I have voted in every federal and provincial election for which I’ve been eligible. Each time I have voted for the same respective parties.  And my vote has NEVER resulted in a seat being won, or had any influence over government policy whatsoever.  Looking this morning at the preliminary results of yesterday’s BC Election, I see this trend has continued: Liberals 49, NDP 36, Green 0.

Not that I’m surprised.  It’s an artifact of our First-Past-The-Post electoral system that the majority of votes translates into ALL the seats, and fringe parties never have any voice.  While the Greens have enjoyed a popular vote of 8-15% in most recent elections — even though those voters must know that their votes are essentially “wasted” — they never win seats.

The 8-15% statistic is of course misleading.  How many would have voted Green, but didn’t because they considered it a wasted vote?  If everyone voted sincerely rather than strategically, I suspect Green support would have at least double those numbers.  But as long as there are strategic incentives to vote against your ideals, election results will never truly represent the will of the electorate.

So even though I expected my Green vote to be inconsequential, as usual, when I went to the polls yesterday, I was nonetheless optimistic about the BC-STV referendum and what it might mean for future elections.

BC-STV: What could have been

BC-STV is (was) a proposed reform of our provincial voting system.  Similar systems are in use quite successfully throughout most of Europe.  [Edit: As pointed out by a commenter, this is misleading.  Proportional Representation is used widely throughout Europe, but not STV specifically.  Anyway…]  Under BC-STV, voters would rank candidates in order of preference, and elected representatives would end up being proportionally very similar to the votes cast.  It’s a system that produces provably fairer results.  It would have meant that more people’s votes would have an effect on seats won and on government policy.  In short, would be more democratic.

But STV got trounced in the referendum.  It needed 60% to pass, and it looks like it’s only going to get about 38%.

The reason?  Under BC-STV, it’s too complicated to explain exactly HOW your vote will count.  I said above that the system is “provably fairer”… but the problem is that the proof is not at all simple to follow.  Most voters were confused by it, and voted not to switch.  (Ok, I’m glazing over some details here.  There were other complaints about BC-STV as well, but the complexity issue was really the killer.)

The outcome is hugely frustrating for those of us who took the time to study up on BC-STV.  Most of those NO votes are almost certainly cast by people who just didn’t bother to learn how it works.  But at the same time, we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised.  After all, how hard can we really expect people to study for an election?

Approval Voting: What could be

As it happens, however, there’s a system that would both provide fairer results AND be just as easy to understand as the current FPTP.  It’s called Approval Voting.  Under AV, each voter can vote for as few or as many of the candidates as they wish.  The winner is the candidate with the most votes.

That’s it.  It doesn’t really get simpler than that.  But this simple system has some great benefits that would improve election results AND campaign quality:

  • Easy to understand.  It’s only a minor change from FPTP as far as voters are concerned.
  • Easy to use.  The number of spoiled ballots would probably be even lower than with FPTP.
  • Easy to tally.  Cost of running elections would not increase (compared to BC-STV, for example).  Most vote tallying systems, whether manual or automated, could be adapted to it with relatively little effort.
  • There’s no incentive to vote insincerely (“strategically”).  For voters who are motivated most by voting AGAINST the candidate they LEAST want to win, they can accomplish this without sacrificing a vote for who they MOST want to win.
  • Cleaner campaigns.  There’s greatly reduced incentive for candidates to engage in negative campaigning or attack ads.

Sounds good, right?  Next time BC has an opportunity for electoral reform, Approval Voting is what I’d like to see on the referendum.  That might not happen any time soon, so in the meantime I’ll continue to vote in every election, and most likely have my vote not count.

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