Fair Voting BC Urges Electoral Boundaries Commission to Ask Government to Consider Proportional Representation and True ‘Rep by Pop’

Hearings Process:  The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission recently held hearings around BC.  The primary purpose of these hearings is to receive feedback on the EBC’s proposed riding boundaries, but Fair Voting BC appeared in order to make the case that the primary difficulties with the boundary-setting process arise from the way our voting system works.

Voter Equality Requires Proportional Representation:  The EBC is supposed to be respecting the principle of voter equality, but they focus on a very limited definition of equality – ensuring that each electoral district is roughly equivalent in population.  They do not pay any attention to the fact that fewer than half the voters end up with an MP they have voted for, which means that over half of voters are denied any representation of their choosing in the House of Commons.  Any of a number of forms of proportional representation could easily boost this to well over 90% of voters.

True ‘Rep by Pop’ Would Simplify Boundary-Setting:  We also discussed the idea that the EBC is also constrained by the assumption that ‘One MP = One Vote’ and suggested that if we take seriously the idea that ‘One Voter = One Vote’ in the House of Commons, then we could be much more tolerant of variations in riding populations where it makes sense to allow them to vary.  For example, if population in a region has risen by 10% since the last boundary-setting process, we could keep the boundaries in place and simply give the MP 10% more voting weight in the House of Commons.  We refer to this as true ‘rep by pop’ (representation by population).

Nova Scotia EBC Made Voting System Recommendations:  We were encouraged to see that the Nova Scotia provincial EBC very recently incorporated very similar recommendations in their report to government (click to download PDF).  You can also click here to download our submission to the EBC.

Fair Voting BC Challenges Constitutionality of ‘Gag Law’ in Court of Appeal

Fair Voting BC Director Jude Coates (left) and President Antony Hodgson (right) appear as intervenors in BC Court of Appeal

Fair Voting BC appeared in September as intervenors in the BC Court of Appeal reference case regarding the so-called ‘Gag Law’, in which the provincial government sought a ruling that their extension of third party advertising limits into a ‘pre-campaign’ period was constitutional.

In the original case, which was brought by the BC Teachers’ Federation, the primary concern was whether or not the government had the right to impose restrictions prior to the official campaign period.  A number of organizations, most notably the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in co-operation with the BC Civil Liberties Association, (see their Election Chill Effect report) argued that the law requiring anyone (even an individual) to register as an election advertising sponsor before communicating with the public about anything political made it impossible for many organizations to engage in public political debate during (and before) an election.  The government lost the BCTF challenge in 2008 and a subsequent appeal in 2011, and then introduced slightly modified legislation in 2012, but referred the updated legislation to the Court of Appeal (Reference Case) for a ruling on its constitutionality prior to enacting it.

Fair Voting BC applied for and received permission to appear as an intervenor in the Reference Case and we sought to represent the concerns of small entities:  individuals, charities, and issue-focused non-profit, non-partisan organizations.  We argued that, though the legislation is ostensibly aimed at curbing the influence of the wealthy, the provisions have not been tailored so as to exempt or exclude ordinary citizens and legitimate small third parties whose Charter rights to freedom of political expression ought not to be infringed according to the aim of the legislation.  In particular, we argued that the definition of election advertising is so overbroad that it captures even individuals wishing to post a handwritten sign in their own window (an example provided by the BC Chief Elections Officer), that it imposes onerous registration and labeling requirements on small entities and that it fails to exempt charities and voluntary contributions of labour, neither of which are targetted by or intended to be captured by this legislation.

We proposed that the legislation could be readily altered to address these unjustifiable infringements on the Charter rights of small entities by redefining election advertising to exempt pure issue advocacy, exempting charities, defining the concept of a non-wealthy (small) entity and exempting them from the registration and labeling requirements, and explicitly exempting volunteer labour.  You can view our entire submission here.

Unfortunately, the Court ruled last week primarily on the constitutionality of the government’s requested extension of the limits into the pre-campaign period (which they did find to be unconstitutional) and did not substantially engage with our (and others’) arguments that the existing provisions are unconstitutional (see story by Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughan Palmer), so the chill provisions will remain in force during the upcoming 2013 election campaign.  We will be considering how to respond to this continuing threat to our free speech rights in the coming year.

August 2012 Newsletter – Engaging Citizens, AGM, Gag Law, Internet Voting & More

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
We hope you’ve been having a wonderful summer.  As our thoughts turn towards fall activities, we have several exciting upcoming events to share with you.
Save the Date!  Announcing Our Next E-volving Democracy Dialogue on ‘Engaging Citizens’, Together With Our AGM
We are particularly excited to let you know that we’ve confirmed the date for our second E-volving Democracy Dialogue which will be held on Saturday, October 27th in Vancouver (likely 2-4:30pm).  The topic will be ‘Engaging Citizens’, and we’ll be looking at some fascinating models for giving people more meaningful ways to get involved in political processes.  We expect to have speakers from the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, the California Citizens Assembly Foundation (their website just went live this past week – check it out!), and the Fraser Institute (Dr. Mark Milke will speak about the Swiss referendum model – see his article about this).  We would like to broadcast this meeting via the internet, so if you have appropriate technical expertise and would like to volunteer to set this up for us, please let us know.
AGM Announcement;  Self-Nominations Invited for Board of Directors
Immediately following the Dialogue, we will hold a short Annual General Meeting at which we will elect our Board of Directors.  Fair Voting BC is governed by a group of ten volunteer directors drawn from all around the province and from all partisan backgrounds (including non-partisans) who meet by teleconference one evening per month (1-2 hours).  We are currently soliciting self-nominations for these positions.  If you are enthusiastic about working to bring about important democratic reforms in BC, we’d love to have you consider joining us – to learn more, please send us a note.
Fair Voting BC Submits Argument to BC Court of Appeal in Gag Law Reference Case
Last month, we told you that the Attorney General referred the BC’s government amendments restricting third party election advertising (the so-called ‘Gag Law’) to the Court of Appeal for a ruling on their constitutionality.  Fair Voting BC was granted intervenor status, and we recently submitted our argument to the court (read our submission here).  In it, we argued that since the purpose of the law is to prevent the wealthy from dominating public discourse, it is unconstitutional to interfere with the activities of small entities, specifically non-wealthy individuals, non-profits and charities.  By not providing a workable definition of non-wealthy entities and by failing to distinguish between election advertising and issue advocacy, we claim the government’s law represents an unconstitutional infringement on the activities of small organizations.
We expect to hear responses from the Attorney General and the Amicus this coming week, and the case will be heard in court from September 10th-12th.  The case is open to the public, so we invite anyone who is interested to attend (10am-4pm each day in the Vancouver Courthouse).  If anyone would like to serve as an official observer for Fair Voting BC, please let us know so that we can schedule you in.
BC Initiates Internet Voting Review;  Fair Voting BC Urges Caution
Earlier this month, Attorney General Shirley Bond asked Elections BC to convene an independent panel of experts to consider the potential for use of internet voting in British Columbia.  Bond argued that internet voting could potentially improve accessibility and convenience, though the deputy chief electoral officer, Nola Western, admitted that internet voting had not increased voter turnout in those Canadian cities where it has been tried.
Fair Voting BC believes that internet voting is the wrong answer to the wrong question.  If the central question is how to improve democratic engagement, a much better step for governments to take would be to provide meaningful mechanisms for citizens to participate in initiating and reviewing proposed legislation;  online processes could certainly play a significant role in such initiatives.  And, of course, we should adopt a new voting system that would ensure that our votes are accurately translated into legislative seats.
Internet voting may sound attractive, but voting online is much harder than banking online – with banking, you can always check your balance, but with voting, our ballot is supposed to be secret, which means the link between the ballot and our identity as a voter must be intentionally broken, which makes it practically impossible to verify correct ballot handling.  All professional computer science organizations that have taken a stand on internet voting (as well as some online voting service providers) have opposed the use of internet voting for high-stakes public elections.  As the review gets underway this September, Fair Voting BC will be seeking to appear before the panel to argue that our highest priority should be to safeguard the integrity of BC’s elections.
(Note:  earlier this month, the NDP dropped its investigation into who was responsible for the Denial of Service attack on their online leadership vote last spring;  there are no reliable estimates for how many voters were unable to vote because of that attack).
 
