Thursday, December 08, 2005

Electoral reform

Heh, time to switch away from the engineering-centric content for a bit, and onto some more interesting topics. Or so you think, until I thwack you with a giant mathbat! (you won't see it coming...)

Electoral reform is an issue that I'd personally like to see addressed by the next party to rule the country. It's been something that parties have been promising for years, but has yet to be seriously addressed at a Federal Level.

But what is electoral reform? Well, Canada, and most provinces, run on a single member plurality system, which basically says whomever gets the most votes in a constituency wins. The government is formed from each constituency's winner. Sounds good, right? If 20 people vote for Amy, and 10 people vote for John, Amy heads off to government on our behalf.

The problem is that the system breaks down pretty badly, especially when you have more than two parties involved. Let me give you a few examples.

Consider 3 constituencies, with 10,000 people each voting. First constituency votes 4000 Liberal, 3000 Conservative, 3000 NDP. Second: 4000, 3000, 3000. Third: 0, 10000, 0.
What are the totals? 8000 for Liberals, 16000 for Conservatives, 6000 for NDP. The Conservatives double the liberals for votes, but the Liberals get twice the seats as the Conservatives. The NDP gets nothing.

Now, consider 100 constituencies, and each votes 4000 Conservative, 3500 Liberal, 2500 NDP. With 40% of the votes, conservatives control all 100 seats, with the other parties getting nothing.

Consider a single constituency. You prefer NDP, then Liberal, and really don't want Conservatives. Now the media publishes an advance poll, showing the vote split 50% Liberal 50% Conservative. Who do you vote for? Likely Liberal, since you'd prefer the conservatives to lose, and know the NDP won't win. An advance poll has basically made you lie about your preference. What's worse, say the poll says that 98% of people are going to vote conservative. Why even bother voting if no matter what the outcome will be exactly the same? This basically means a well-manipulated poll can control who gets elected!

My final example: say you're a Green Party supporter. But say the Green Party candidate was going door to door, and kicked your dog when Spot went to sniff and say hi. Sadly, we cannot execute the candidate, plus it puts us in a dilemma. Do we vote for the mean guy who kicked our dog but whose party is our favourite? Or do we vote for a nice representative whose party policy is shady.

One may ask: if the system has so many issues why do we still use it? Well, it's EASY! Any idiot can see that 10 > 8, and therefore figure out who won. Most idiots can tick off a single box. Plus the system does have some other advantages, like its tendancy to produce majority governments in most cases.

Are there alternate systems? Yeah, plenty. And used in a lot of places too. One popular system is called runoff voting. Basically, it requires the winner to get a majority. If they don't, take the least popular guy off the ballot, vote again. Sometimes with another full vote, or often just making a ballot that lets you choose your "second" choice so it can be done automagically.

One close to home: Single transferrable vote (BC-STV). A proposed replacement to SMP in BC legislature, that missed its 60% provincewide support target in a referendum by only 3%. Variants of the system are already in place in Australia and Ireland. Basically, you make the ridings approximately 3 times as large, and they elect up to 3 (normally, depends on riding) MLAs per riding. A voter ranks the candidates in order (1, 2, 3...) up to however many they want to rank. You could only rank candidates from one party, spread it out across multiple parties, etc. If your first choice candidate won't get elected, your second choice candidate gets your vote, etc. Once your first choice gets enough votes to be elected, any extra votes go to the second choice to help them get elected.

Of course, there's plenty of others.

Now if only they'd choose one. Choose ANYTHING instead of SMP.

PS. Interesting page from an SFU site.

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