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ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – The fruits and veggies theory of transferable vote

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

Originally published May 2, 2009 in The Kamloops Daily News.

IN 2005, I VOTED against BC-STV because I didn’t understand it.

In 2009, I will vote against BC-STV because I understand it.

During the past several months I’ve tried to keep an open mind on the matter, because it’s a major decision and I genuinely wanted to give it a fair chance.

So I’ve talked on numerous occasions both with supporters and non-supporters. I’m impressed with the passion and the good intentions of both sides.

People say the single transferable vote system for electing MLAs is hard to understand, that they’re being asked to take a leap of faith that it will work. Well, once you get into it a bit, it really isn’t all that difficult.

STV supporters admit they can’t explain it through their advertising campaign and they have to stick to key messages like kinder, more friendly government. On their websites, though, they use various comparisons to make it easier — like spending spare change, or putting votes in various containers, or (my favourite) buying fruits and vegetables.

It’s the fruits and veggies analogy that finally made the coin drop for me. By taking the somewhat mind-numbing explanations of the science and formulas behind STV, and translating them into a shopping trip to the super market, I now get it.

Suppose the province of B.C. is a big shopping centre. And the new STV riding of Cariboo-Thompson is the super market. The fresh produce section is the polling station.

Think of it this way. You go looking for the fresh produce section, but you discover that, instead of all the produce being together in once corner of the store, it’s scattered all over the place and you have to go looking for it in several different isles.

This is called the STV method of shopping.

However, even though it’s harder to find what you’re looking for, the store management assures you it’s necessary in order to offer you a greater selection — you are allowed to pick out five fruits and/or veggies instead of just one.

You like the looks of the nice ripe tomatoes, so you take one of those.

It being in season, you add a slice of watermelon. Next, a potato, a strawberry and a banana.

However, the shopper next to you wants a somewhat different selection. He likes the tomatoes and he might settle on the watermelon, but he’d rather have an apple, a piece of broccoli and a carrot than a potato, strawberry and banana.

Therefore, you cut a slice off your tomato and trade him for a bite out of his apple. He still has his eye on that watermelon, so you break it in two and reluctantly offer it to him. This leaves you a bit short of what you actually wanted, but he generously snaps a piece off his carrot and hands it to you.

In return for this act of generosity, you peel your banana and chop off a couple of chunks for him. You aren’t crazy for broccoli so you agree to toss the broccoli altogether and split a lemon. This is what they call the single transferable fruit.

In order to calculate whether this exchange is completely fair, you truck over to the scale and weigh each piece. You must include the leftover strawberry and the potato in this tally.

But you aren’t done yet. Now, you add up the number of species of fruits and veggies and divide them by the number of portions — this is called the droop veggie quota.

By this time, of course, the banana is getting mushy and the tomato and watermelon are dripping onto the floor. But at least you both got some of what you wanted, so you put it all in the cart and ring it through at the checkout counter.

At home, you shove the various pieces of banana, apple, lemon, etc. into a blender and mix for 30 seconds. This is what we call the legislature.

What you are left with is a gooey mess that has no logical use, so you take the blender out into the back yard and dump it.

After the dogs, cats and pigeons eat it, what comes out the other end is called STV.

I hope this explanation has provided you with a clearer understanding of how STV can work for you. With this in mind, you can now make your decision when you go into the voting booth May 12.

As for me, Thursday night’s debate hosted by the chamber of commerce, and the columns from both sides we’ve been publishing for the past few weeks, have convinced me I’d rather stick with a nice, unambiguous hot pepper than blender goo.

Good luck with your shopping.

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About Mel Rothenburger (6109 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca 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 ArmchairMayor.ca 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 ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – The fruits and veggies theory of transferable vote

  1. karin wilds // August 29, 2018 at 8:05 AM // Reply

    If a person was to take those bits and pieces of fruits and veggies, plan ahead and take the time to preserve them there would be no waste. This analogy is in some ways quite accurate – everyone gets a better selection of what they want. The problem I see with your argument is that we seem to always want instant gratification. Current system sees everyone pushing policies through without much though to the long term. Fresh fruit and veggies are great whenever possible but when everyone works together with a vision for the long term, those fruits and veggies can easily be processed into food that will not have to be thrown out the minute you walk out the door.

  2. Jennie Stadnichuk // August 24, 2018 at 9:49 PM // Reply

    Vote Yes to Electoral Reform. There are several good forms of Proportional Representation (PR) that can be observed with a brief examination of some countries who have practiced one form or another of true democracy. Mel, I agree that using your produce portion to exemplify can be confusing. Try googling countries using PR you’ll find a few of them are: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Over time, each country has, over time, tailored a system that works best for them. In addition, Germany’s Bundestag (parliament) is elected according to the principle of proportional representation. In some cases, this system is also referred to as mixed member proportional representation. However, there has been major criticism of the federal election system… There is always criticism as no matter how well the system works for most people most of the time, the “naysayers” will be there. Of course in a true democracy all voices are useful and can contribute towards “tweaking” it. Mel, I am fairly certain you are pretending not to understand PR! It’s really not that difficult, and compared to FPTP currently used where 39% of the votes get 100% of the power it is far more representative of the actual votes cast.

  3. I so agree, I am no more enlightened as to the benefits of STV than I was 10 years ago. I also find the “passion” on the pro side a little desperate.

  4. Ian MacKenzie // August 24, 2018 at 10:20 AM // Reply

    I think I got the connections until everything beyond the “droop veggie quota” sentence. After that the whole parallel became an exercise in mediocrity at least, and an unmerited insult to the worthy work of the 2005 Citizens’ Assembly at best. Gotta do better than that, Mel.

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