STV is essentially a method for preferential voting, meaning that instead of marking an X for the person you want elected (or, in many cases, the person most likely to defeat the person you don’t want to be elected), electors rank candidates in order of preference, and the ballot is counted so that if the first choice is not elected, the vote is transferred to the next candidate.
The second part of the proposal involves merging of electoral districts, so that instead of 85 representatives of 85 districts, there will be 85 representatives for 20 superdistricts, between two and seven for each.
The goal is to bring British Columbia closer to proportional representation, a mythical utopia where the number of seats awarded to each party is consistent with the distribution of the popular vote.
Why I don’t like proportional representation
I’ve never been much of a fan of proportional representation. Not because I don’t believe small parties should have a voice, but because it assumes that legislators are mindless automatons who blindly follow party doctrine. Many such systems literally involve party lists, so that the party decides on its own legislators, who may or may not represent local interests.
It might make sense to some, especially with the way politics work these days, that this is the way it should be. Since most representatives are party loyalist automatons, and party switches so rare, why not recognize that in law?
The problem is that this ignores the very point of our current democratic system, that legislators are elected by communities to represent their interests. And if you go that far, why not take it to its logical conclusion – why have legislators at all? Just put the party leaders in a room and assign weights to their votes.
Why I like BC-STV
British Columbia’s proposal avoids the problems I outline above with proportional representation by continuing to have local districts, and continuing to have electors vote for candidates directly. The only annoying thing is that with multiple seats you have multiple candidates per party (competing even against each other, some might argue), and that means if you live in an urban district you might see a list of dozens of candidates instead of just a half dozen or so.
The main argument against STV is that it’s complicated, which is kind of an insulting argument, I think. Besides, it’s only complicated to count. It’s not complicated to rank candidates when you’re voting.
Other arguments have been made against proportional representation in general that also apply to BC’s STV proposal, mostly along the same theme:
- It encourages small extremist parties
- It makes majority governments almost impossible to create
- It results in unstable coalition governments
Of course, the entire point of proportional representation is to give a voice to small parties, and I like the idea of minority, coalition governments. Sure, they’re not as disciplined financially, and will tend to do what’s popular more often than what’s right, but is that really so different than what we’re used to in politics? I’d rather have the checks and balances even if it means having too many cooks in the budget’s kitchen.
Besides, if you get Judy Rebick and Deborah Grey to agree to something, it must be good.
If it passes, other governments should study the outcome and consider whether they too should have a similar system.