International Democracy Week
In honour of the United Nations International Day of Democracy, Elections Canada and Fair Vote Canada will each be hosting a series of special events during Democracy Week (September 15-22).  We invite you to check out their websites to see what’s happening (FVC, EC).  Last year, Fair Voting BC invited our supporters to host a video night (https://fairvotingbc.com/2011/08/24/host-a-video-night) and provided a long list of movie suggestions.  If you’re interested in hosting such an event this year, please let us know and we’ll help you get the word out to fellow democratic reform supporters in your area.
The Small Donor Revolution Won’t Be Televised – Smart, Creative Ideas About Campaign Financing
The Huffington Post recently published a fascinating article on how New York City has created incentives for political parties and candidates to reach out to a more diverse set of donors.  The idea is quite simple – the city provides a 6-to-1 match on donations up to $175.  A 2010 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows what a dramatic difference this multiple match on small donations has made: it has led to more competition, more small donors, more impact from small contributions, more grass roots campaigning, and more citizen participation in campaigns.  All this, while simultaneously reducing the influence of big money in general and corporate money in particular.  Time to consider something similar for Canada?
New Zealand Reviews Mixed Member Proportional Voting System
Following last November’s referendum endorsing the Mixed Member Proportional voting system in New Zealand, the Electoral Commission launched a review process aimed at improving the MMP system.  The EC recently issued their Proposals Paper and is soliciting written comments until September 7th.  For the most part, their proposed changes are modest – the most significant ones are reducing the party threshold from 5% to 4% and eliminating the ‘one electorate’ rule that allows a party below the threshold to win list seats by winning a constituency seat.  If you’re interested in commenting on the proposals, please check out their website.
That’s all for now.  We hope to see many of you at our AGM.  If you enjoy our newsletters, please take a moment to pass them on to someone you know and invite them to sign up themselves at our main website (fairvotingbc.com) – just ask them to click the ‘Get Our Monthly Newsletter’ button at the top of the right column on our home page.  The possibility of reform grows as more people understand the issues – please help us spread the word.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

July 2012 Newsletter – FVBC Granted Intervenor Status, Electoral Cooperation, Robocalls (Again), & More

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
We hope you’re all enjoying a wonderful summer, whether you’re at work or on vacation.  Despite it being summer, there’s still a lot of democracy-related news to share with you:
Fair Voting BC Granted Intervenor Status in BC Supreme Court Case on Third Party Election Advertising
We are very excited to announce that we have been granted intervenor status in the upcoming BC Supreme Court reference case on third-party advertising.  Back in 2004, Stephen Harper (then executive director with the National Citizens Coalition) challenged the third party election advertising spending limits introduced by Prime Minister Jean Chretien as an unconstitutional limitation on free speech rights for organizations.  The Supreme Court denied the NCC’s claim and affirmed the constitutionality of such limits as being reasonable given the government’s intent to limit the extent to which wealthy entities could control an election campaign.  Here in BC, the BC Teachers Federation launched a challenge against a related rule (the so-called ‘gag law’) introduced by the BC Liberal government in 2008, successfully arguing that the extension of the limitations into a two-month ‘pre-campaign’ period (when the legislature could still be sitting) overly constrained fair political commentary, not just election advertising.  The BC government has recently amended their law to ensure that the restrictions will not apply while the legislature is sitting (and for three weeks afterwards), but, prior to enacting the law, has also asked the Supreme Court for an opinion as to its constitutionality.
Fair Voting BC applied for and was granted intervenor access;  our primary concern is the effect on NGOs and individuals, as the revised law retains three features that create a ‘chill’ effect:  (1) it defines ‘election advertising’ as a message to the public that takes a position on an issue with which a political party or candidate is associated (i.e., almost anything that any citizen would be concerned about), (2) it requires that anyone who spends even a dollar on election advertising formally register as a sponsor, and (3) it can be construed as counting volunteer labour as a contribution.  This discourages ordinary concerned citizens from speaking out during an election, so we will be proposing ways that the government could write a more appropriate law;  we’ll share our submission with you next month.
Pending Ruling in Ontario May Trigger By-Election
This summer in Ontario, a heated debate about electoral fairness rages on.  The Supreme Court of Canada will soon rule on whether to uphold a by-election ordered in Etobicoke Centre, where an exceedingly close result in last year’s federal election has been called into question amidst evidence of procedural irregularities caused by Elections Canada itself.  The winning MP won only 26 more votes than the would-be incumbent, but 79 ballots were ruled invalid, thereby casting serious doubt on the validity of both the voting process and the outcome.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, is proposing not to run a Green candidate in a by-election, and she is encouraging the NDP to do the same.  May’s argument here is that voters should have a clear choice between the two front-runners in this by-election so that their wishes can be clearly determined.  But is this democratic?  At the heart of the problem is that our current voting system does not enable us to vote honestly and win representation that reflects how voters vote.
Regardless of the pending decision, the complications in Etobicoke have no doubt diminished many voters’ faith in our present electoral system. The result of the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling could set the stage for a more in-depth electoral critique as it raises unsettling questions about both process and outcome, while simultaneously highlighting the need for us all to re-assess what we want an election to do.
Robocall Scandal:  Council of Canadians’ Challenge to Proceed
The Council of Canadians has filed a lawsuit on behalf of voters in seven ridings affected by fraudulent ‘robocalls’ in the 2011 election.  The Conservative Party has challenged the CoC’s right to bring this case, but on July 19th, a ruling was issued rejecting the Conservatives’ motions and allowing the case to proceed;  in her ruling, the judge stated:  “Far from being frivolous or vexatious, or an obvious abuse, the applications [by the CoC] raise serious issues about the integrity of the democratic process in Canada and identify practices that if proven, point to a campaign of activities that would seek to deny eligible voters their right to vote and/or manipulate or interfere with that right being exercised freely – all of which permitted to escape even the prospect of judicial scrutiny, could shake public confidence and trust in the electoral process and in those who in good faith stand for public office.”  Elections Canada is expected to issue a report next spring recommending new regulations for robocalls.
New Call for Electoral Reform for BC
Former BC Liberal Party leader Gordon Gibson recently argued in a Globe and Mail column that the Liberal Party might consider implementing electoral reform prior to next year’s election (as you might recall, 94% of respondents to our poll a couple of months ago would be supportive of this idea) and argued that such a change could technically be implemented through a simple vote in the legislature.
News From Our Friends
Integrity BC – Petition to Ban Corporate and Union Donations
A BC donor who was recently found to have made a prohibited political donation justified it by saying “It’s a cost-effective, time-effective way to interact with the people in the government. That’s the way the system works…This is really how the world works.”  IntegrityBC would like to end this form of privileged access.  If you agree, please consider signing their online petition.
Fair Vote Canada – Ongoing Petition Challenge for Proportional Representation
A reminder that our good friends at Fair Vote Canada are holding a petition drive this summer and are asking for volunteers to help collect signatures in favour of proportional representation so that they can deliver petitions to as many MPs as possible in a co-ordinated Day of Action later in the summer.  If you think you could get at least 25 people to sign this petition, please consider making this part of your summer festivities.  Click here to download a petition page or for more information.
Democracy Watch – Complaint Against Commissioner of Canada Elections
Democracy Watch says the Commissioner of Canada Elections failed to investigate a complaint about foreign interference in the 2011 federal election, in which a US-based election strategies advisor, Matthew Parker, is said to have assisted with two Ontario campaigns (Rick Dykstra and Julian Fantino), contrary to Section 331 of the Canada Elections Act.  Democracy Watch criticizes the Commissioner for opting not to investigate this complaint based on the faulty contention that there was no evidence that Parker succeeded in changing any voter’s mind.  Democracy Watch contends (rightly, in our view) that the inducement itself constituted a violation of the Act and therefore merited investigation, so Fair Voting BC supports Democracy Watch’s call for an inquiry into the Commissioner’s enforcement standards and practices.
Historica-Dominion Institute – Canadian Citizenship Challenge
Do you know a high school student (grade 7-12)?  If so, please pass on HDI’s challenge to them:
Do you believe all Canadians should be ready to answer the same questions about their country as new Canadians? We do. The Canadian Citizenship Challenge is asking students to put their national knowledge to the test, by studying for and taking a mock citizenship exam.  The top two winners are declared “Student Citizens of the Year” and awarded all-expense paid trips to Ottawa! The top classroom gets a Citizenship Celebration at their school! Hundreds of other great Canadian prizes are also up for grabs!  Students can register online and teachers can use our interactive Learning Tools before their class takes the quiz.
That’s it for now, but there are lots of things in the works, such as our upcoming AGM in the fall (to be announced shortly).  Enjoy the summer, and if you have a chance to corner an MP or MLA at a summer BBQ, ask them where they stand on electoral reform (and let us know what they say!).
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

June 2012 Newsletter – Online Voting Findings, a New Voting System for BC?, Court Result, Crowdsourcing a Constitution, & More

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
Although many of us are looking forward to a nice vacation, the past month has been full of activities that will interest democratic reformers.  I hope you’ll bear with our slightly longer-than-usual monthly newsletter (and if you’d like to skip to our Electoral Humour section at the end, we won’t blame you).
 E-volving Democracy Dialogue on Internet Voting a Great Success;  New Poll
We were thrilled with the response to our first ‘E-volving Democracy’ dialogue event held in Vancouver on May 26th.  Over thirty passionate voters, including computer security specialists, lawyers, social activists, business owners and many others, spent a gorgeous sunny Saturday inside, hearing from our panelists and working out what it would take to convince them personally to accept online voting as a legitimate and safe way to hold online elections.  We’re working to put out a report on this event, but the three main messages were clear:
  1. very few people thought that the absence of online voting was a major cause of decreasing voter turnout (one person asked, “what is the question for which online voting is the answer?”),
  2. virtually everyone thought that any new election process should retain the key feature of our present process that creates widespread trust in the results – namely, that ordinary people can act as scrutineers for all candidates, which ensures that even the losing candidates can accept the results, and
  3. participants were most excited about the possibility of using online processes to increase democratic engagement between elections (e.g., to formulate public policy).  Check out yesterday’s New York Times story on this.
Since current expert opinion seems to be that online voting can’t be made acceptably secure in the foreseeable future, Fair Voting BC will likely seek an endorsement from our members at our upcoming Annual General Meeting in the fall to adopt an explicit position on internet voting cautioning against use in public elections and calling for governments to pilot new internet-enabled public engagement processes.  In the meantime, please take our latest poll to tell us what you’re currently thinking about online voting.
94% of FVBC Supporters Endorse Change to Voting System Prior to 2013 Election
 
