British Columbia is now just over a week away from its (second) referendum on the proposal to change to single transferable vote for future provincial legislative assembly elections. The referendum will be concurrent with the election to the next provincial assembly, by FPTP, at which the Liberals will be seeking a third term. The voting takes place on 12 May.
The election race could be tightening, with a recent poll putting the Liberals on only 42%, the NDP at 39%, and the Greens 13%.
If the race is (at least) that tight between the top two parties, and the Greens are that strong, just about any outcome is possible, given the past history of this province’s FPTP but multiparty elections–the history that initially put electoral reform on the map over the past decade. In fact, the item just linked includes a section about how the poll is an “echo [of the] B.C. Liberals’ 1996 defeat.” In that year the NDP won its most recent assembly majority despite the Liberals’ having won their first-ever voting plurality.
The referendum requires 60% to pass, plus majorities in 60% of the provincial ridings (electoral districts). Sixty percent of votes is probably at least 20 percentage points more than it would take either party to win 60% of ridings, depending on margins and geographical distribution of the vote.
There are YES and NO sites regarding the referendum that are worth a look.
I have addressed many of these issues in past B.C. plantings.
And, oh, by the way, the Liberals won nearly two thirds of the seats on only 42% of the vote.
More later. Meanwhile, this thread continues to grow. Thanks for the comments. (I have weighed in there a few times, too.)
On 10 October, voters in Ontario will vote in a general provincial election. They will also vote in a very important referendum on whether to change the electoral system for future provincial parliamentary elections from the current FPTP to MMP.
The proposed MMP–mixed-member proportional–electoral system was recommended by a Citizens Assembly, made up of ordinary citizens selected (mostly) at random from the voter rolls (sort of like a grand jury). The assembly was given the task, under law, of deliberating about how elections actually work in Ontario and whether there might be a superior model. If it recommended an alternative, it was legally guaranteed that its proposal would be put up against the current system in a provincewide referendum. That time is now, and Ontario voters can decide whether to keep or change FPTP. Or, rather, a super-majority of Ontario voters can decide to change, as the proposal must obtain 60% provincewide, and majorities in at least 60% of the 107 provincial ridings (electoral districts).
Under the proposal, voters would have two votes–one for a candidate in their local riding (as now), and a second vote for a party list. There would be 90 (instead of the current 107) districts in which a single legislator would continue to be elected by plurality of votes cast. There would be 39 compensatory seats, from closed party lists, allocated to “top up” the seats of any party that had won more than 3% of the provincial party vote, but whose number of districts won was a proportional share (of the full 129 seats) that was less than its party vote share.
There is video debate on CBC that you can watch (about 6.5 minutes long), and CBC also has a list of some of the key arguments for and against.
Meanwhile, in the provincial election, it will be business as usual for FPTP. One party–and it will be the incumbent Liberal party, unless there is a very big surprise–will get “reelected” with around 42% or so of the vote, and is projected to win more than three fifths of the seats. The Conservatives–led by, and I kid you not, John Tory–will win around a third of the votes, but probably under 30% of the seats. The New Democratic Party (NDP) may win around 17% of the votes, but only around 11 seats (10%). The Greens may win five or six percent–and one poll says 11%–of the vote, but almost certainly no seats.
Obviously, Ontario has a multiparty system, and would be well served by a more proportional electoral system, which would raise the prospect of Liberals cooperating with one or more parties. If MMP were being used in this election, perhaps the Liberals would cooperate, after the election, in forming a government and passing policy with the NDP. Or they might strike a deal with the Greens, who would win anywhere from 7 to 14 seats, depending on their vote total, rather than zero. Under the current system, the Liberals will rule alone in spite of their having only 43% (or so) of the vote. Nonetheless, the referendum’s chance are considered a long shot.
