Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why our voting system is broken and how to fix it

Unlike most developed countries, Canada uses a primitive method of voting called First-Past-the-Post.

This simple system awards a seat (in Parliament) to the candidate with the most votes. This sounds like a fair process until you realize that a minority candidate can win on a fraction of the vote when the majority wants someone else.

Collectively, a 39% minority party can get over 50% of the seats and 100% of the power: a false majority.

This means voters can get saddled with politicians and governments they don't want and didn't vote for.

Vote splitting

FPP breaks down when there are more than two parties due to vote splitting.

Vote splitting produces arbitrary election results because parties divide the electorate arbitrarily.

In the 1990s, the Liberals had an unfair advantage due to center-right vote splitting. Now a united Conservative party has an unearned advantage due to center-left vote splitting.

Time to upgrade

Voting reform stops the insanity and ensures government represents an actual majority of voters.

There are two approaches to reform:

  1. Prefential Voting (ranked ballot): This fixes our existing system by simply changing the ballot from single-choice to ranked. Voters rank candidates by preference. This makes MPs earn their seats with a majority.

  2. Proportional Representation: This distributes federal votes so parties get the same percent seats they got in votes. Since people tend to vote for a party, leader and platform, it's a natural fit. This system is used in 85% of developed countries.


It's time to fix our broken voting system. Which democratic method do you think is best for Canada? PR or PV ranked ballot?


  1. PV is still a winner take all system, so 40% of the seats still gives 100% of the power. But, if you include some proportionality to the system, it could potentially be the best of both worlds. Done properly. And there are a few ways to include both a ranked ballot and a proportional system. So why not make a third choice?

    1. PV actually stops 40% minority parties from getting 100% of the power. If we had the system in 2011, we would've got an NDP-Liberal coalition with 50% of the vote and 53% of the seats. That would've been much more reflective of the will of Canadians than a Harper "benign dictatorship" a super-majority was opposed to.

      Although PV does not distribute federal votes to ensure power is awarded proportionally, it does prevent minority parties from winning all the power due to vote splitting.

      Considering PR has lost referendums in BC, ON and PEI by over 60%, I think PV would be a good first step in voting reform. If it's legislated direct on a party platform, that leaves the door open to a PR/PV referendum (when PR has the support to win.)

      I agree a semi-proportional system should also be considered. I think promoting the two main systems — PR and PV — will cast the widest net and get the most Canadians involved in the voting reform debate.

      If we had PV in 2011, NDP would be in power

  2. Proportional representation is NOT desirable. It gives the power of appointing Members of Parliament to party leaders, probably based on how well they will tow the party line, or how good a fundraiser they have been, and so forth.
    We have seen the problems in the Senate caused by Harper's appointments like Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
    Under proportional representation, the House of Commons would be filled with more such self-serving fools.

    1. There's a big difference between senate appointments and Party List PR. For one, the PM has no mandate from voters to appoint senators. That's why the process has been corrupted with partisan cronyism since Confederation.

      With Party List PR, voters see which candidates are in line before voting. Parties are awarded seats by voters and are held accountable for members they appoint come next election. Senators win the equivalent of a cash-for-life lottery and are accountable to no one.

      Most developed countries use Party List PR. Odds are they don't run into the same kind of circus we have going on in the undemocratic senate. Mixed Member Proportional PR has only a fraction of the seats awarded by party list. Single Transferable Vote PR ensures all candidates are directly elected.


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