Last month, we asked you if you would support the BC Liberals if they opted to implement a new voting system in time for the 2013 provincial election.  Over a hundred of you registered your opinion, and we were intrigued to see that 94% of you would be in favour of such a move, even if the Liberals might win more seats under a more proportional voting system than they are currently predicted to win.  This near-unanimous support is particularly impressive because, since FVBC’s supporters come from across the political spectrum, a substantial number of non-Liberal supporters amongst our poll’s respondents must feel that a result that is less favourable to their own preferred party is nonetheless fairer than what our Single Member Plurality voting system is predicted to produce.  We strongly commend such a principled stance on the part of our supporters.
Disappointing Result From Quebec Court Challenge to Single Member Plurality Voting
Many of you will recall that the Association Advancing Democratic Rights in Quebec has been challenging the constitutionality of the Single Member Plurality voting system over the past few years.  We were disappointed to learn recently that the AADR’s application to appeal last year’s Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied.  Though we feel strongly that the courts have failed to engage in the arguments put forth by the plaintiffs, this case has now reached the end of the line, so the only way to proceed with a legal challenge is to initiate a new court case elsewhere.  Fair Voting BC is considering preparing a white paper exploring this option.  If any of you are interested in working on this or if you know a lawyer with constitutional expertise who might be interested in assisting us with this, please let us know by emailing us at info@fairvotingbc.com.
Crowd-Sourcing a Constitution?
 
No, not Canada’s.  Iceland’s.  In the wake of Iceland’s economic meltdown four years ago, its citizens have reasserted control over their key democratic institutions.  In late 2010, a group of 25 Icelandic citizens were elected to a Constitutional Assembly (using STV!) and, last summer, following an extensive public engagement process involving considerable use of online tools, they submitted a new proposed constitution that emphasizes three major themes: distribution of power, transparency and responsibility.  Among numerous democratic innovations, the proposed constitution calls for measures that will increase consultation between groups represented in parliament, public rights to initiate legislation (by petition of 2% of voters) and hold referenda (by petition of 10% of voters), and a novel electoral proposal that allows voters to select individual candidates across constituency and national lists.  The new constitution was originally due to be voted on in a referendum this week (June 30th), but the vote has since been delayed to the fall.
Two Swords’ Length Apart No Longer?  Improving Decorum in the Commons
If former NDP (now independent) MP Bruce Hyer has his private member’s bill approved, MPs will stop sitting by party in the House of Commons, but will instead be randomly intermixed with MPs from other parties and regions of Canada.  According to the CBC, Hyer, “who is now free to speak and vote as he wishes, thinks the move would end the “mindless solidarity and tribalism” he sees around him and improve cooperation and decorum.”  75% of respondents to a CBC poll thought that Hyer’s proposal was worth a try.  “”It’s very hard to heckle someone or be rude to them when you’re sitting next to them,” Hyer suggested.”
A National Post article said “Mr. Hyer said the partisanship over the omnibus budget bill reached new lows. “The mindless tribalism has always bothered me, but never more so than [Thursday] night. Most of those on the other side have never read C-38 or the opposition amendments. It’s difficult to believe that of the 800 or so amendments, not one deserved consideration.””
Since stepping down from the NDP earlier in the year after voting with the government on the long gun registry, Mr. Hyer has been on a campaign to enhance the independence of MPs.  Yesterday, a Winnipeg Free Press article entitled “An MP Who Can Think for Himself” noted that he was the only MP to take Elizabeth May’s challenge of a quiz on Bill C38 and, with a perfect score, proved that he had actually read the whole bill.  Image attribution: Rrius at en.wikipedia
A Rare and Raw Look at How Party Discipline Actually Works
Last month, BC Conservative MP David Wilks (Kootenay-Columbia) gave Canadians a rare, raw and candid glimpse into how modern party machines work.  Wilks told his constituents he had serious concerns about C-38, the recently-passed omnibus budget-implementation bill.  According to a Winnipeg Free Press story, Wilks “noted he doesn’t get to see the budget until the public does. The prime minister and cabinet go into a room and make all the decisions, and the rest of the caucus gets told how to vote.  Wilks was frank about the fact there are [whipped votes]” and the insignificance of the role of the backbencher MP.  Although in principle there are occasions “when caucus members can vote however they want, … that … kind of vote is a mystery to him.  “I haven’t seen one in a year, yet,” he said.  Since being sworn in as an MP in May 2011, Wilks has never been told by his party whip he can vote on his own.”
As Andrew Coyne reported, Wilks said that “if a dozen other Tories could be persuaded to vote against it, he would do likewise. “I will stand up and say the Harper government should get rid of Bill C-38.”  [But] within hours of the video’s appearance, Wilks had recanted.”  Coyne goes on to discuss what this episode teaches us about how the role of MPs has changed in the past couple of decades, while Dan Leger laments Wilks’ loss of courage: “The tragedy is that Wilks denied himself the chance to actually be somebody through the simple act of representing his constituents.”
We’re #51!  (International Hall of Shame)
 
According to a recent Canadian Press story, “As the 30th anniversary of the federal Access to Information Act approaches, Canada finds itself tied for 51st in the world on a list of freedom-of-information rankings, languishing behind Angola, Colombia and Niger.”
The news gets worse – we’ve dropped 11 places on the scale since last September!
The index was co-developed by two international human rights organizations – the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy and the Madrid-based Access Info Europe.  They comment “As a country that was once among the world’s leaders in government openness, it is unfortunate that Canada has dropped so far down the list*.  Partly, this is the result of global progress, with which Canada has failed to keep pace.  Canada’s Access to Information Act, while cutting edge in 1983, has not been significantly updated since then, and reflects many outdated norms.  Canada’s lax timelines, imposition of access fees, lack of a proper public interest override, and blanket exemptions for certain political offices all contravene international standards for the right of access.  Canada’s antiquated approach to access to information is also the result of a lack of political will to improve the situation.”
Canada Day Petition Challenge
Our good friends at Fair Vote Canada are co-ordinating a Canada Day petition drive and are asking for volunteers to help collect as many signatures as possible in favour of proportional representation so that they can deliver petitions to as many MPs as possible in a co-ordinated Day of Action later in the summer.  If you think you could get at least 25 people to sign this petition, please consider making this part of your Canada Day festivities.  Click here to download a petition page and to get more information.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC
PS:  Election Humour – Chocolate Wins ‘Best Flavour of Ice-Cream’ Election
Check out this great press release from OpaVote, creators of open-source online voting software for use by organizations:
Just in time for the start of the summer season, OpaVote has determined that Chocolate is the universe’s favorite ice cream flavor.
 
After a hotly contested race and four rounds of counting, Chocolate scooped the victory by soundly defeating the runner up, Chocolate Chip. Other flavors that melted under pressure were Vanilla, Strawberry, and Cookies and Cream. Click here for complete results.
 
Chocolate declared victory at 11:32 pm on the summer solstice, thanking his opponents for a tasteful campaign and promising to provide a summer of chockingly great ice cream.
 
Chocolate Chip conceded victory and commended the use of ranked-choice voting as representing the will of the people. “Although I did not win, it is clear that the majority of the people preferred Chocolate and she should be the winner,” said Chocolate Chip. “The use of ranked-choice voting prevents fringe candidates, like Strawberry, from acting as spoilers and undermining the will of the people.”
 
Vanilla complained bitterly. “Special interests bought this election,” said Vanilla. “We need meaningful campaign finance reform to prevent the cocoa industry from using their campaign war chests to get their puppet candidates in office to increase their own profits at the expense of democracy.” Hershey and Cadbury declined to comment.
 