The MMP proposal may not even make it over 50%. To get to 60% is hard. After all, one former FPTP jurisdiction, New Zealand, has MMP today because a vote of more than half the voters was sufficient in its 1993 referendum. The MMP proposal would have been considered defeated if 60% had been required; the change was endorsed by “only” 54% of the voters. In British Columbia in 2005 a referendum on a different electoral reform, also proposed by a Citizens Assembly, obtained around 58%, where, as in Ontario, 60% was required. (In BC, a second referendum is scheduled on the proposal.) Meanwhile, most governments in New Zealand under FPTP, as well as in Ontario and BC have been single-party majorities based on well under half of the vote–and sometimes on less than 40%.
It is perhaps surprising that a jurisdiction such as Ontario in which the ruling party usually is endorsed by well under half the voters, and where there are important parties other than the top two, would not be “ripe” for some form of proportional representation, such as MMP. However, Ontario is not exactly the most likely case for an electoral reform process to have emerged in the first place. It has had none of the serious anomalies–such as a party with the second most votes winning a majority of seats–as New Zealand had for two elections in a row (1978 and 1981), or as British Columbia had (1996).
With its multiparty politics, it has had some erratic results under FPTP, but nothing out of the ordinary. The graph below shows the patterns over recent decades.
This graph–as with others I have shown here in the block on the “seat-vote equation”–shows, in the lower segment, the deviation of the second largest party (in seats) from what it would be expected to have won, for the given votes for the parties and the size of the assembly and the number of total votes cast. On that lower (dark green) trend line, we see the identity of the second largest party. The trend line in the upper part of the graph shows how close elections have been.
The one really noteworthy–and perhaps “anomalous” election–was over twenty years ago. In 1985, the party with the most votes was the Liberals, with 37.9%, but the Conservatives, who had 37.0%, won the most seats. The Conservatives did not, however, win a majority. They won 52 of 125 seats, and the Liberals were actually able to form a minority government, with the support in parliament of the third party, the New Democrats. Then, in 1987, the Liberals called an early election and won a very large majority: 95 of 130 seats, on 47.3% of the vote.
As can be seen by the trend line in the lower portion of the graph, the electoral system has been somewhat biased against the second largest party–except in 1987, when that party was the NDP. In most elections before 2003, the second largest party was the Liberals, and they have won fewer seats than the second party would have been expected to have won (given the vote shares of the parties, the number of seats at stake, and the number of votes cast).
However, the bias has not been great, and the anomaly (if it was one) of 1985 was a long time ago. It is somewhat surprising that the Liberals actually promised prior to the 2003 election to convene a Citizens Assembly, and that they then went ahead with it. Now we are at the decision point. Will Ontario voters agree that MMP would be an improvement, or do they like the status quo electoral system in which they will most likely reelect their current government on 43% of the vote?
The Globe and Mail has a rather odd editorial. It almost seems to think the electoral reform is a good idea, but says to vote against it, partly because it claims the idea has been given short shrift in the general-election campaign. It suggests, rather strangely, that MMM would be better. And it wishes the threshold were at 5% instead of 3%.
An early consensus. The Citizens Assembly voted on Sunday on their first preferred alternative system. They plan to design two, and then choose one.
Mixed Member Proportional – 78
STV – 8
Parallel – 6
List PR – 3
Alternative Vote (IRV) – 2
Two Round System – 0
Thatâ€™s a lot stronger consensus than most expected.
On Saturday they settled their three key objectives for system design, after breaking out into five group sessions. Chair George Thomson quipped â€œyouâ€™re making my life easyâ€ when all five groups chose the same three:
â€œThe number of seats a party wins should closely reflect its vote share;â€
â€œEach MPP should represent a geographic area of the province;â€ and
â€œVoters should be able to indicate their preferred party and candidateâ€ separately, that is, have two votes, one for the party, one for the local candidate.
Next step: preliminary design of the first alternative (MMP) on the weekend of March 3 and 4. Apparently thatâ€™s two-vote regional MMP.
