BC STV -- Why I still support it

STV or "Single Transferable Vote" was the system proposed by a "Citizen's Assembly" four years ago. BCers were selected randomly from across the province and brought together to study our current electoral system (First Past the Post or FPTP) and some other ways that people around the world elect their representatives. After looking at other options such as Mixed Member-Proportional, List-based and other systems, they chose STV as the proposed electoral reform to present to the voters four years ago.

For more of the history, how the choice was made and who was involved in developing the proposal, see this site, BC-STV.

For more of an up-beat, promotional site, see the campaign site.

For a local opposing voice, see the Langley Advance's Bob Groeneveld's BC-STV-opposition blog entry.

I support STV and I hope you would all vote for it. At the least, I would encourage you strongly to consider it. Here is why I support it although I admit that like any human institution it may very well be disappointing.

1. I have heard many people say that majority governments are best. I disagree. I think we are best served by governments that must govern by coalition. Minority governments that know playing "chicken" with the voters will not give them a majority are forced to seek consensus, compromise and the balancing of demands of diverse parts of society. The Liberal Party of Canada would never have brought in MediCare in the 60s without having the CCF/NDP (originally a Christian-motivated socialist party, though very far from that now) in their coalition and making that kind of law the price for their support. BOTTOM LINE: Having so many different voices in parliament that nobody can shout everyone else down is a GOOD, a VERY GOOD thing. It only becomes stalemate when one party harbours dreams of taking power entirely to itself. I think adopting BC STV may result in minority governments more frequently.

2. Many elections in the last 20 years have been run on fear, uncertainty and doubt that have fostered so-called "strategic" and other forms of plugged-nose voting. Would you vote for a party that you support if you knew that voting for that party would only make room for the candidate you strongly disagree with to win as opposed to the one with a chance to win that you objected to the least? No. It would be foolish. But that kind of voting has gone on in many quarters. BOTTOM LINE: Having a way to vote for what you REALLY want without the risk (or at least with a reduced risk) that your vote will allow a candidate whose policies you find exceptionally undesirable to win would be a GOOD thing. I believe BC STV gives voters the opportunity to give a "first vote" to a (potentially) marginal candidate and still prefer others as a second choice rather than having their vote become a "spoiler".

3. Part of the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD for short) has been aimed at painting victory on the part of candidates from some other party as the Most Awful Thing, to be avoided at all costs, even if it means voting for someone you only find least distasteful of the possible other options. If a candidate sees value in attracting the conditional support of voters who would not choose them first, this kind of painting the other candidates as Spawn of Evil is less likely to occur. If I as a candidate know that a 2nd place vote from people who will choose someone else first can carry the election for me, I will look for common ground with as many voters as possible. Toning down the hysteria in political rhetoric is a GOOD THING. BC STV will force candidates to canvas for 2nd or 3rd choice support even among those who would choose other candidates first.

4. Our kids see how stacked our political system is. We live in ridings where members of some political party with a pulse will carry the vote by 3:1 margins. If those kids should (dare to) disagree with that party they will see no point in voting here. Let's do things that foster a habit of involvement on their part here and now. Opening the door for wider choice in the legislature so that they have varied options (but not necessarily crazy ones like the Rhinoceros Party or Natural Law) to express their political difference of opinion with us without being disillusioned is a GOOD THING. A vote for the Green Party is still a throwaway vote. A vote for the Rhinos, or a Jedi Council party would be so even more. BC STV may allow for more candidates at the (perceived) fringes without driving all but the true fringe out of that market.

5. This system, STV, has been used for both houses in Ireland (Dáil and Seanad) and for the Senate in Australia for a long time. It bears little resemblance to the list based system that (a) works quite well in the Netherlands and Denmark for instance but (b) seems to work out so chaotically in the Knesset in Israel and in Italy.

I'm tired of the disjoint relationship between the popular vote and the MLAs that get sent to Victoria. Changing our voting system to alleviate that disjointedness isn't the answer to all BC's ills but I believe trying to do so would be a good thing. I think choosing BC STV for the future has a good chance of resulting in better, more representative, more open government going into the future.

There are other options that the Citizens' Assembly could have chosen that I would not have been so keen to support. Regardless that my support for this idea is not so strong as some of the rhetoric on the STV campaign website, still I think this is a wise choice for our province, and indeed for our country.

Will you join me in placing your "X" beside "The single transferable vote electoral system (BC-STV) proposed by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform" on May 12?

Thank you for taking the time to consider it.


Arthur N. Klassen


David Grant said...

Very well said. I REALLY hope it passes this time and if I had to bet on it I'd bet that it will pass. Your points 2, 3, and 4 are things that many STV supporters don't articulate as well as you did, but I think those are some of the most important reasons to vote STV over FPTP.

Greg said...

Hi Arthur,

I've linked to your blog post from one of the BC-STV articles on my blog. I think your insights here are very relevant, particularly about political parties playing chicken with the voters, betting they won't go for the "only other alternative" even if the government makes really poor decisions.


Wayne Smith said...

Single-party majority governments, as we have seen, foster arrogance and corruption. Under the current system, one political party usually gets all the power, even though most people voted against them.

Under the current system, most of us vote for people who don't get elected, and most MLAs "represent" mostly people who voted against them.

Why does this make any sense?

Under BC-STV, we will have more than one MLA in each riding, each elected by a different set of voters, which means almost all of us will be represented by somebody we actually voted for.

Arthur said...

Hi Wayne...

The thing is, if people keep voting like sheep, right down a party line, STV still won't improve anything. What will it take to improve the situation after STV passes? Two things, I think:

1. Good quality independents who can convince enough people to choose them first -- even if one of the larger parties' slate gets chosen 2nd and down.

2. Cunning on the part of the small parties to run one or two candidates in the new ridings so that their vote won't get split up until they're big enough to command more than one set of 1st place votes.

STV isn't the answer, it's only a possibility of an answer. But you're right: there's lots about the current system that doesn't make sense.

And one thing it will do is allow voters to punish really silly incumbents or individual candidates without risking letting their "worst nightmare" win instead.