To run your own election or poll, click OpaVote.  You can run an election with up to one million voters where each voter is sent a secret voting link. You can also run a poll and embed a poll widget in your own website.
Photo thanks to Alessio Damato

May 2012 Newsletter – Registration Open for First E-volving Democracy Dialogue on Online Voting

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
Registration Now Open for First E-volving Democracy Dialogue Event:  Online Voting (The Hive, Downtown Vancouver, May 26th, 2-5 pm)
Later this month, PartyX and Fair Voting BC will be jointly hosting an interactive dialogue session on online voting.  Participants will look at the risks associated with online voting – and how trust might potentially be built into such a system.
The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and open media advocate).
The afternoon will also feature small group discussions in which participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.  We will use the resulting recommendations to inform our public policy positions on this issue.
“Online voting is an issue of increasing importance for the progressive democracy movement, particularly with its potential to engage larger and more diverse demographics – especially younger generations – in the political process,” says John Richardson, founder of PartyX. “But with this potential also comes risk surrounding fraud, security, privacy and so on. Any system we use has to be trustworthy. But what this looks like means different things to different people.”
“Online voting is increasingly being proposed, planned and used at all levels of government as a possible way to re-engage voters in our political processes,” said Antony Hodgson, President of Fair Voting BC. “But for online voting to play this role, voters have to be able to trust the process and results. Technical failures or scandals arising from premature adoption could destroy public faith in elections, so we need to think through carefully how we as ordinary citizens could know that a proposed online voting process was trustworthy.”
Details are as follows:
Saturday, May 26, 2012, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
@ The Hive, 128 West Hastings Street #210
By donation ($10 suggested to cover costs) – Space may be limited, so RSVP Requested.
This dialogue will be the first in a series, all highlighting issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making. This event is designed for anyone with an interest in social change.
More information is available here: http://partyx.com/engage/dialogue-online-voting/.  Space may be limited, so please click here to reserve your spot.

We hope you can make it and really appreciate anything you can do to help spread the word!  In particular, please pass on this announcement to any individuals or groups you think might be interested.

Fair Vote Canada Annual General Meeting (May 25th and 26th): Available by Webcast
Our good friends at Fair Vote Canada will be holding their Annual General Meeting in Toronto during the last weekend in May, and will be webcasting parts of their event.  For details, please visit their event page.  Here’s what they say about it:
“May 25 and 26, 2012 in Toronto, we’ll be bringing together supporters and activists from across the country for a dynamic lineup of speakers and workshops, and to launch the Fair Vote Canada Action Network. You won’t want to miss it!”
 
“Engage with Craig Scott, MP  (NDP) , Stephane Dion, MP  (Liberal), and Elizabeth May, MP (Green) (Live from Saanich-Gulf Islands) on how they plan to bring proportional representation to the top of the agenda in their own parties and make it a major election issue in 2015.  Learn the method and power behind building a massive online and on-the-ground movement from Jamie Biggar , Executive Director of Leadnow.ca, Canada’s fastest growing online citizen’s campaign.” 
And lots more – hope you can join them.  A couple of our Vancouver supporters have proposed having a breakfast party on Saturday, May 26th at 7 am (10 am Toronto time).  If you’re interested in joining them, or in hosting your own event elsewhere in the province, please let us know by dropping us a note at info@fairvotingbc.com.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

April 2012 Newsletter – Vote-Splitting, Dion on PR, E-volving Democracy, Homeland Security, Campaign Financing and More

Dealing With Vote-Splitting:  Merger, Coalition or Something Else?
 
Fair Voting BC can’t often comment on merger or coalition proposals because we’re a non-partisan organization, but two recent events – the federal NDP leadership contest and the two provincial by-elections last week – allow us to discuss both right- and left-leaning examples.  As electoral reform supporters know, our Single Member Plurality voting system severely punishes any diversity of political expression.  Federally, the Conservatives have benefitted from the split on the left, while provincially the NDP stands to benefit from the emerging split on the right.  Such splits produce calls to “unite the left” or “unite the right”, which only drives us back towards oppositional two-party politics and denies voters real choice;  eveb so, most parties are lukewarm at best towards merger proposals.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen recently proposed a third option – joint nominations by cooperating parties (e.g., running “NDP-Liberal” or “NDP-Liberal-Green” candidates in selected swing ridings), leading to electoral reform so that this tactic becomes no longer necessary.  In BC, the Liberals and Conservatives might consider using the same tactic in order to give their “free enterprise coalition” an increased chance of winning next year’s election.  The big question is whether or not a Liberal-Conservative coalition would commit themselves to electoral reform if they won.  Alternatively, perhaps the Liberals might even consider changing the voting system in time for next year’s election.  We are curious if voting reform supporters would endorse such a proposal – please let us know what you think by visiting our online poll.
Stephane Dion Proposes a New Form of Proportional Representation
Last Sunday, former Liberal Party Leader Stephane Dion presented his ideas for federal electoral reform in a column published in the National Post.  We are delighted to see a sitting MP from a major party explaining why our Single Member Plurality voting system no longer serves Canadians well and proposing that we should adopt a form of proportional representation.  We encourage electoral reform supporters to consider his proposal (a kind of cross between the Single Transferable Vote and List PR) carefully and to encourage any politicians you support to endorse this kind of proposal. [full proposal – PDF]
Save the Date:  E-volving Democracy Dialogue Series Kicks Off in May
If you’re in the Vancouver area, please save May 26th on your calendar as Fair Voting BC, in partnership with Party X, kicks off our ‘E-volving Democracy’ dialogue series on the topic of “Online Voting:  How Will We Know It’s Trustworthy (If It Ever Gets There)?”  Join us and our distinguished set of panelists – Prof. Steve Wolfman (UBC Computer Science), Andrew Macleod (The Tyee) and Fathima Cader (UBC Legal Education Outreach) – in developing a set of guidelines for our elected representatives so that they’ll know what evidence citizens will demand before online voting can be implemented.  This dialogue will take place in downtown Vancouver from 2-5 pm, with follow-on discussions at local pubs and restaurants afterwards.  Admission is free (suggested donation to help with costs:  $10-20), but space will be limited.  Keep an eye out for a registration announcement shortly (once the site booking is confirmed).
US Homeland Security Expert: “Premature” to Use Online Voting for Public Elections
Speaking about online voting:  “Warnings about the dangers of Internet voting have been growing as the 2012 election nears, and an especially noteworthy one came Thursday from a top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Bruce McConnell told a group of election officials, academics and advocacy groups meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., that he believes “it’s premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time.”  McConnell said voting systems are vulnerable and, “when you connect them to the Internet, that vulnerability increases.” He called security around Internet voting “immature and underresourced.””
New Initiative to Reform Local Government Campaign Financing Rules
Last month, we told you about Minister Ida Chong’s suggestion that civic parties adopt voluntary rules to prevent corporate or union donations and to just “say phooey” on parties that don’t abide by these rules.  A new group from the Next Up program has started a campaign called Big Money Out aimed at making civic elections fair.  They’re just getting going, so please consider signing their petition or, if you’re interested in helping them out, join them.  Recent related stories in the Vancouver Courier:  [Story 1Story 2]
Local Gatherings
We’d also like to remind you about a couple of regular get-togethers of democratic reform supporters on the third Tuesday each month in Burnaby and Victoria.  The April meetings will be on the 17th.  The Burnaby meeting begins at 7:30 PM at the Bread Garden Urban Cafe near Metrotown (SkyTrain accessible): 4575 Central Blvd.  The Victoria meeting is held at Swan’s Pub in downtown Victoria, near the Blue Bridge (Pandora and Store Street), starting at 5 PM (look for us in the alcove near the Store Street entrance).  For more details or to get in touch with the organizers, please send a note to info@fairvotingbc.com.
Book a Speaker from Fair Voting BC
Fair Voting BC president Antony Hodgson recently spoke at the Okanagan Shuswap Green Party AGM in Enderby.  If your organization would be interested in hosting an electoral reform discussion event, FVBC would be happy to provide a speaker – just drop us a note to get things rolling.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

March 2012 Newsletter – Mulcair, Robocalls, Senate Elections, Just Say “Phooey”

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
NDP Elects Leader Committed to Electoral Reform;  Online Voting Process Vulnerable to Attack
This weekend Thomas Mulcair was elected the new leader of the federal NDP and therefore of the Official Opposition.  We are pleased that Mulcair has said that moving to a mixed-member proportional system will be a fundamental plank of the New Democratic Party’s platform next election: “Canadians are well aware of the pitfalls of our electoral system. They agree with us that change is needed. When we get elected, we will get elected with a strong mandate to address those shortcomings. If needed, we will cooperate with other parties in the House of Commons and the Senate in order to make electoral reform a reality.”  We urge electoral reform supporters to hold the NDP to account moving forward.
On a related note, the NDP’s online voting process was significantly delayed, allegedly by a form of Denial of Service attack;  Fair Voting BC remains deeply concerned about current moves towards increased use of online voting when virtually no reputable computer scientists are willing to endorse the use of such systems for public elections, arguing that all current systems are unacceptably susceptible to both external and internal attacks.
Robocall Scandal Demonstrates Susceptibility of Single Member Plurality Voting System to Manipulation
As Elections Canada digs deeper into the voter suppression tactics employed in the last federal election (largely against Liberal supporters), we are reminded that the main reason such tactics can be effective is because of the pathological sensitivity of our current Single Member Plurality voting system to small manipulations of votes.  With SMP, numerous ridings are typically won by vanishingly small numbers of votes (e.g., Jay Aspin won by only 14 votes in Nipissing and Ted Opitz by just 26 votes in Etobicoke Centre).  Adding these up, we find that barely 6000 votes out of nearly 15 million cast (about 0.04%) meant the difference between a minority and a majority government in last year’s federal election.  Robocall tactics in a few selected ridings can therefore easily have a hugely disproportionate payoff that simply could not happen under a more proportional voting system – for example, 7000 effective robocalls under proportional voting would likely have no effect at all since 50,000 voters would have to change their minds to shift a single seat.  This hypersensitivity of SMP voting would also make internet voting highly susceptible to fraud.  Check out SFU professor Anke Kessler’s assessment of the statistical impact of robocalling.
New Poll Predicts NDP Blowout;  Will BC Liberals Reconsider Voting Reform?
The BC Liberals may be reconsidering their failure to follow through on voting reform in light of a recent Forum Research poll that suggests that if an election were held today, “[t]he NDP would come close to shutting out the opposition . . . capturing 75 out of 85 seats”. The Liberals would take nine of the remaining seats and Independent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington would keep hers, the poll said.  According to The Tyee, “[t]he poll put support for the NDP at 47 percent with the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives tied at 21 percent each and the BC Green Party at nine percent.”  While NDP supporters may crave the satisfaction of seeing the Liberals ousted (in a reversal of the 2001 election that saw only 2 NDP MLAs elected), democratic reformers know that such lopsided results, so common with our current voting system, don’t actually promote good governance.  Rather, all voters should be able to count on getting the representation they vote for.  Will the current government take heed?
BC Liberal MLA Proposes Senate Election Process Using Online Voting
BC Liberal MLA John Les (Chilliwack) this month introduced a private member’s bill calling for online elections to start this fall to choose future BC Senators.  Les’s proposal calls for BC to be divided into six electoral districts and for the current Single Member Plurality voting system to be used.  In an additional wrinkle, he also calls for use of online voting.  Fair Voting BC does not regard Senate reform as a high priority issue (reform of voting for the House of Commons is far more important), but warns that hasty proposals could lead to significant problems down the road.  For example, using SMP (First Past the Post) voting would only replicate the current inequalities in the House, but proportional representation in the Senate might not be helpful either as that may prevent future changes in how the House is elected.  It may, in fact, be better to make Senate elections entirely non-partisan so as to preserve and enhance the Senate’s function as a chamber of ‘sober second thought’.  FVBC also strongly cautions against the use of online voting for public elections at this point;  as political scientist professor Dennis Pilon of York University warns, online voting is currently “a horror show.” (photo courtesy of thoth188 on Flickr).
Ida Chong Tells Civic Parties to Enforce Donation Rules by Saying ‘Phooey’
In the wake of last week’s filing of financial disclosure statements by Vancouver’s civic parties, showing that donations were up 50% from 2008 (from just under $4M then to just under $6M last year), including a single corporate donation of nearly $1M, Minister Ida Chong has said she won’t implement the request from Vancouver City Council to limit personal donations or ban union, corporate and foreign donations.  According to Vancouver Courier columnist, Allen Garr, “in an act that can only be described as wilful ignorance, Chong has suggested if the parties want spending limits and electoral reform they are free to voluntarily agree among themselves”.  And her proposed enforcement mechanism is even more bizarre:  Chong said, “If they believe strongly that there should not be acceptance of corporate donations or union donations – if they believe strongly in that – then they should not accept them. And they can say phooey on the party that does.”  Fair Voting BC would like to see rules with sharper teeth than that and encourages our supporters to say phooey to Minister Chong’s proposals.
Reminder About Upcoming Democratic Dialogue Series
A reminder that we will be jointly offering a dialogue series later this spring in Vancouver with Party X asking “How can citizens ensure that public policy reflects the public will?”  Thanks to those of you who provided input into our poll of potential topics.  Over 80 of you responded, and it looks as if you’d most like to talk about online voting, citizen initiatives and the Enbridge Pipeline consultation process.  Planning is now underway, so stay tuned for future announcements.
Local Gatherings
We’d also like to remind you about a couple of regular get-togethers of democratic reform supporters on the third Tuesday each month in Burnaby and Victoria.  The April meetings will be on the 17th.  The Burnaby meeting begins at 7:30 PM at the Bread Garden Urban Cafe near Metrotown (SkyTrain accessible): 4575 Central Blvd.  The Victoria meeting is held at Swans Pub in downtown Victoria, near the Blue Bridge (Pandora and Store Street), starting at 5 PM (look for us in the alcove near the Store Street entrance).  For more details or to get in touch with the organizers, please send a note to info@fairvotingbc.com.
Book a Speaker from Fair Voting BC
Fair Voting BC has also been invited to speak about electoral reform to the BC Property Rights Initiative in April in Surrey – look for an announcement shortly.  If your organization would be interested in hosting an electoral reform discussion event, FVBC would be happy to provide a speaker – just drop us a note to get things rolling.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

Academy Award Nominees Chosen by STV

As people watched the Academy Awards last Sunday, we wonder how many realized that the nominees were chosen by preferential voting – in particular, a variant of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The Academy Award organization actually uses slightly different rules for their various awards, so we can’t describe just one system, but most nominees in most categories are chosen using the following method:

  1. Most award categories accept five finalists.
  2. Academy members who are eligible to nominate movies in a particular category receive a ballot on which they can indicate their top five preferences (using numbers from 1 to 5).
  3. Any movies that don’t receive at least one first-place choice from a voter are eliminated.
  4. All ballots with the same first choice are grouped together.
  5. Any nominee with more than 1/6th of the total number of votes will become a finalist.
  6. If there are fewer than five finalists, the remaining nominee with the fewest number of votes will be eliminated and the ballots transferred to the next choice on each ballot.
  7. Step 6 repeats until there are five finalists.

In effect, this is a multi-seat version of Instant Runoff Voting, in which the lowest ranked candidates are sequentially eliminated. It has the effect of choosing a broad set of widely supported nominees.

This year, the Academy introduced a slightly different procedure for selecting the Best Picture nominees. The new process is a little closer in spirit to the Single Transferable Voting method recommended by BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in that extra votes (votes beyond the 1/6th of the ballots needed to win a finalist position) are redistributed in part to the second choice on each ballot after an initial round of elimination and transfers from the least popular nominees. This extra step is intended to ensure that ‘passion rules’ – i.e., that movies need both to have a loyal following and some broad support.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the way we elected our legislatures?

Related Links:

Fair Vote USA’s explanation of the process

‘Inside Movies’ explains the new nomination process for Best Picture

Fair Vote USA’s blog about the Academy’s voting processes

Most Vancouver Candidates Endorse Democratic Reforms, Says Fair Voting BC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Based on the results of Fair Voting BC’s democratic reform survey, Vancouver voters can be reasonably confident that the next city council will petition Victoria a third time to change the city’s charter to allow Vancouverites to choose their own voting system.  They can also expect more deliberative dialogue processes similar to the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee and continued interest in online voting, coupled with some scepticism about whether online voting can be acceptably secure.  Depending on who gets elected, there will also be more or less openness to considering new ways to vote that might more accurately reflect voters’ true preferences.

Continue reading

CityVote Survey Asks Civic Candidates to Take a Stand

As we did in 2008, Fair Voting BC is again asking candidates for civic office to take a stand on the need for democratic reforms at the municipal level.  This year’s questions include the following:

  1. Do you commit yourself, if elected, to renewing in the first year of your term the city’s long-standing request for Victoria to grant local governments the power to choose our own voting system?
  2. If elected, will you endorse expanded use of deliberative dialogue approaches (similar to the Mayor’s Advisory Council in Vancouver) to generate future policy options?
  3. Which of the following best describes your view of the benefits of online (internet) voting?
    1. Online voting is proven to substantially improve democratic engagement
    2. Online voting has good potential to improve democratic engagement
    3. Online voting is unlikely to significantly change democratic engagement
  4. Which of the following best describes your attitude towards the security issues related to online voting?
    1. Online voting is now sufficiently robust and secure to be used in civic elections
    2. Online voting is relatively secure and may be valuable for consulting citizens, but is probably too insecure to be relied on for civic elections
    3. Online voting is currently too vulnerable to undetectable fraud to be used in a civic election
  5. Please comment on what democracy-related issues most concern you (e.g., voting, campaign financing, citizen engagement, etc.).
  6. If you are a current council member, please highlight any democracy-related initiatives you or your party has undertaken in the past term.
  7. If elected, what do you personally commit yourself to doing during the coming council term to promote democratic reform?

We will be collecting responses until the end of the first week in November, at which point we will be distributing candidates’ responses to our supporters and to the media via a press release.  At the moment, we are specifically inviting candidates in Vancouver to respond to this survey, but we encourage our supporters to volunteer to solicit responses from candidates in their own towns and cities around BC.  Please send an email to info@fairvotingbc.com if you would like to help us in this effort – we can easily set up a custom SurveyMonkey survey for you and give you a link to distribute to your local candidates which will allow you to collect their responses automatically.

Provincial Elections Show Need for New Voting Systems

Voters Consistently Ignored With Single Member Plurality

A slew of recent provincial election results under the current Single Member Plurality voting system shows just how common it is for voters’ expressed intentions to be largely ignored in the makeup of the resulting legislature, and therefore how large swaths of the population end up not being represented the way they wish and deserve to be.

SMP Delivers Overwhelming Majority of Seats Even When Half the Voters Don’t Vote for Leading Party

PEI went to the polls in early October.  The Liberals went into this election with a large lead – polls at the end of August were giving them a lead over the Conservatives of 59% to 31% (with the Greens and NDP splitting the last 10%) and, had this support held up, they certainly would have deserved to win a majority government.  But would they have been entitled to win every last seat in the PEI legislature?  That’s what seat projections were showing.  Over the campaign, the race had tightened quite a bit: in the final days of the campaign, the Liberals lead had dropped to 53% and the Conservatives had risen to 34%.  How would this shift in fortunes been rewarded by our voting system?  The day before the election, the well-respected political predictor, Eric Grenier, at threehundredeight.com used polling data to estimate that the Conservatives would win a single measly seat.  When the vote was counted, the race was even closer than the polls were showing – the Liberals had dropped a further 2% to 51% and the Conservatives had gained a remarkable 7% to end at 40%.  However, the Conservatives were not rewarded for their valiant campaigning, ending up with a mere 5 seats to the Liberals’ 22 – i.e., with 51% of the vote, the Liberals took 82% of the seats.  Perhaps more importantly, the Conservatives were essentially shut out of the more urban parts of the province – only their Stratford-Kinlock seat is close to the capital.

Such results are drearily typical of Single Member Plurality voting. Newfoundland had a similar outcome – the Conservatives won 56% of the vote and took a large surplus of seats:  37 of 48 (77% of the total).  The Liberals retained the title of Official Opposition by winning 6 seats on 19% of the vote, while the NDP came in third with 5 seats on only 25% of the vote – well behind the Liberals.  Huh?  Only in the wacky world of SMP voting is 25% less than 19%!

Close Contests Are Really No Contest

In PEI and Newfoundland, SMP delivered an overwhelming landslide to the leading party.  In both Manitoba and Ontario, the two leading parties had virtually the same level of popular support, but in both cases one party ended up with many more seats than their near-rival – on the order of 1.5-2X as many.  Such distortions greatly exaggerate the actual closeness of the race, and, as in PEI and Newfoundland, tend to produce highly regionalized results (see maps below).

In Manitoba, the NDP won 46% of the vote to the Conservative’s 43% – quite a close contest.  However, due to the vagaries of SMP, the NDP won 36 of 57 seats – 63% of the total.  The Conservatives had to settle for 20 of the remaining seats, while the Liberals, who took 8% of the vote, had to settle for a single seat.  As with PEI, there was a strong regional (rural/urban) divide with the Conservatives winning virtually all rural seats in the south of the province and on the southwestern edge of Winnipeg, while the NDP won almost all the other seats in Winnipeg and the northern half of the province.

It is somewhat ironic that the Conservatives had, at some points, been predicted to win a higher share of the popular vote than the NDP, but even if this had happened, the seat results would have remained unchanged.  Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen resigned following the election, saying that the outcome was “far short of we had hoped for.”  Despite virtually matching the NDP in the popular vote, McFadyen said “The reality is this in politics … you have to deliver bottom-line results if you want to carry on as leader of the party.”  The irony is that this is not the reality in most countries around the world – maybe it’s time for the Manitoba Conservative Party to endorse a more proportional voting system so that their supporters can get the representation they deserve.

The Ontario election in October produced a similar result – the day before the election, ThreeHundredEight.com was predicting that the popular vote was a solid three-way contest with the Liberals slightly ahead of the Conservatives (36.6% to 33.3%), but this small difference was expected to deliver twice as many seats to the Liberals than to the Conservatives.  The NDP, with 2/3rds the popular support of the leading Liberals, were expected to win barely one third as many seats. In the end, the Liberals ended up at over 37%, the Conservatives about 2% lower at just over 35%, and the NDP down to under 23%;  the Liberals won one seat shy of a majority at 53 seats and the Conservatives gained ground to win 37 seats (the NDP took 17).  This seat distribution corresponds somewhat more closely to the parties’ vote shares than originally predicted, but the Liberals still gained a significantly disproportional advantage from how the votes were distributed.  As in Manitoba, the results reflected a strong regional divide, with the Conservatives sweeping several rural regions and the Liberals taking a disproportionate number of the seats in the Greater Toronto Area.

Time For Elections To Make Sense?

When I explained these various provincial election results to my children, they were aghast.  “How can they let this happen?” they asked me.  An excellent question.  I’m doing all I can to stop these outrageous outcomes, and I invite all of you to join Fair Voting BC in working for an end to elections that don’t make sense.

Quebec Court Denies Claim That FPTP is Unconstitutional

Our friends at ARDD (L’Association pour la Revendication des Droits Démocratiques, or the Association for Claiming Democratic Rights) have just informed us that the Quebec Court of Appeals has turned down their motion to have Single Member Plurality voting declared unconstitutional.  Although the court did not accept their claim, they also did not explicitly explain the basis for countenancing the self-evident denial of representation to millions of voters and thereby, according to ARDD’s legal team, have left open the way for an appeal to the Supreme Court.  We invite you to join us in fundraising to support this appeal – please visit the link on the right to offer your support.

The information we received from ARDD is copied below;  please visit their website for more details:

Dear Friends,
Not surprisingly, the decision did not support our motion to have the electoral system declared unconstitutional.  However, In rendering his decision, Judge Dufresne did assert that the lower court judge had erred when saying our case wasn’t judicable.

In summary, the Appeal Court accepted what was obvious, the first-past-the-post voting system distorts the popular vote, but declared that this in itself wasn’t sufficient to grant our motion since all voting systems produce distortions.

Well then, what about the scale of the distortions and the manner in which they are produced?  We provided expert testimony that demonstrates that the level of distortion is beyond that of the distortions caused by other electoral practices and were subsequently declared unconstitutional and that the manner in which it is done is unclear violation of the equality guarantees of the Charter.

No matter, this evidence wasn’t given proper consideration.  In the lower court decision not a word was devoted to our most compelling evidence in the analysis and the Appeal Court Judges decided that this slight of hand did not constitute a judicial error.

Again, we would accept the decision if it had been demonstrated that we had erred in claiming that the fact that first-past-the-post denied effective representation to as many as a million voters that voted for the Greens in the 2008 federal election was an infringement of their democratic rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But this was not done.  They simply dodged this inconvenient fact with dismissive silence concerning how such an electoral anomaly could be countenanced.  To date, the contestable prejudice caused to those who have their votes discarded by an electoral system that is unique in that it doesn’t possess a mechanism to aggregate votes or voting preferences has not been addressed and thus gives us grounds for an appeal.

Moreover, Judge Dufresne went on to make two outlandish statements that suggests that he doesn’t believe that fundamental democratic principles apply to the Charter Right to effective representation.

The first was to suggest that the fact that the reversal of the democratic result of the Quebec 1966 and 1998 general elections (the party that won less votes than another went on to form a majority government) and the fact that almost a million voters who voted Green did not gain any representation in the 2008 federal election did not constitute an impairment of effective representation.  At the same time, Judge Dufresne uses a statistical outlier, a once-in-a-hundred year electoral result from the 2007 Quebec General Election (the three major parties gained more or less representation proportional to the popular vote) to demonstrate that the distortions inherent to first-past-the-post are not systemic, yet he ignored that two smaller parties that together garnered 7% of the vote in 2007 were denied any representation at all.

He then suggests that the most recent federal election in which the Conservatives form a majority government with only 39% of the popular vote and in Quebec the Bloc is reduced only 4 out of 75 seats despite amassing 25% of the popular vote while the the NDP gains 70% of the seats with only approximately 40% of the vote is evidence to the contrary.  In making such a claim, Judge Dufresne again asserts that effective representation does not require that each and every vote carries relative equal weight.

One has to wonder what is the frame of reference being used to apply the concept of effective representation for each and every citizen.  Do the egalitarian values inherent to democracy enter the equation?  Apparently not in Quebec at this time.

Consequently, we will be filing an appeal to have our case heard at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Respectfully,
Brian Gibb

Disproportionate, Centralized Power and Failure to Engage Public Explain HST Fiasco, Says Fair Voting BC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In 2009, then-radio-host Christy Clark said “people are sick to death of the way our political system operates. … People tell me … they’re tired of electing politicians who ignore what their constituents want and do what their leaders want them to instead.”

Clark could have chosen no better example of this behaviour than the recent HST fiasco.  Regardless of the technical merits of a Value-Added Tax, even the government has acknowledged that opposition to the tax was “in large measure due to our own handling of the introduction of that major policy change”, as Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said.  Premier Clark likewise noted that “government understood the way this was brought in well over a year ago wasn’t good enough.”

It is worth considering why the government at the time felt that they could introduce the HST so soon after an election campaign in which they had explicitly denied that they were considering it.  According to Fair Voting BC President Antony Hodgson, a significant contributing factor was the disproportionate number of seats our voting system gives to the major parties.

“In 2009, the Liberals won 46% of the popular vote, but our First-Past-the-Post voting system gave them 58% of the seats,” Hodgson said.  “Since half the seats effectively gives a party all the power, the government was able to cut off debate on the HST in the legislature and ignore calls to engage in public consultation.  Dissent inside the party was squelched.  When high-profile Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom felt heat from his constituents and called for slowing down and engaging the public in conversation, he was forced to resign.”

“The HST referendum results clearly show that BC voters want our government to listen to us,” Hodgson added.  “Tools such as citizen initiative rights (imperfect as BC’s current Act is) and reformed ways of voting such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly can play an important role in shifting the balance of power away from the Premier’s office towards more involvement of voters and empowerment of individual MLAs.”

Christy Clark echoed this idea in her impassioned plea in 2009 that voters support STV: “the change it will bring frightens [the backroom boys] – politicians will be forced to listen to their communities first and their leaders and parties second.“

In light of the clear public thirst for meaningful influence over public policy, Fair Voting BC calls on the provincial government to re-open a public dialogue on updating our voting system and initiative rights to better enable us to hold our politicians accountable.

Host a Video Night to Celebrate National Democracy Week Sep 12-18

Invite Your Friends and Neighbours

Fair Voting BC invites you to host a video night with your friends and neighbours during the week of September 12-18 to celebrate National Democracy Week;  this is a great opportunity to break out the popcorn and talk about an important issue that doesn’t necessarily come up in everyday conversation.

Check out the great lineup of suggested movies we’ve put together (see below), along with our “Hosting a Video Night” checklist.  Head down to your local video store, grab one of these movies, and enjoy an evening of stimulating conversation.

“Hosting a Video Night” Checklist:

Before the event:

  1. Pick a date
  2. Pick a movie (see below) and buy popcorn
  3. Invite friends and neighbours, or post a notice (if you’re ambitious, book a room at a community centre, school or church)
  4. Add details of your event to our map (see below – just click the ‘Add’ button)

At the event:

  1. Welcome people and collect their contact information (ask if they’d like to sign up for our monthly email newsletter)
  2. Show the movie
  3. Discuss the issues;  talk about what people might like to do to respond
  4. Follow up with us at Fair Voting BC – let us know if you’ve decided to do something, or would like help from us to get something going (send a note to president@fairvotingbc.com)
Click map to see Video Night locations (click 'Add' button on map to add your own event)

Map of Video Night Events:

Click on the map to the right to open a full-size view. If you’re hosting an event, please add your event to our map by clicking on the ‘Add’ button (include contact information if you’re open to more people joining you).  If you’re looking to join an event, browse through the event markers in your area.

Note:  the ‘Add’ button is a little hard to find – look for it under the row of buttons at the top right of the map.  When you enter an event, you will get a little popup menu – click the top entry to confirm.  You should also add event details on the second tab in the dialog box (you can ignore the other tabs).  Finally, save your marker’s URL if you want to edit your information in the future.

Movie Suggestions:

Note about our suggestions:  Fair Voting BC is a non-partisan organization.  Some of the following films have a definite partisan slant, but we have included them because they deal more or less explicitly with some aspect of democracy, not because FVBC endorses any particular film.  By and large, the text is drawn from the films’ websites.  Please let us know if you have other suggestions for us.

Films About Canada:

  • Democracy 4 Dummies (2007).  This documentary shows curious cynics and aspiring politicians how to run for office with little or no money. Full of laughs and satirical commentary, this election adventure should leave even the most skeptical viewer thinking, “If these guys can do it, so can I!”  Democracy 4 Dummies follows the campaign trail of Dylan Perceval-Maxwell, an eccentric Green Party candidate and vegetable oil car driver in Montreal. While Dylan ultimately loses to federal opposition leader Gilles Duceppe, he gets the most votes of any Green Party candidate in Quebec.  Dylan and other Green Party candidates show us how to raise funds and collect signatures with dogs, skirts and anything else catchy.
  • Encirclement:  Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy (2008, B&W, 160 min) Drawing upon the thinking and analyses of renowned intellectuals, this documentary sketches a portrait of neo-liberal ideology and examines the various mechanisms used to impose its dictates throughout the world.
  • Democracy à la Maude (1998)  A Canadian woman leads the fight against unjust corporate globalization, and for social justice.  Bullfrog Films, NFB

Films Based in the USA

  • Gerrymandering (2010) – order through their website.  Takes a hard look at the framework of our democracy and how it provides our politicians a perfectly legal way to control electoral outcomes by altering electoral district boundaries.
  • UNCOUNTED (2008) is an explosive documentary that shows how the election fraud that changed the outcome of the 2004 election led to even greater fraud in 2006 – and now looms as an unbridled threat to the outcome of the 2008 election. This controversial film examines in factual, logical, and yet startling terms how easy it is to change election outcomes and undermine election integrity across the U.S. Noted computer programmers, statisticians, journalists, and experienced election officials provide the irrefutable proof.
  • Murder, Spies & Voting Lies (the Clint Curtis story) (2008) Whistle-blower Clint Curtis, a computer programmer by trade, sticks to his claims that he was asked to make vote-rigging software for electronic voting machines by former US Congressman and loyal Bushite,Tom Feeney (R-Fl). Tension rises when the vote-rigging scandal dips into a murder mystery. While Clint Curtis testified to a Congressional Judiciary committee caucus in December 2004, and passed a lie detector test shortly thereafter, mainstream media has paid scant attention to his story. Independent filmaking is filling that gap.
  • Hacking Democracy (2006).  The disturbingly shocking HBO documentary HACKING DEMOCRACY bravely tangles with our nation’s ills at the heart of democracy. The film the Diebold corporation doesn’t want you to see, this revelatory profile follows a tenacious grandmother from Seattle, Bev Harris, and her band of extraordinary citizen-activists as they set out to ask one simple question: How does America count its votes?  This movie starkly reveals a rotten system riddled with inaccuracy, incompetent election officials, and electronic voting machines that can be programmed to steal elections.
  • CAN MR. SMITH GET TO WASHINGTON ANYMORE? (2007).  The inspiring story of a modern-day Mr. Smith’s quixotic campaign to win the 2006 Missouri Democratic primary with little more than political savvy, tireless work, and passionate leadership over a committed group of grassroots volunteers that grows from a few friends to more than 500 by election day.  When twenty-nine-year-old Jeff Smith decides to run for the congressional seat of the retiring Democratic party leader Richard Gephardt, his family and friends think he’s crazy.
  • Recount (2008):  HBO docudrama about the hanging chad controversy in Palm Beach County featuring Kevin Spacey as Gore advisor Ron Klain and Laura Dern as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
  • Recount Democracy (2002)  Forget the hanging chads and butterfly ballots. The Presidential election drama of 2000 is still a mystery to most Americans. “Recount Democracy” investigates charges of disenfranchisement and 180,000 uncounted Florida votes cast largely by the working poor and people of color, uncovering racial exclusion, voting rights violations and the subverting of a recount in the most contested and controversial election in U.S. history.
  • DEFLATING THE ELEPHANT: FRAMED MESSAGES BEHIND CONSERVATIVE DIALOGUE (2009) teaches us how language impacts our lives and more significantly, our political discourse. Language is influenced by what is known as framing, meaning every word is connected to a concept. How those concepts are used and repeated have proven to shape ideology, behavior and thought-process.  George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know and Liberals Don’t and Don t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, dissects the conservative dialogue and provides explanations and examples on how they have spent the last 35 years perfecting their ideas and their language. Framed messages is a system and strategy that works. The key is to understand why it works. Features Sean Penn.
  • Electile Dysfunction (2008)  The mere fact that political consultants who make their living manipulating voters are willing to analyze their tactics onscreen without fear of repercussion sums up the problem with the modern electoral process. Public disapproval of politics and politicians is at an all time high, and for good reason. Cynicism and distrust are the hallmarks of this public disenchantment. The unholy alliance of special interest money and public policy has produced government that is perceived to be out of touch with the reality of everyday citizens and unresponsive to their needs.
  • Dear Oprah: Non-Voting America’s Wildest Dream (2008)  Almost a hundred million Americans don’t vote. Even when they’re electing their president and, with that, the most powerful political leader in the world. A year before the presidential elections of 2008 a crew of young European filmmakers goes on a journey all across the country in a little old motor home to search for America’s missing voters.  Who are they? Why don’t they vote? Can a young and fresh presidential candidate as Barack Obama make them vote? How would American politics change if more young people, single women, poor white people, African-Americans and Latino’s would start voting?
  • Media Malpractice (2009)  The 2008 Presidential election was historic in many ways. For the first time, the vast majority of mainstream media decided to openly back one candidate. Media Malpractice tells the entire story of this precedent-setting and dangerous media reality. In just four years, Barack Obama went from being a little-known State Senator, to being elected President of the United States. This film explores the role of the media in facilitating the victory that shocked the world.  While the media did everything they could to elevate Obama, they took a very different view of John McCain s VP nominee Governor Sarah Palin. With an interview of Palin done exclusively for this film, Media Malpractice examines the real story behind many of the media-created perceptions used in a blatant attempt to destroy her credibility.
  • Frontrunners (2008), is a charming, candid, and almost scary glimpse into the advanced levels of student sophistication in America’s top high schools. In this case, filmmaker Caroline Suh, who has copious experience as a documentary producer, put her documentary research skills to use at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, an elite school in which students who aren’t admitted to Top Ten colleges are considered total rejects by their peers. Frontrunners charts the arc of the student government elections, starring four kids who want the presidency.
  • The War on Democracy (2007):  Award winning journalist John Pilger examines the role of Washington in America’s manipulation of Latin American politics during the last 50 years leading up to the struggle by ordinary people to free themselves from poverty and racism. Since the mid 19th Century Latin America has been the ‘backyard’ of the US, a collection of mostly vassal states whose compliant and often brutal regimes have reinforced the ‘invisibility’ of their majority peoples. The film reveals similar CIA policies to be continuing in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. The rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez despite ongoing Washington backed efforts to unseat him in spite of his overwhelming mass popularity, is democratic in a way that we have forgotten or abandoned in the west.
  • MANUFACTURING CONSENT (1993) explores the political life and ideas of world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist Noam Chomsky. Through a dynamic collage of biography, archival gems, imaginative graphics and outrageous illustrations, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick’s award-winning documentary highlights Chomsky’s probing analysis of mass media and his critique of the forces at work behind the daily news. 

