Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Instant Run-Off Voting Must the Choice of Electoral Reform Advocates

STV and MMP have been dealt essentially lethal blows in BC and Ontario - I think when it boils down to it people felt they were either too complicated, weren't sure how their vote would translate into who got elected, and/or that the system lacked riding level accountability. Canadians for the most part favour incremental change, and moving from First-the-Post to a PR based system may have been too much for electoral reform advocates to ask. It's unfortunate that electoral reform advocates pegged their hopes to provincial referendums when the case for changing the electoral system in any province is not nearly as persuasive as at the national level. In no province where a referendum took place does their provincial electoral system badly inflate regional divides, is leading to perpetual minorities (and elections every two years), and benefits a separatist party more than any other party. Voters like stability and elections every 4 years and the provincial systems have provided that, while the national system no longer does. But optics being what they are, with STV and MMP systems being dealt such overwhelming defeats at the provincial level they are clearly off the table for any national referendum on this issue. The sooner the electoral reform advocates (including Fair Vote) come to this conclusion the better and I say that as someone who would have voted for STV if I lived in BC.

So I would hope that anyone who wants to change our first-past-the-post system nationally (where the need is greatest) can now come behind the idea of holding a referendum on instant run-off voting. This system is extremely simple to explain and would dramatically empower the value of every vote cast in an election. We would still have 308 MPs, everything would be the same, except you would rank your choices for your riding. If someone doesn't have 50% of the vote, then the bottom candidate drops off and the 2nd, 3rd choices are re-distributed and so on until a candidate can legitimately be said to have 50% support in the riding. No more would someone who is the first choice of 35% of voters and the LAST choice of the other 65% be elected (like a good number of Conservative MPs).

PR advocates should realize that would be a major improvement and that were IRV adopted and Canadians liked it, it would at least open the door to national STV one day, but trying to move directly to a PR system would be doomed to failure.

This should also be easy for supporters of all the major parties to get behind. Liberals just overwhelming approved Instant-Run Off voting for our leadership races and the NDP and Conservatives have the same system in place for electing theirs. This is because it would be deemed unacceptable for a leader (and in the Liberal/Conservative case, potential PM) to win with only 35% of the support in a multi-candidate race. So why would we accept less for the election of each of our MPs?

It's also easily applied to the Westminister model of Parliament. Australia has the political system most similar to us and use Instant-Run Off voting to elect their lower house MPs, so why can't we?

The arguments against MMP and STV simply don't apply - it's not complicated whatsoever, it wouldn't lead to Parliamentary instability (Liberal majorities would actually be FAR MORE likely under IRV), and doesn't affect the riding level accountability we have now.

It will also carry many of the same benefits of STV such as enhancing the power of each person's vote (if you really dislike your MP but really like their party, you could register that view through your rankings), giving a voice to those who support smaller parties or independent candidates (no longer would your vote be irrelevant - a Green MP would have likely been elected in Guelph if we had IRV in place), enhancing accountability to constituent's in close ridings (35% will no longer suffice to win), and forcing candidate's to campaign beyond "getting out their base" and avoid negative campaigning so as to ensure they maximize their second choice votes. Just as importantly, no longer would parties come to power with little representation from some regions of the country. It should also increase voter turnout which become more and more abysmal with each national election.

Everyone knows our national electoral system is the source of major national unity problems (regional divides and being the lifeblood of the Bloc Quebecois) and is giving us unstable minorities as far as the eye can see, so the solution isn't to pretend these problems don't exist, it's to do something about it.

Just because provinces where the need for electoral reform wasn't that pressing rejected the idea, is no reason to ignore the problems our national system creates. What exactly are the counter-arguments against IRV other than using the provincial votes as an excuse not to act?

Want to increase the number of western Liberal MPs in future Liberal governments while simultaneously wiping the Bloc Québecois off the political map? Instant-run-off voting would be guaranteed to make it happen.

As the party of national unity here's hoping Michael Ignatieff the Liberals take the lead on this issue. We have to trust the intelligence of Canadians that they can see for themselves that the need for eletoral reform at the national level was always greater than it was at the provincial level.

The next election is very likely to give us a Liberal minority and so might the election after that. That would be 5(!) minorities in a row, something that has never even remotely happened provincially. I of course will be hoping and working for two Liberal majorities, but the math to get there is incredibly difficult so we have to consider what our response be to two more minorities.

We can lead in calling for a national referendum ourselves or have Canadians call for it because they have grown tired of the instability created by the current system. I prefer to see us lead.

Pushing for a national referendum on Intant-Run-Off voting is one clear case where the national interest and Liberal partisan interests are one and the same.

UPDATE: Scott Tribe has similar thoughts, Steve V takes an opposing view to mine

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Anonymous said...

I supported IRV when I was an NDP supporter and now as a Liberal supporter. I have never understood why many electoral reform activists are so against IRV. How can allowing voters more input be a bad thing? IRV maintains local rep and encourages politicians to reach out even to those who will never support them as first choice. As you say, it is also an incremental change that is easy to understand and could well obtain majority support if placed on a ballot.

Anonymous said...

instant run off insures that no one but libs and cons will ever run the country, and that other parties will have no voice.

It will do nothing to fix the imbalance that keeps greens from getting a seat despite comparable votes earned to the bloc.

MERBOY said...

I think it's a bit silly to assume IRV would wipe out the BQ... the 2nd choice of many many Liberal voters in Quebec would be for the BQ and vice versa.

Danielle Takacs said...

