The 2019 Canada Federal election is over, and it is time to once more rant on social media about how unfair the current election system is.
If you have a system with more than two parties, then a system where the candidate who gets the most votes is the winner often results in candidates winning with less than 50% of the votes cast - and too often with less than a third of the votes cast (which means the person elected is actually opposed by two-thirds of voters). No wonder there is so much dissatisfaction and dis-trust of politics and politicians.
And nationally, the number of candidates each party elects often bears no relationship to the total number of votes for that party. On first glance, this is patently unfair. And the 2019 election is no exception. Take a look at this screen grab from the CBC News election results.
The Conservatives had more votes but fewer seats than the Liberals! Unfair! And look at the New Democrat who had double the votes of the Bloc Quebecois but fewer seats! Unfair! And the Green had almost as many votes as the Bloc, but only 3 seats compared with the Bloc's 32! Unfair!
If the 338 federal parliament seats had been distributed by Proportional Representation (where seats are proportional to total votes received for each party), then the seat count would have been:
- Liberal - 112 (and not 157)
- Conservative - 117 (and not 121)
- Bloc - 26 (and not 32)
- New Democrat - 54 (and not 24)
- Green - 22 (and not 3)
- Independent - 1 (which is what happened!)
- People's Party - 5 (and not 0)
- Other - 1 (and not 0)
As can be seen, Proportional Representation gives the Conservatives their due share of the most seats, but it also reduces the seats they won under the current system. The Liberals lose the most seats. And the New Democrats and Greens significantly increase their number of seats. No wonder New Democrat and Green supporters are often the strongest advocates for voting reform. And no wonder Liberals and Conservatives are the most luke-warm about voting reform.
The problem with simply calculating seat count based on total federal votes received is that it completely ignores regional differences. A Conservative vote in Calgary, Alberta is likely made for very different reasons than one in Milton, Ontario. Even Conservatives in Calgary and Edmonton do not always see eye to eye. The federal vote total completely blurs regional differences; urban / rural differences; North / South and East / West and Atlantic / Pacific differences; resource / commercial / manufacturing / agriculture / service / arts differences; local issues and candidates; etc.; etc.
Another problem with using the federal total votes to assess the "fairness" of any electoral system is that it basically says all the votes over 50%+1 that the Conservative candidates in Alberta and Saskatchewan received should somehow be transferred to the Toronto 905 and elect Conservatives there. That's the only way "every vote counts" can actually count. The fact that Alberta and Saskatchewan "over voted" for Conservatives should not meddle in the closer votes that happened elsewhere.
So let's agree to scrap using the federal vote totals as THE criteria for determining "fairness." And that means, let's not get in a knot if any new system still means the seats won by each party does not exactly align with the percentage of total votes cast.
Let's also examine the slogan "every vote counts." The problem with democracy is that decisions get made by majority vote - usually 50% plus 1 of votes cast. That is, the fundamental premise is that while all votes are counted, it not the case that "every vote counts." Only the votes in the majority "count" in the sense of being decisive. It is not unfair that those who voted in the minority did not get their way, were not included. That's how democracy works. So there is no democratic system where those who votes are in the minority are decisive. Losers have to live with losing. And try to figure out how to be more persuasive so as to eventually gain majority support. There is no electoral system that will eliminate this fundamental majority-vote decision making process in a democracy.
So let's agree to scrap "every vote counts" as the slogan for electoral reform, and agree that while a democracy needs to have a healthy diversity of views, yet when decisions are made, it is the majority that will count; the majority that will be decisive.
Here's the thing about elections. Elections are not opinion polls. Elections are decisions. And that means those in the minority will not be decisive, will not "count." In every election as many as 49% of voters will not get their way. That's the way democracy works.
Now here's the thing.
All the groups that email me about proportional representation do not use proportional representation for their own internal elections.
Why is that? Because if they can't reach consensus, they use majority voting. If there are more than one candidates for a position, they hold a series of elections, eliminating the lowest person each time, until one person gets the majority of votes cast.
And no political party uses First-Past-The-Post for their internal elections.
Why is that? Because the democratic tradition is to make decisions by majority votes. So, they also use successive ballots until one candidate is supported by the majority.
The problem with our current electoral system is not that every vote doesn't count. All votes are counted. The problem is that candidates get elected without receiving the majority of votes cast. And there is no process for dropping the lowest candidate and re-voting until one candidate does receive the majority.
Conducting multiple rounds of voting is not a viable option. But simply asking voters to rank their preferences on a single ballot is. That is, instead of simply marking an "X" beside only one candidate, voters should be asked to mark a "1" beside their first choice; a "2" beside their second choice; and so on. It is then a fairly simply process to keep eliminating the lowest candidates and transferring their ballots to the marked second choice (and third, fourth, etc.) to determine which candidate has the overall majority support.
Majority voting is what democracies do. Let's let all voters have that choice as well.