LETTER – It’s not the ballot that’s important, it’s the outcome

Re: EDITORIAL – Can we find a compromise on electoral reform? Maybe

Thank you for stepping away from your long-held position on voting systems, where you have argued that our current system is the best and only reasonable way for us to elect our representatives. However, I must say it is odd to see you musing about a compromise voting system which would use the very same “overly complicated” counting system that you have steadfastly opposed for years, just so long as the results don’t end up being proportional!

The ranked or preferential ballot is a tool which can be used within both proportional systems and non-proportional systems. You are describing a non-proportional system called Alternative Vote or AV (using a ranked ballot in single member ridings). AV is admittedly a pretty good system when you are looking for a single winner (like a party leader or mayor), but it is a giant failure at electing a representative body, like our Legislature.

The arguments against AV in your comment section are perfectly true, and they help explain why not a single one of the 14 Assemblies and Commission we’ve had across the country has ever recommended it. All of them recommended proportional systems. Even the federal Liberals couldn’t find any experts to speak in favour of it during the ERRE consultations.

As Francis Scarpaleggia lamented: “Nobody wants ranked ballots. So, where does that leave us?” Analysts who looked at exit polls agree that AV would have given the federal Liberals an even greater false majority in 2015 despite having won only 39% voter support. This could help explain Justin Trudeau’s affection for it, but it certainly doesn’t make AV an improvement over our current system.

British Columbians deserve a system where every voter actually has an impact on the results. Under our current system, half of us end up being represented by an MLA who doesn’t share our priorities, and this would increase under the alternative you suggest. Under proportional systems, 95% of voters actually end up helping to elect someone—95%!  That’s a huge difference from the current 50%! No wonder they are happier with their electoral systems!

We can have ranked ballots as part of our new voting system if that’s what we want, but the primary criteria for selecting that system should be to ensure that seats actually match votes and everyone has a vote that matters equally. It’s not the ballot and whether we make an X or write down 1, 2, 3 that is important—it’s whether the top choice we make via that ballot ends up influencing the outcome.

We have the option to have our second and third choices count already under our current system, and many of us take advantage of that opportunity: it’s called strategic voting. It would not be particularly satisfying to be able to mark a 1, 2, 3 on the ballot knowing full well that our first choice still has no hope of getting elected.

As we saw with new BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s election, AV takes a candidate who is the first choice of only a minority of voters, and hands him/her the whole prize. While this is necessary in a leadership race (since there can only be one leader per party), it does not serve us well when we are trying to elect a representative body which should reflect the diversity of the electorate.

Our Legislature should represent more than just the single largest chunk of voters in each riding, which is often less than half the voters there. We deserve a governing body that represents (almost) all voters, rather than artificially dividing the electorate into winners and losers every four years.  Why shouldn’t 95% of us be winners? That’s what happens under a proportional system.

I’m glad that you are no longer averse to changing our system—that’s great to see. But while I thank you for shifting your position and considering a counting system that you have so strongly opposed in the past, I have to repeat that it’s not the ballot that’s important, it’s the outcome. And on that criteria, AV is a fail.

I’m holding out for a proportional system. Sorry, Mel. No deal.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Let us be clear. As you say, the alternative vote can be used in either an FPTP or PR system. My suggestion was as a variation of FPTP to move toward meeting PR somewhere in the centre. Clearly, within the ranks of the PR advocates, there is no middle ground.

About Mel Rothenburger (8164 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on LETTER – It’s not the ballot that’s important, it’s the outcome

  1. Mel, PR IS the middle ground.

  2. I agree with Gisela. Very well written and thought out letter.

  3. A new way to legislate might be simpler than trying to change the electoral system to some form of “PRO REP ” A consensual vote is what is desirable, so why not “dis allow ” partisan votes and make all votes open or free votes.Even under a pro rep system a vote in the ledge is determined by a majority of sitting members.If all members voted their conscience then the outcomes would be the same or as valid as a pro rep vote.
    I believe this would decrease the discension among members in the ledge.It might eventually lead to a parliamentary system the people could have trust in.You know ! “For the people ,by the people “Not by the liberals for the liberals” Like a non partisan senate.
    Just Saying.!!!!!!

  4. After 16 years of BC Liberal we now have more problems than ever before to solve. Therefore is clear a different way to “legislate” is needed. But the methodology to elect a more diverse legislative assembly still seems overly complicated. Unless everyone is of clear understanding of the new system, the outcome will perhaps be less than desirable.

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