EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey
ON MAY 12, we are being invited to choose a new system of voting in BC. In place of the old “First Past the Post” system, we’ll have a chance to choose a more democratic method. This is an enormous opportunity, but it is one we could easily lose if we are not well organized.
Under the present system, most BC governments are elected by a minority of the voters, with the unfortunate result that the majority of voters feel sulky, angry or irritated because their views are not being represented. This is not the way democracy is supposed to work.
On May 12, we can change this by voting for STV. Does STV stand for a “Sultry Transgendered Vogon” or a “Steaming Tantric Voluptuary?” No, it stands for the Single Transferable Vote and it can be explained in three easy points:
ONE: BC will have fewer ridings (20 instead of 79), but more MLAs per riding. Each riding will have between two and seven MLAs, for a total of 85 MLAs.
TWO: Instead of voting for one candidate, you rank the candidates in order of preference, placing “1” by your first choice, “2” by your second choice, etc.
THREE: The counting is done in rounds. After each round, one of two things happens: (1) if the leading candidate has more votes than are needed to win, the surplus votes are transferred to the candidate’s supporters’ second choices; (2) if not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and likewise, the votes are transferred to the second choices of those who voted for him/her. This continues until the clear winners emerge.
Here are 10 reasons STV makes sense:
1. The Citizens’ Assembly that recommended STV was created by a unanimous vote of the BC Legislature. The Assembly was randomly selected, with one male and one female from each riding.
2. After studying all possible systems of voting and hearing hundreds of submissions from the public, 95 percent of its members recommended STV as the best for BC. STV is not complicated, as its opponents claim. You simply put a “1” by your first choice of candidate and “2”, “3” or “4” (etc) by your follow-up choices.
3. Voting uses paper ballots and does not require a computer unless you want to tally the votes faster.
4. Under STV, few votes are wasted. Eighty percent of voters will see one of their top choices elected, compared to less than 50 percent in the current system.
5. Under STV, there is no need for “hold your nose” strategic voting, which causes rifts and antagonisms between voters who support similar ideas.
6. STV will not produce more minority governments. It will often produce a single-party majority government and sometimes a coalition majority government. In Tasmania, in six of the last eight elections, STV produced a single-party majority government. Contrast this with Canada under the current system, where nine of the last 18 federal elections produced minority governments.
7. STV will create more respect between parties, as they may need to form a coalition government together. This will reduce the polarity and hostility that have been the curse of BC politics for years.
8. In most ridings, voters will elect MLAs from two or more parties, giving you a choice of whom to speak to when you have a concern.
9. STV discourages negative campaigns because winning candidates need second and third-place support from voters whose first choice is a competing candidate. It rewards constructive behaviour.
10. STV does not encourage the election of fringe candidates, as its opponents claim. The preferential ballot weeds out extremists and ensures that the winning candidates have widely based support.
We need to mobilize as much support as possible as we approach May 12. Each side has been given $500,000 with which to campaign and if I was opposing STV, I would claim, “It’s complicated. It’s going to elect minority governments and fringe candidates.” None of this is true.
STV will give us more democratic, accountable governments. The system is used in Tasmania, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, the Australian Senate and in local government elections in Scotland and Cambridge (MA). It would be great to have it here in BC.
Guy Dauncey is an author and speaker living in Victoria, BC.