It keeps the actual party-list PR in a nationwide constituency, but proposes two major changes:
1. The d’Hondt formula should be replaced by the simple quota & largest remainder formula because it is fairer to smaller parties.*
2. Voters should get more power in determining who will be elected from the party lists. Normally the top candidates are elected; lower-ranked candidates can only get elected if they obtain 1/4th of a simple quota (only 10% of MPs get elected this way).
The Citizens Assembly proposes that a voter can vote for the whole list or for one candidate. The seats are distributed “proportionally” between the top of the list and the most vote-getters: if party A gets 20 seats, 40% of A-voters vote for the entire list, and 60% vote for some candidate on the list, then the top 8 are eleted and the 12 other seats go to the 12 candidates with the highest personal score.
That would be an interesting way of attempting to split the difference between open and closed lists. Elsewhere, I have proposed intra-party d’Hondt, allocating seats based on the shares of the votes cast for the list (as a whole) or to specific candidates. Neither intra-party d’Hondt nor this Dutch proposed method has ever been used, to my knowledge. My quick expectation would be that this proposal would allow the election of candidates with smaller personal-vote shares than would intra-party d’Hondt. That may be precisely consistent with the citizens’ goals, but in many other jurisdictions, the intraparty fragmentation promoted by rules in which large numbers of seats are filled by simple rank in preference votes has produced considerable dissatisfaction.
Apparently, the citizens like fragmentation, on both the intraparty and interparty dimension. I have just discussed the intraparty dimension. Regarding the interparty dimension, the decision to change from d’Hondt divisors to simple quota and largest remainders (SQLR) also would favor fragmentation. The proposal favors SQLR because it is “fairer” to small parties–overly so, I would argue. It can allow a party or faction thereof to split off and present its own list, with the result that the separate lists of the formerly unified party can obtain more seats collectively with the same votes than they could have running on one list. For this reason, many countries (including the Netherlands, previously, and Colombia most recently) using PR have abandoned SQLR for d’Hondt. A threshold can help overcome this effect, but the existing Dutch threshold is very low (about 2/3 of 1% of the nationwide vote).
Bancki reports that he can find only a Dutch text of the full proposal. If anyone reading this also reads Dutch, please post in the comments any additional information you can glean from the report.
The long-awaited convening of the Ontario Citizensâ€™ Assembly on Electoral Reform took place at York University campus on the weekend of September 9-10. One hundred and three citizens, representing every riding in the province, began their work to determine whether Ontario needs a new voting system.
Assembly Chair George Thomson welcomed the 52 women and 51 men who will be meeting on several weekends each month through the fall and winter to learn about voting systems. They will hold public meetings across the province from late November to the end of January, and then make a recommendation in April or May on whether the voting system should be changed. If they do recommend a new system, that recommendation will go to a referendum, all but certain to be held with the October 4, 2007 provincial election.
The agenda for this first weekend session included an introduction to the role of voting systems. To gain first-hand experience on how different voting system can produce very different outcomes, the Assembly used three different voting systems to select their snacks for the three coffee breaks on the second weekend. To wrap up the weekend, Assembly members discussed what they expect elections to accomplish. The next five weekend sessions will go into detailed reviews of all major voting systems.
As always, J.H. Snider has regular updates and links to news accounts, including a rather hysterical warning from Ian Urquhart in the Toronto Star of 9 September about “a leap of faith into electoral darkness.” In the Star article, we get these nuggets:
Two years ago, a similar assembly in British Columbia recommended a loopy new system called the “single transferable vote,” which hardly anyone understood…
Urquhart alleges that in BC,
the research director for the assembly was an individual who was already predisposed toward the single transferable vote…
I know who this is, and while he has done research on STV and probably thinks it has been, on balance, pretty effective over the past 90 or so years in Ireland, to say that this makes him “predisposed” (as in biased in favor of) the system strikes me as unfair and unreasonable for the reporter to say (unless he has some very specific evidence). Essentially, he is calling into question the sholarly integrity of an professional researcher. Anyway, in Ontario, the reseach director will be a:
professor of political science with no published record on the issue of electoral reform.
