by Nick Loenen
IN BC’S CURRENT electoral system, the political parties – and increasingly only the party leaders – control which names will appear on the ballot. Voters are given a list of candidates from which they may choose one name only. The public is forced to express absolute support for a local candidate, a party leader, a party and a complete set of policies, thereby having to reject all other options.
BC-STV is very different because it de-links this bundle of choices to make voting more meaningful and less frustrating. In everything from business to leisure activities, we have seen an explosion of progress with people having more choice. A 500-channel TV universe is open to us and breakfast cereals come in 30 varieties while our politics remains frozen in time, effectively stifling democracy and citizens’ engagement.
Instead of being forced to select only one candidate, in the proposed BC-STV system, voters may rank any number of candidates. Parties will offer multiple candidates and voters may rank within one party slate or among the slates of different parties. By ranking candidates, voters express a preference among candidates, which is far more realistic as very few people believe that one candidate is absolutely good and the others totally bad.
Nor will voters have to worry about wasting their votes on losing candidates. If a particular candidate is eliminated, votes are not lost. They are transferred to the remaining candidates of the individual’s choosing.
Choice gives voters power; it places them in the driver’s seat. With the BC-STV system, elections will be less about parties and candidates and more about the wishes of voters. Election results will display voters’ true wishes.
The predominant complaint heard by the Citizens’ Assembly concerned voter frustration. Vote splitting forces many people to vote strategically, meaning that they do not vote for their preferred candidate. Over the course of 20 years, in seven elections, Social Credit leader WAC Bennett claimed, “A Conservative or Liberal vote is a vote for the Socialists.” In the 2005 election, potential vote splitting between NDP and Green prevented many voters from casting their vote for the candidates they really believed in. This should not be the case in a democratic system and it can change on May 12.
Party apologists suggest voters don’t want too much choice because it makes voting too complicated. No one wants to do research on 15 or more candidates, we are told. This is nonsense. Voters may rank as many or as few candidates as they wish. Someone may decide to rank only one candidate. That is a perfectly valid ballot and would work exactly as the present voting system. Again, this is choice for voters. The BC-STV ballot can be used very simply or with more options; it is up to each voter.
Those who wish to vote as they have done in the past may do so. The proposed voting system places no obligation on anyone. If you want to keep voting the way you always have, you are not prevented from doing so. No one will be forced to change their ways or habits, but BC-STV presents a new opportunity for a more meaningful ballot box experience than is now possible.
In 2005, a high school class in Smithers, BC, showed the difference between the current electoral system and the proposed BC-STV in choosing pizza toppings. Using the current system, 36 percent ended up with pizzas that were not among their top three choices. When they voted for the toppings using the BC-STV model, only two of the 74 students didn’t get one of their top three choices. It is a telling example that we can do better.
On May 12, the choice is really about who will end up being empowered: the citizens of BC or the political parties. The choice is yours.
Nick Loenen is a former Richmond City Councillor and MLA. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org More BC-STV info:
www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public or www.stv.ca, 604-637-3551