May 2013 Newsletter – Election Aftermath: Building the Case for Voting Reform

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:

Election Aftermath – Building the Case for Voting Reform

bc election 2013The results in the recent election took most of us by surprise – at least, those of us who were relying on publicly-released media polls. While there will be ongoing discussion and debate about this polling failure (we particularly recommend the honest, in-depth analysis of Eric Grenier), this election again confirmed some of the worst aspects of our current Single Member Plurality voting system:

  • Half Of Us Are Orphaned Voters: As is typical, 49% of voters are now ‘represented’ by someone they did not vote for. There is no excuse for disenfranchising so many people when almost all other advanced democracies vote in ways that guarantee that nearly all voters help elect a candidate they support. If we were using the Single Transferable Vote recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly, we estimate that close to 90% of all voters would now have a representative they’d voted for.
  • No Majority From Voters: As always, seat results bear scant relation to the popular vote results. In this election, the BC Liberals won 59% of the seats on 44% of the vote – a seat bonus of over 33%. Despite the voters not giving the Liberals majority support, the party will now control a solid majority of the seats and will have the power to do as they wish for the next four years instead of being in the position they actually earned – i.e., the senior partner in a government that would have to consult beyond its own party boundaries to win sufficient support to pass legislation.
  • Over-Influence From Swing Ridings: Somewhat lost in the post-election discussion is that the outcomes in three quarters of the ridings in the province were never really in doubt. In Rafe Mair’s memorable phrase, a “fencepost with hair” could win in certain ridings if the right party label were attached. The election was really decided in about a dozen ridings, largely in the Lower Mainland and central BC. If 3000 voters in the 10 closest ridings in the province had voted for the NDP instead of the Liberals, we would now have an NDP majority government. In other words, a shift of under 0.2% in the popular vote in the ‘swing ridings’ could have moved 10% of the seats to the NDP. This pathological hypersensitivity of our voting system makes a mockery of most of our votes – regardless of which party or candidate we support, if we live in the safest 70 of the province’s 85 ridings, there was relatively little point in voting.
  • Regionalization: BC_Election_2013 riding mapJust like on the national stage, where the Bloc Quebecois dominated Quebec for years, the Reform, Alliance and Conservative Parties dominated the Prairies and the Liberals once dominated Ontario, here in BC our voting system means that Liberal party supporters have no representation throughout most of Vancouver Island and the North Coast, NDP supporters have no representation in central BC and the Fraser Valley, and Conservative and Green supporters have no representation anywhere outside of Oak Bay. A more proportional voting system would have given supporters of the two major parties representation in every region of the province and increased the chances that Conservative and Green voters would be represented at least in their areas of greatest strength.
  • Poor Representation: The key idea behind proportional representation (PR) is that each voter is equally entitled to a representative of their own choosing. While party affiliation is the most common way to assess this, sociocultural aspects of representation are equally important. Our current voting system tends to encourage the election of middle-aged or older white men – roughly 30 of the 50 Liberals and half of the NDP are (arguably) in this category, even though middle-aged+ white men only make up about a quarter of BC’s population. South and East Asians make up nearly a quarter of the population, but only 12% of the MLAs, and no aboriginal MLAs were elected, despite aboriginals comprising 5% of the population (see census data). There was a bit of good news in terms of gender balance, though – the BC legislature broke 33% representation by women for the first time, but there’s still a ways to go to achieve parity. More proportional voting systems that encourage parties to put forward more diverse slates (in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and other factors) are needed to make more progress here.
  • Voter Turnout: Although news reports seem to be saying that turnout went up slightly over 2009, we calculate that it possibly dropped to under 50% for the first time ever. The reason for the discrepancy is that the reported figure for 2013 (52%) appears to be the percentage of registered voters, while the figure for 2009 (51%) is the percentage of eligible voters (i.e., registered + unregistered). About 5-10% of eligible voters usually don’t get registered, so the turnout figure for eligible voters is typically 2.5-5% lower than for registered voters. While not as large a drop as from 2005 to 2009 (58% to 51%), it still indicates that, even in a close election, a decreasing number of us find it worthwhile to vote.

All of these results are absolutely typical of our current voting system. Interestingly, Premier Clark understands this perfectly. Just before the 2009 election, she argued strongly that voters should support STV. We recently issued a press release asking: Now that the Premier has the power to make the necessary changes, does she have the courage of her convictions?

What Now? Attend the Fair Vote Canada AGM in Vancouver, June 7-8

2013 fvc agmIf last week’s election has you fired up to change our voting system, come on down to Fair Vote Canada’s AGM being held this year in Vancouver starting Friday evening, June 7, and running through until Saturday afternoon. There’s an exciting multi-partisan program planned featuring recent Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray talking about cross-party cooperation for federal reform, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart describing his online petition initiative and John Carpay (former head of the Alberta office of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, and now with the Canada Constitution Foundation) discussing conservative efforts to promote proportional representation. There will also be workshops by Idle No More on improving aboriginal representation and by FVBC director Stuart Parker on civic voting reform. Come on out, hear inspiring speakers, meet fellow reform supporters, realize you’re not alone in thinking things are crazy the way they are, and learn how you can contribute to change. [Register]

Help Build the Reform Movement – Share This Newsletter!

2013 i votedWhile you’re waiting for the FVC AGM, one of the simplest things you can do to help us build public support for changing how we vote is to introduce someone you know to Fair Voting BC. If you’ve spoken to someone in the last few days about how unfair our recent election was, please send them this newsletter as a follow up and invite/encourage/beg/plead with them to sign up for our newsletter by visiting our website and clicking on the ‘Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter‘ button. Then you can feel as virtuous as you did when you slapped on an “I Voted” sticker last week!

In Other News

While the BC election certainly captured our attention in recent weeks, there’s lots happening around the country. A few quick highlights: Vancouver last week announced the 16 top recommendations of its Engaged City Task Force [download report – PDF], the Federal Court hearing the Council of Canadians’ case against the Conservative Party’s robocall shenanigans found that serious fraud had occurred (though the judge shied away from annulling the election results) [see stories in Rabble, National Post and Globe & Mail], the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’s challenge of the government’s gag law has been delayed, and the BC Internet Voting Panel is about to hold the first of its final set of three meetings over the summer, with an interim report scheduled for release in August – we’ll update you on all of these stories as we learn more.

Yours for a stronger democracy,

Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC