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Thread: Electoral reform- What's the best system?

  1. #1

    Default Electoral reform- What's the best system?

    When our Liberal government was elected eight months ago, it campaigned on the promise that the election would be the last one under the current 'First-past-the-post' system. It promised to establish an all party committee to look at fairer ways of electing governments that would reflect the will of the population.

    https://www.liberal.ca/realchange/electoral-reform/

    Now that they are elected, many of us are skeptical about their reasons for wanting to change the system, and I suspect they likely proceed to one that will give them political advantage in future elections for endless majority governments.

    There are several options being considered, all of which have their flaws. So, in a nutshell, I'm hoping to hear from people about their own electoral systems and how well they work. What would you recommend? Also, I'd like to hear about what people think would improve the voting system to make it more fair. What would it take to motivate people to actually want to vote instead of staying at home because they feel disenfranchised?

    The other thing I found disturbing about this process to change the voting system is that it can all be done through Parliament, without any constitutional amendments or referendums involved. The Liberals kept their word and they set up an all-party committee to study reform and submit its recommendations to Parliament, but initially the committee was stacked with a Liberal majority, meaning the results would be skewed to the government's preferred option. They were shamed into giving up their majority on the committee after being rightfully accused of overriding democracy for the purpose of political gain. However, there's no guarantee they will act on the committee's recommendations, and simply use their majority to vote for the system that benefits them the most. After that it goes to the Senate for approval.


    Just to set the framework here, Canada has a multi-party system, representing diverse interests across the country. Our Conservative Party is the right of centre party, the Liberals are considered to be centrist, and the NDP is relatively leftist. In the last election, the Liberals 'shifted' to the left and stole enough votes from the NDP to get into power. We also have the Bloc Québécois, a party which represents the interests of Québec, and the Green Party.

    The systems that are being considered by the committee are the following choices:

    First Past the Post
    The current system in Canada since Confederation. Under this system, the candidate who gets the most votes wins, regardless as to whether he or she has received 50 percent of the vote. To me this system is a disaster. I can see how it would have worked well when our country was young and there were only two parties, but our Parliament has a differentface now with five different parties in the house. In more recent times this system has produced mostly 'false majorities' meaning that we elect governments with massive majorities, even though they have received less than 40 percent of the popular vote.

    Preferential Ballot
    Under a preferential ballot or ranked ballot system, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the last-place contender is dropped and the second choices of his or her supporters are counted. The process continues until one candidate emerges with more than 50 percent.

    This is the system our current Liberal Prime Minister has indicated he would support and for good reason! In a multi-party system, the Liberals are most often the second choice of both the Conservatives and the NDP. If a voter is either far left or right on the political spectrum, it is only natural they would select the centrist party as their second choice, rather than the party that is farthest from their political beliefs. Many Canadians speculate that this whole process is nothing more than a political grab by the Liberals to set themselves up for a lifetime of political wins through this system. My other concern with this system is that it would lead to a Parliament of second or third choices winners, which hardly sounds inspiring.

    Proportional Representation
    There are a number of proportional systems used around the world. Under this system, voters would cast two ballots, one for a local candidate and one for their preferred party. Each riding would continue electing one candidate using first past the post, while another set of members would be drawn from party lists, apportioned to each party's share of the popular vote.

    This one sounds like it would be an administrative headache on voting night, but overall, it's the one that sounds the most appealing to me so far. This would help ensure the smaller parties like the Green Party would be adequately represented in Parliament, instead of being marginalized by the mainstream parties and completely shut out of Parliament. In that respect, I think Proportional Representation would encourage people to vote for the parties they want, instead of the constant 'strategic voting' that takes place, where we're forced to vote for candidates we don't really want just to keep out the candidates we really despise. This system would likely result in more minority governments which I hope would foster a sense of cooperation amongst the parties, since they would have to rely on each other's support to get their agenda through Parliament.


    The other issue that's been discussed for the past decade is that perhaps it's time to 'merge' the progressive parties, particularly the Liberals and the NDP. We only have one Conservative party, and it has secured power for nearly the last ten years. This can be attributed, in part, to the vote-splitting that occurs amongst the progressives, allowing the conservatives to 'come up the middle' and win under the first-past-the-post system. I'm one of those people who has been discouraged by these outcomes, and have sometimes thought it would be advantageous to bring progressives together under a single, united party. This would essentially then become a two-party system, similar to the US. When I see what is happening in the US in this year's election, however, it appears that both sides of the political spectrum are disgusted with their respective parties and have nowhere else to turn in a two-party system. Both parties appear to have ignored their own political bases for decades and I see a lot of anger and apathy from both parties. After watching what is happening there, I don't think I would want to see that kind of system here (A Canadian Donald Trump? God help us all!).

    I'm really hoping to hear how people feel about their own electoral systems, the benefits, the outcomes, and the positive or disastrous results, and what, in your view, would be the most fair system possible.
    Last edited by Starrunner; 11-Jun-2016 at 15:11.

  2. #2

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    A modification of Preferential is a runoff between the top two candidates if no one gets 50% + 1 votes. I live in GA and that is the system we use. It tends to work usually in primaries, but we have had general election runoffs even for U.S. Senate. It may look like Preferential, but when the two candidates have a chance to campaign against each other it is not a guarantee that the one closest to the center will win (personalities, the impact on national results, and explicit policies do matter). Using ranking makes it theoretical, most voters expect their candidate to win and don't give the second place much attention.

  3. #3

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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU

    Germany hit the nail on the head by combining FPTP districts like in Canada or the US House but topping it up with proportional representation for all parties with at least 5%. This makes sure that smaller minority parties have a chance at getting seats and eliminates the effects of gerrymandering which is rampant in the US.

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    Quote Originally Posted by howiebabe View Post
    A modification of Preferential is a runoff between the top two candidates if no one gets 50% + 1 votes. I live in GA and that is the system we use. It tends to work usually in primaries, but we have had general election runoffs even for U.S. Senate. It may look like Preferential, but when the two candidates have a chance to campaign against each other it is not a guarantee that the one closest to the center will win (personalities, the impact on national results, and explicit policies do matter). Using ranking makes it theoretical, most voters expect their candidate to win and don't give the second place much attention.
    My objection to run-offs is voter-turnout. I mean, it's their own fault if they don't show up for round 2, but I think it's best if you create a system that produces the will of the people the first time around.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ampelwindel View Post
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU

    Germany hit the nail on the head by combining FPTP districts like in Canada or the US House but topping it up with proportional representation for all parties with at least 5%. This makes sure that smaller minority parties have a chance at getting seats and eliminates the effects of gerrymandering which is rampant in the US.

    - - - Updated - - -



    My objection to run-offs is voter-turnout. I mean, it's their own fault if they don't show up for round 2, but I think it's best if you create a system that produces the will of the people the first time around.
    My objection to run-offs is that they favor the more well funded candidate, I know some Georgia elections that a run-off has hurt the "grassroots" candidate. Sometimes it's just a function of how much time you are able to have off work, but when you/your volunteers are simply going to door to door for a state house seat, it's really hard to just let that drag on.

    The preferential ballot concept makes the most sense, and seems like it would limit nonsense like we currently have in the states. (I sometimes have to talk to real people that are going to vote for Trump, even thought they hate him.)

  5. #5

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    My personal favourite is Single Transferrable Vote in multi-member constituencies.

    While I definitely favour broader proportionality, I think national party lists are a terrible idea, since they essentially destroy the entire concept of representation at the local level. Legislators should be directly answerable to the electorate, not just to their party. While the Westminster system has its flaws, the idea that the Prime Minister can theoretically be thrown out of office simply for disappointing his constituency is.... pleasing. Accountability is important. I'd argue that it's actually more important than representation. After all, being able to choose who represents you doesn't give you a guarantee that they will be honest, or stay honest. The essence of Democracy, to me, is the ability to remove a bad government without bloodshed. Everything else is a bonus.

    I also think that stable government is also a worthy goal, and I'm pretty sure that it would be impossible under any system that was too proportional, since the number of single-issue parties and minority-interest groups active in politics will absolutely explode in number once you make it realistically possible for them to achieve a seat with diffuse support, and there's little that's democratic about the inter-party horse-trading behind closed doors that's necessary to build a coalition government. It's important to bear in mind that significant electoral reform won't just change the balance of existing parties - it can conceivably change the entire political landscape.

    STV multi-member offers the possibility of voting against candidates that you don't like, without having to vote for a different party, though it still discriminates against groups with widespread, but diffuse support.

    Of course, the other approach is to place less emphasis on the electoral method, and more emphasis on voter involvement in candidate selection. Or to allow mechanisms for a recall. Or to put more emphasis on referendums. Or to reform the lobbying process and the influence of money. Realistically, elections are only a small part of the process of politics in a Democracy. Don't over-emphasise their importance.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Starrunner View Post

    The other thing I found disturbing about this process to change the voting system is that it can all be done through Parliament, without any constitutional amendments or referendums involved.
    Constitutional law is a little hobby of mine. Heck in New Zealand the requirement for an election can be removed by either a single super majority or two simple majorities.

    But also after some research a few years ago, I have serious doubts that our Constitution is legal, as a result I don't believe our government has a lawful authority to exist. But that is something for another day lol.

    I think the biggest thing I dislike about politics is Political Parties themselves, the will of constitutes is always overlooked to the interests of the party. Also as Australia shows time and time again the entire course of the government the people voted on can be changed by changing the party leader. The Westminster system is stupid, not sure if that's what you have in Canada.

    However to the point at hand, we use Proportional Representation here in NZ. I don't believe we have had a majority government since it was brought in. Which has it's pro and cons, I don't trust the major parties with a majority government which is a pro, on the con side all our minor parties are dicks... far too many authoritarian parties in parliament.... ok they are all authoritarian.

    But Ideally I would like to change to entire system... First off I'd become Republic and ditch the Westminster system. Referendums would be binding, but restricted by something like the 14th Amendment as a safety barrier. Politicians could be recalled, and I'd throw in ban political parties and directly elect a prime minister.

  7. #7

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    Why don't we step back for a moment. The goal of an election in a democracy or a republic is to give each voter an equal voice in electing leaders or selecting laws. The ideal is 1 person 1 vote and every vote counts.

    First past the post is fairly distasteful for this ideal because it means that the votes of many people are simply thrown out. I'm actually surprised that it lasted so long in Canada in a multi-party system because it practically ensures that a majority of the population is always unhappy.

    I'm personally a supporter of run-off systems of some sort. They are most focused on the candidates involved. They can be done in a variety of ways, but all ultimately ensure that every person in the election got to express all their preferences for every candidate involved and the person selected is the one the majority would have selected if it had been possible to line up all the candidates in a town hall meeting and actually go over the thing with everyone present. On a personal note, my preference for how to do it is some kind of ranked choice ballot where you get 2-4 choices from every voter. That way as candidates are thrown out, the people who voted for them get their second preferences counted and so on. This encourages voting for one's preferred candidate without ever feeling that the vote is wasted.

    Proportional representation has a coalition focus. It almost always ensures that nobody has a real majority. Instead, the government is formed from a coalition of the majority and a select few minorities that can pull together a majority together. I think it can be strangely unrepresentative of the voters if, for example, the party that got the most votes partners with the party that got the least and picks some compromise position between the two on important issues. That ends up not representing anyone. On the other hand, proportional representation means that every legitimate viewpoint has at least some person in government who will represent them and make sure their views are heard and considered. These sorts of governments can actually feel much more participatory than a run-off style government because the people in power have much more diverse views and there are opportunities to get one's views heard and get a majority for specific issues based on weird alliances. When there are only a few major parties or groups represented, they don't really have to care about small minority views at all.

    So, I think personally that I'd favor the run-off style system because it's the one that most closely represents the views of the voters during the election, but I also think a proportional system is sensible, especially if the people and the government are interested in encouraging a system of active participation by people of diverse views.

  8. #8

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    In the US i would like to see them remove the party affiliation completely.

    No one runs as a democrat. republican independent ECT. ECT.

    You run on your own platform with no party.

    Its about that way with Sanders he is a independent/Socialist running as democrat.

    Then there is hillary that matches the symbol of the Democratic Party to a Tee.

    Use the primaries to bring the count of people running down to say 5 candidates

    Then the main to pick one of them. the two party system we have now freezes out other good candidates.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by anned View Post
    In the US i would like to see them remove the party affiliation completely.

    No one runs as a democrat. republican independent ECT. ECT.

    You run on your own platform with no party.

    Its about that way with Sanders he is a independent/Socialist running as democrat.

    Then there is hillary that matches the symbol of the Democratic Party to a Tee.

    Use the primaries to bring the count of people running down to say 5 candidates

    Then the main to pick one of them. the two party system we have now freezes out other good candidates.
    The trouble is, so long as Congress is still in the hands of the two parties, a President who has no ties or allegiance to either is going to have great difficulty building support for any kind of legislative agenda. Now, you could quite reasonably argue that Constitutionally speaking, the President is not supposed to have a legislative agenda, but merely administer the executive branch as efficiently as possible, but in practise, pretty much every President in living memory has run on a platform of national renewal (even if they differ greatly on what should be renewed), and the electorate have voted for them on that basis, not on the belief that they'd be a good administrator. Unless you're a strict constitutionalist, there's not much point voting for a President who won't actually be able to do anything.

    There's also the issue of financing. Cut out party allegiance, and you cut out party fund-raising, and therefore increase the risk that the President will be beholden to interest groups with deep pockets, given how phenomenally expensive a Presidential campaign is. At least parties represent a broad swathe of the electorate. Major campaign finance reform would be an essential prerequisite.

    However, the biggest problem is that arguably, any grouping of people with similar political ideals, gathered together to serve the same political objective - such as getting someone elected President, especially if that is for the purpose of perusing a particular political agenda - is a political party by definition. You really can't ban party affiliation without treading on the basic idea of freedom of political association.
    Last edited by Akastus; 15-Jun-2016 at 21:07.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Akastus View Post
    There's also the issue of financing. Cut out party allegiance, and you cut out party fund-raising, and therefore increase the risk that the President will be beholden to interest groups with deep pockets, given how phenomenally expensive a Presidential campaign is. At least parties represent a broad swathe of the electorate. Major campaign finance reform would be an essential prerequisite.

    However, the biggest problem is that arguably, any grouping of people with similar political ideals, gathered together to serve the same political objective - such as getting someone elected President, especially if that is for the purpose of perusing a particular political agenda - is a political party by definition. You really can't ban party affiliation without treading on the basic idea of freedom of political association.
    I think that these are the two biggest problems. Very few people are going to take the time to research and vet 5-10 (or more candidates). Nor does the media have the time to properly present more than that (they could, but people won't watch). For this reason the candidates that have the best chance to win the Presidency are ones who run the best campaign, and you need a lot of money to run a good campaign. If everyone running for President is separated from an extant fundraising apparatus then major corporations and the few richest citizens will freely pick and choose who the serious candidates are. While you could contend that's already happening and not be wrong, you're ignoring the fact that you're proposing a system under which the problem with be predictably much, much worse. And moreover, politics fundamentally work on coalition-building. Humans are gregariously social creatures and as such by and large will always look for (A) a group to support and (B) a group to work with.

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