  • Keys to Good Government (1993) In recent years, American government has been plagued with a burgeoning number of scandals and corrupt public officials, yet for almost two centuries American government had been characterized as sound and morally untainted. What caused the change? Unfortunately, we disregarded and lost much of the specific advice given to us by those distinguished men who formed our original government.  Discover the keys to good government by investigating the wise counsel and instruction given to us by leaders like William Penn, Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, John Witherspoon, John Adams, Fisher Ames, George Washington, and many others.

Films About Other Countries

  • Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas (2008)  What is democracy? Freedom, equality, participation? Everyone has his or her own definition. Across the world, 120 countries now have at least the minimum trappings of democracy—the freedom to vote for all citizens. But for many, this is just the beginning not the end. A look at new democratic institutions and experiments in both North and South America.
  • The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (2006) This UK-based mini-series follows Mrs Ros Pritchard, a successful manager of a supermarket. When a couple of politicians make a spectacle of themselves outside her shop, Ros decides to stand for election herself, just to prove that she could do better. Her story grips the nation and eight weeks later no one is more surprised than Ros herself when she wins the General Election and becomes the next Prime Minister.  Six 1-hour episodes.
  • Please Vote for Me (Chinese, with subtitles) (2007).  Two males and a female vie for office, indulging in low blows and spin, character assassination and gestures of goodwill, all the while gauging their standing with voters. The setting is not the Democratic presidential campaign, but a third-grade class at an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China. “Please Vote For Me”, which is on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences documentary feature shortlist, packs its fleet hour with keen observations. Chroniciling a public school’s first open elections – at stake is the position of class monitor – filmmaker Weijun Chen has crafted a witty, engaging macro-lens view of human nature, China’s one-child policy and the democratic electorial process as the ultimate exercise in marketing.
  • Frontrunner (2008)  The setting: Afghanistan’s first democratic election ever. In the aftermath of 9/11, America’s military might has set the stage. But who will determine the fate of democracy in Afghanistan? Is it possible, a woman running for President? Where unspeakable cruelty to women had become part of day-to-day life under the Taliban? Vote for the mother, Dr. Massouda Jala shouts to the crowd. FRONTRUNNER tells the heroic story of this medical doctor and mother of three and the first presidential bid by a woman since the ouster of the Taliban.
  • Sex, Drugs and Democracy (1994).  This feature-length documentary film explores the limits of personal freedom by taking an uncensored look at the unconventional approach to morality and politics in Holland.

Other Ideas:

For more ideas, check out this list of over 20 political films compiled by the Springfield City Public Library and this list of 10 documentary films shown in 2004 as a package called “Why Democracy?”.

Fair Voting BC Cautions Vancouver on E-Voting Proposal

Fair Voting BC Gives City Yellow Light on E-Voting Proposal Due to Security and Transparency Concerns

In response to Tuesday’s announcement that Vancouver will ask the province for permission to conduct an internet voting trial in the fall municipal elections, Fair Voting BC is giving the city a yellow light.

“We applaud the city for seeking to increase voter participation and believe that online voting will come,” said Antony Hodgson, President of Fair Voting BC.  “However, for elections to be recognized by the public as legitimate, we have to know that the voting process is transparent.  Voters should not be asked to trust a system they cannot monitor.  That’s why we have scrutineers in our current system.”

“With today’s online voting systems, you send your vote into the ether”, said Jim DeLaHunt, a director with Fair Voting BC and a computer scientist with 25 years experience. “With no paper ballot, there’s no way to check that the system recorded your vote properly.  Since all votes go through a central software system, they are vulnerable to bugs and tampering.  Is it really so unimaginable that, with control over the city’s $1B annual budget at stake, election software employees won’t be vulnerable to bribes?”

“The principle of a secret ballot is also at risk.  Voting is not like online banking,” said DeLaHunt. “With online banking, your transactions are secure but not secret. You can see that your bank processed them properly. But with voting, neither the government nor the software providers should know how you voted.”

DeLaHunt added that Fair Voting BC’s concerns echo those of professional computer scientists:  “The internet has the potential to transform democracy in many ways, but permitting it to be used for public elections without assurance that the results are verifiably accurate is an extraordinary and unnecessary risk to democracy,” declared the Verified Voting organization.

DeLaHunt plans to pursue discussions with the city’s Chief Electoral Officer, city councilors and Minister Chong to ensure that the requirements will address Fair Voting BC’s concerns.  Fair Voting BC also plans to approach other cities, such as Surrey, which are considering online voting.

Contact Information:

Background:

  • Fair Voting BC is a non-profit society which works to promote fair, accountable and transparent democratic processes at all levels of government in BC.  We served as the official proponents in the 2009 BC-STV referendum campaign.
  • Jim DeLaHunt is a Vancouver software consultant with 25 years experience, including 16 with Adobe Systems in Silicon Valley. He holds an MSc degree in computer science from Stanford University and has been studying the e-voting issue for nearly 10 years.  Antony Hodgson is a mechanical engineering professor at UBC and has served as a director with Fair Voting BC since the 2005 BC-STV referendum.  He became president in 2009.

Fair Voting BC Guide to Smart Voting

Fair Voting BC has long opposed the vote-splitting problems created by our Single Member Plurality (First-Past-the-Post) voting system.  All too frequently, voters are forced to choose between voting for the candidate they most support, but who they feel has relatively little chance of being elected, and another candidate who they like less, but who has a better chance to beat a candidate the voter truly dislikes.  If the voter decides to vote for a less-liked candidate to defeat their least-liked candidate, we say they are voting strategically.

FVBC does not explicitly endorse strategic voting, but we recognize that for many individuals it is a perfectly rational response to the flaws of SMP.  With that in mind, we would like to give you a list of websites you might find useful in your quest to make your vote count as much as possible:

Websites Presenting Computer Models Predicting Riding-Level Outcomes

These sites are non-partisan in their orientation and useful for all voters.  The details of the prediction methods vary, but all are explicitly described, so the reader can make their own judgements about their reliability.

  • Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy – An academic website presenting results of their “regional swing model” predictor.
  • Three Hundred EightAn excellent seat estimator for the 308 seats in the House of Commons.  Has a helpful chart showing the current estimates of their model on a riding-by-riding basis.
  • DemocraticSpace – Another excellent seat estimator.  Has downloadable PDF files predicting outcomes on a riding-by-riding basis.

Websites Describing Strategic Voting and Offering Specific Advice on How to Do It

Warning:  The following sites are all explicitly anti-Conservative and target Liberal, NDP and Green supporters seeking to prevent a Conservative win or majority.  FVBC is non-partisan and so does not endorse strategic voting targeting a specific party.

  • Pair Vote – Offers to match voters in different ridings who can’t cast an honest vote in their own riding without it being rendered useless by our SMP system.  Although it is explicitly anti-Conservative, we believe they would honour requests to swap votes on behalf of Conservatives who live in ridings where their vote would not help their local candidate.
  • Project Democracy – A new website in this election, it appears to have emerged from the voteforenvironment.ca website in the 2008 election.  Has an explicitly anti-Conservative stance, offering advice on a riding-by-riding basis about who to vote for to prevent a Conservative majority.
  • Catch 22 – Also an explicitly anti-Conservative site offering advice about how to vote locally to prevent a Conservative majority.
  • Swing 33 – Refers to the number of seats needed in 2008 to have swung the election from a Conservative to a Liberal minority government.  In addition to providing strategic voting advice, this site also suggests the idea of strategic donations – ie, contributing in close races to prevent a Conservative from winning
  • Avaaz – Presents a different interface to the estimates provided by Project Democracy

The following article is generally neutral, but the publication itself is left-leaning:

  • The Tyee – Presented a guide to the guides for strategic voting, including references to some academic papers on the subject

Critiques of Strategic Voting

Related Websites

  • Lead Now – a youth-oriented voter-engagement website.  They led a public participatory process aimed at identifying top priorities for whichever new government forms.
  • CBC Vote Compass – this site asks you to answer several policy questions and rate their relative importance to you and produces a map showing where you lie relative to the positions of the various national parties.  Close to 2 million voters have used this tool during this election.