don’t understand, and which produces unpredictable local results.

And then there’s:

...the other flaws that inevitably arise from any bastardizations of FPTP. Most notably: (1) The link between a single political representative and his or her riding his compromised. (2) Majorities give way to ineffectual "coalition" minorities — such as the motley Green/NDP monster that would likely arise out of any implementation of the STV under current political circumstances in B.C.
Most of these reasons and a few more were covered in a number of previous posts.

And there's much, much more at this site.

Update: Jack's Newswatch picked up this post - there's some heated debate.


Skinny Dipper said...

Why am I not surprised that you voted "No?"

Tory@York said...

"Why am I not surprised that you voted "No?""

Maybe its because you realize what a smart, well-informed person JR is, who realizes what a crock STV is. Thanks for your support Skinny!

Luca Manfredi said...

I have first-hand experience counting votes in an STV system, and it is not a bad one. What counts (if it is to be kept simple) is that every election returns one victor and not an array (so STV by single-member riding, not by province).

What it does with one victor is it redirects the votes of minor parties until either the vote is non-transferable (no more ranking) or it hits a candidate that's not excluded.

But if there's more than one person to be elected it becomes an absolute nightmare, so if that was the prop your NO will be thanked.

Scott Merrithew said...

I still don't see what is complicated about this at all.
Mind you, I have not seen it used outside of delegate conventions where the goal is to elect the candidate supported by the greatest number of party members. In that case it is obviously better because if no single nominee has the majority, then we would all have to go to a second ballot, and repeat until a winner is elected. The STV ballot saves a lot of time and hassle to reach the same conclusion in a single ballot. The same principle should apply to provincial or federal elections.
Frankly, I'm fed up with candidates being elected to public office with a minority position. It is an automatic "lame-duck" government. However, an STV election would always result in the candidate that satisfies a majority of voters.
Of 5 or 6 candidates, if I don't get my first choice, I won't feel so bad to get my second choice.
Furthermore, the STV ballot is a far better method than the proportional representation idea that was getting so much attention last year. What an administrative nightmare that would be.

JR said...

In BC, the STV system involves a new set of fewer but much larger geographical voting districts (ridings), each with from 2 to 7 elected members. My proposed new STV riding of Capital Region would have 7 elected representatives where each political party could field a full slate of 7 candidates for a total of perhaps 21 but up to 35 candidates in the race. So the counting is highly complex. Most voters would have very little understanding of how their vote was counted.

It's hard enough getting to know 3, 4 or 5 candidates. Up to seven times that number would be impossible.

Another problem is that candidates will more likely come from urban centres where the largest number of voters is concentrated with the probable result that more rural areas will be under-represented.

The adoption of STV would bring with it many known problems and myriad unknown, unintended consequences. Much more about these here and here.

The current FPTP system is simple and transparent and has served BC well from square one. BC is in relatively good economic shape - it's one of wealthiest jurisdictions in the country, if not the planet. Why mess with success?

Scott Merrithew said...

Thank you for the clarification JR. I definitely don't like that package, but what is wrong with it is not the STV, but the proliferation of MLAs. Multiple MLAs is the very factor that makes PR such an administrative nightmare. STV is actually a very good idea, but it is incidental to the Goliath that is Proportional Representation.
What is being sold to you as STV is really PR in sheeps clothing.