Wonderful. We certainly would not want someone who actually is an expert on electoral systems working to assist a group of citizens–most of whom have never thought about electoral systems before–tasked with recommending either a new electoral system or the retention of the current one! (I do not wish to imply that the scholar chosen is unqualified or will not do a good, professional job. I simply am questioning the principle of having chosen someone who is not a specialist in the field. Additionally, Wilf notes in a comment that the model of a non-specialist Academic Director supported by a team of elections experts was precisely the model that Fair Vote Ontario recommended.)
Urquhart also fears that “the playing field is already tilted against the status quo.” In a sense, that is probably correct. Given that jurisdictions do not regularly hold such extensive reviews of their electoral systems (though perhaps they should!), the very fact that a process is underway suggests there is doubt about how well the status quo serves the jurisdiction. And well there should be, though my own research on reform away from plurality shows that Ontario is not one of the cases that is most “objectively” in need of reform. The province has not had the record of severe anomalies that British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, or pre-reform New Zealand have had.
Then, even after criticzing BC-STV, Urquhart implies that proportional representation necessarily is a system of “party lists” notwithstanding that there are no party lists under STV. He also claims that under PR candidates run on such lists “rather than in constituencies” (my emphasis), notwithstanding that one can have both, if one understands “constituencies” to mean single-seat districts and the form of PR adopted is MMP. (Of course, most non-MM PR systems, including STV, indeed have constituencies; jurisdiction-wide party-list systems, a la Israel or Ukraine, are exceedingly rare.)
Urquhart says that “permanent minority government” would be a cure worse than the disease, which he diagnoses as “presidentialization.” The latter term–highly misleading in any parliamentary system, but that’s a topic for another day–refers to the concentration of power in the premier. Apparently it has not ocurred to Mr. Urquhart that the reason the premier is so powerful is that there are no checks and balances on a single minority party (in votes) that is frequently given a majority (in seats) by Ontario’s current electoral system. Your premier will be a whole lot less “presidential” (not that he is now, but, again, that’s a topic for another day) once you have an electoral system that ensures, when there is no party with a majority of votes, that a minority party leads a minority government–or else, of course, a majority coalition.
The idea that one can genuinely empower “ordinary MPPs,” as Urquhart wishes–at least without real presdentialization, that is, electing legislators and the executive separately and eliminating confidence votes–is quite frankly naive. Under a parliamentary form of government, individual members are arguably at their least powerful under plurality voting and the resulting tendency towards single-party governments. PR–of some form–is essential to what Urquhart claims to want to accomplish.
It seems Urquhart and his newspaper could use a primer from an electoral systems specialist. But of course we can’t be trusted to be objective about our areas of research specialization, can we?
J.H. Snider has an update, from his correspondent in the Netherlands, on the Citizens Assembly that is reviewing the workings of Dutch democracy.
A couple of things stand out for me in the correspondent’s report:
A poll held in the previous weekend revealed some opinions in the assembly: The majority of the assembly does not want to change anything about the proportionality of our current system, the existence of coalition governments and the current high turnouts at elections (of around 80%).
All good and sensible. But…
Some things the majority thinks should be changed are the number of parties in parliament, the way coalitions and the cabinet are formed, and the role of MPs.
Keeping the existing things they like while getting the new things they want is going to be a interesting exercise in institutional design.
A group of randomly selected Ontario residents will soon be asked to decide whether the province’s electoral system needs a shakeup.
The province said Monday it will convene a 103-member citizens’ assembly… If the group recommends a change, the government will then hold a referendum on the issue some time within its current mandate… Selection of panel members will begin this spring. [read more]
Something I have been wanting to get around to for a while: There is a proposal soon to go before the California state legislature (ACA 28) to create a citizens assembly to review possible electoral reform for the state. The idea is derived from the recent Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform in British Columbia. A similar institution will begin work in Ontario* this year.
From the Sacramento Bee, December 20, by way of FairVote (emphasis below is mine).
Two California assemblymen known for their efforts at bipartisan cooperation have joined forces on a bill that seeks to fundamentally overhaul the state’s electoral system in a search for its political center.
Under the legislation to be submitted next year by Democrat Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg and Republican Keith Richman of Northridge, a “citizens assembly” would be created to come up with a new electoral system and place it in the form of a constitutional amendment on the November 2008 ballot.
A draft of the bill doesn’t mention what kind of changes might be proposed. But Canciamilla and Richman said in interviews that they strongly favor such changes as proportional representation, independent redistricting, term-limit modification and campaign finance reform.
The body would be made up of two members from each of the 80 state Assembly districts, selected by a task force of academic experts from a pool of volunteers representing the state’s adult population according to age, gender, race and geography.
“We’re not suggesting an outcome,” Canciamilla said. “We’re trying to focus on electoral reform, and that could be pretty much anything…”
“I think the confluence of gerrymandered districts, short term limits and campaign finance have resulted in legislators being unwilling to do anything other than vote for the agendas of the special interest groups that are going to help them get re-elected or elected to their next office,” Richman said.
So far, not only a good idea, but a good newspaper report about a good idea. But then there is this:
Although the draft legislation does not recommend any specific changes in the electoral system, those involved say they are interested in exploring a proportional voting system along the lines of the parliamentary systems of Europe.
OK, well, it is certainly true that most European countries have parliamentary systems and most also have proportional representation. But the two, as concepts, have nothing to do with each other, and one can exist in a political system without the other. The UK is parliamentary, but uses plurality in single-seat districts, just like California and most US jurisdictions. France is semi-presidential–and the cabinet depends on the parliamentary majority, not on the president–and uses two-round majority in single-seat districts (like many larger local jurisdictions in California). And then there are presidential systems–like the US and all its states–that do not use single-seat district winner-take-all elections like we do, but instead elect their legislators by PR– examples include Costa Rica and most other Latin American democracies.
While I think it would be great if a citizens assembly would also be allowed to at least consider a parliamentary government model for California, let’s not conflate parliamentary systems with proportional systems!
One of the problems in Sacramento is that the Legislature is too polarized and that there is a great, vast center in California that is not adequately represented. When you think about political reform, it’s how do you create a legislative body that reflects its constituents better than Sacramento does today?
Exactly. And this is how any dicussion of proportional representation in California or elsewhere in the US should be framed. Too often the focus in discussions of PR is on allegedly “foreign” models and the European parliamentary context, and on opening the gates to fringe parties rather than by focusing on the benefits to the great chunk of voters who are not committed to any party, major or minor. Consider each of these in turn.
PR is not foreign. Almost every US voter who has ever voted in a presidential primary has voted in a PR election, as both parties (Democrats in all states and Republicans in most) use PR to allocate convention delegates to presidential candidates (though with very high thresholds, often 15%). Two common PR formulas are known by very “foreign” names (d’Hondt and Ste.-LaguÃ«), but the exact same formulas are also known as Jefferson and Webster in their use, at various times throughout US history, for apportioning seats to states in the House.
PR is not just for parliamentary systems. I already began to address this issue above, but it is worth noting that the claims (which are themselves much over-stated, but that’s a different debate) that PR breeds government “instability” are hardly relevant to the fixed-term executive of the US and California. Now, there is a lot of literature in comaprative politics that claims PR and presidentialism are unworkable, but I find this literature unconvincing.** The compatibility of our executive type with PR is a debate worth having, as any PR system has to be designed with the separate executive in mind (and thus not simnply imported from those foreign contexts) and I would like to have that debate here at F&V and elsewhere. But if the question is instability, defined (albeit not properly) as short-duration cabinets brought down by small parties or shifting coalitions in the legislature, this is not relevant to California or US separation of powers.
PR is not just for the fringe. Too often in debates about PR, the assumption is that the only voters who would benefit from it are those who favor fringe parties and ideas. Obviously, such voters indeed have a stake in PR, for it lowers the effective share of votes needed to obtain legislative representation. But I do not expect any PR system that could ever be adopted in California or elsewhere in the USA to have an effective threshold lower than around 5% (and it might well be higher). If Greens and American Independent and other very small parties are to clear such a threshold, even they would have to moderate their views. In doing so, they would no longer be the fringe parties that go by those labels today, and they would be appealing to voters located much closer to the center than their current “true believer” fringe electorate. That brings me to my last point about the benefits to nonpartisan voters.
PR is good for centrist and nonpartisan voters. The rationale for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s failed ballot measure to create a panel of judges to re-draw congressional and state-legislative districts was that our current districts are too “safe” for one party or the other and that elminating partisan and bipartisan gerrymandering would elect more moderates from competitive districts. The goal of electing more moderates was also behind the push for the blanket primary (which the US Supreme Court invalidated) and occasional calls for Louisiana-style nonpartisan two-round majority elections (as though Louisiana were a beacon of political reform ideas!). The problem with all these propsals is that they remain within the single-seat district paradigm. And the winners of those districts will still be Republicans or Democrats, and because of the geographic distribution of party supporters, only a handful of districts would become genuinely more competitive and friendly to moderates than current districts under current electoral rules.
Moreover, any supposed moderates who are elected under these various within-the-pardigm “reform” ideas would still go to Sacramento (or Washington) and caucus with the legions of more committed partisan members sharing their party label and who are elected in fully safe districts.*** At a time when the fastest growing choice on the portion of the voter-registration form that asks for party affiliation is “decline to state,” what is needed to represent these moderate voters was best stated by Henry Droop (in continuation of the quote at the top of the left sidebar):
if this moderate non-partisan section of the electors had their separate representatives in the assembly, they would be able to mediate between the opposing parties and prevent the one party from pushing their advantage too far, and the other from prolonging a factious opposition. With majority voting they can only intervene at general elections, and even then cannot punish one party for excessive partisanship, without giving a lease of uncontrolled power to their rivals.
I have no idea what proposal would emerge from the citizens assembly. But I do believe that citizens, educated about alternative electoral systems, are highly unlikely to believe that the status quo should be retained, or that simple tinkering around the edges would deliver the benefits that the vast “moderate non-partisan section of the electors” wants to see from its government.
My previous posts on proportional representation in the USA can be viewed together at the PR-USA subdomain. Specifically, please see:
And my F&V mission statement (especially the sub-heading “Towards a poitical re-engineering agenda for the USA).
*The Canadian province, not the California city.
**Most of this literature is based on the collapse of democracy in several Latin American countries in the 1960s and 1970s. But there were far greater problems for democracy in those societies than either presidentialism or proportional representation. For one thing, the right wing, often backed by the US, was much more willing to throw its lot in with the military than to accept the difficult compromises of democracy, and the left was far more radical than it is today, dreaming of revolution rather than willing to face the difficult compromises of democracy. Societies like Chile and Brazil were deeply polarized, and PR did not create the polarization, nor would majoritarian electoral systems (with whatever executive type) have kept a lid on it.
*** And there is growing political science evidence that parties’ legislative caucuses tend to select leaders closer to the party mode than to the median. In other words, the moderates lose out to the more committed partisans (who tend to be from safe districts). It thus takes a lot of new moderates to make a major dent in the political position of those who direct the party’s legislative business. And, as already noted above, there is little realistic prospect of a large increase in the number of moderates elected, even with a “fair” redrawing of the map of single-seat districts.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4