Anon 12 PM:
That's not true, the Green candidate would have likely won in Guelph in 2008 if we had IRV. There were other ridings where the Green candidate got 15-20% of the vote, which could easily translate into enough second and third choice votes to win in an IRV system. Same is true for independent candidates. Even though it was multiple ballots than IRV, the same logic lead Dalton McGuinty having the 4th most first choice votes in the Ontario Liberal Party 1997leadership race and eventually vaulting to first (and becoming Premier in 2003).

IRV would change the way parties campaign and when you make second and third choices matter then the candidate who is the second choice of the most voters could ultimately win. At the least that would lead to Conservatives having to change their policies because right now they would be decimated in an IRV system.

It would at the very least reduce Bloc representation in half, they win the majority of their ridings with less than 50% of the vote and the majority of Quebecers would likely have a federalist party like the NDP as their second choice than the Bloc. With the Bloc's count reduced after one election, their clout in Parliament would decline and slowly they would be reduced in numbers further. There's no question they benefit more than any party from our current system.

Eric said...

"What exactly are the counter-arguments against IRV"

The main argument would be that, like the FPTP system, IRV doesn't give Proportional Representation (it actually does the opposite).

But hey, if you're happy with a winner-takes-all concept, a polarized country, and a system that favours traditional (bigger) parties over new (parties) then IRV is for you, Danielle.

IRV is at best an improved FPTP but more likely another red herring for current parties to claim they're serious about reform, when they really aren't.

That's what these (MMP and STV) referenda are ALL about. They were to make it look as if policians are open to political reform, when in reality they are against changes to the current system: Christy Clarks youtube video will tell you why.

If current (especially BC)political parties were serious about electoral reform, they would have implemented such a change themselves, like BCers did back then.

Most Canadians haven't figured out yet why politicians obstruct political reform, but, as they say, it's not about "if" they will find out, but "when".

And while most other countries of the Western world (and many other countries) have fully embraced the democratic principle of proportional representation, Canadians get to cast their vote the outdated, British Empire way.

The empire is dead, but we are holding to it's voting system, because what was good for them then must be good enough for us now!

Very unfortunate.

Danielle Takacs said...

I meant what are the counter-arguments of IRV Vs. First-Past the Post.

I understand your arugments in favour of PR (as I said I would have voted for STV), but you simply can't ignore that PR systems have been massively rejected now in BC and Ontario. Voters aren't ready for them and won't be unless we move towards more incremental change in the form of Instant-Run Off Voting.

Even you admit IRV would be an improvement over our current system so I hope you can agree that such an improvement is better than none, because no one will be willing to move towards an STV like system without seeing IRV in action first. Moving straight to PR at the national level is simply a non-starter now.

You have to accept the will of voters, just like political parties do when they lose elections.

IRV is an improvement over the current system and if there's no compelling argument against it relative to the system we have, then we should have a referendum on changing our system to IRV. To hold out for an ideal is to spite ourselves.

Eric said...

PR systems have been massively rejected

By that analogy the Liberals (46% - rejected by most BCers) NDP (42% - rejected by most BCers) and other parties can close shop today too. But there's hope then, for at least one group of voters, the group that did not turn up to vote: 48% now and likely a majority next time around (has been growing each year).

Even you admit IRV would be an improvement [...] if there's no compelling argument against it.The improvement would be negligable, and given the "red-herring" effect (excuse for politicians to procrastinate on real reform) , would work against real reform. In other words, no, I'm definitely against IRV: wast of time.

You have to accept the will of votersMost people in BC voted against the BC Liberals (voting FOR anther party in a winner takes all system is de facto AGAINST the other), yet the Liberals received ALL the power in the House (majority rules).

If you want to accept the will of the voters in an FPTP or IRV system, then we should had at least coalition government that would have a majority mandate.

The current elections clearly show that FPTP doesn't abide by the will of the voters, and neither does IRV.

Danielle Takacs said...

Right now advocates of electoral reform have two options:
1) Continue to advocate for a system no political party will be willing to implement or put to voters in a referendum (the NDP has always said they would never support adopting a new system without a national referendum and they are the largest party that actually favours PR)


2) Campaign for incremental change through IRV

Politics is the art of the possible, not the ideal.

I get all the arguments for PR, I supported STV. I also get the problems of our system, but no politician at the federal level will be willing to advocate for a system for PR for at least a decade.

In order to enact a new system or a referendum on PR you need MAJORITY support in the House of Commons. Holding a national referendum on PR would come nowhere close because of the failed referendums in Ontario and BC, MPs would vote against the idea.

I don't want to wait for a generation for electoral reform. We could implement IRV much sooner (by holding a referendum in the election after next).

Putting a PR system to a national referendum would be far more likely to fail thus killing electoral reform once and for all just like the failure of the Charlottetown Accord has killed constitutional reform for the past 17 years and possibly for good. I don't want to see that happen and electoral reform advocates shouldn't want that either.

You can't ignore the results of these referendums, voters had a clear choice between First Past the Post and STV in BC and a clear majority chose FPTP and support declined for STV dramatically from 2005.

I don't like the result but politicians at the federal level will get the message loud and clear.

PR is off the table for a generation (because it's a long way to get majority support in the HOC, let alone among Canadians) OR until we at least adopt IRV (which could be a stepping stone to STV).

It's simply compeltely unrealistic to argue otherwise.

Greg said...

IRV=FPTP on steroids. Thanks but no thanks.

Danielle Takacs said...

Greg then why have all parties adopted IRV for their leadership races?

A candidate who is the first choice of only 15-16% of voters could win in an IRV system, whereas that's impossible in First Past the Post. It wouldn't be impossible for the NDP and Green Party to exceed the Liberals in 2nd and 3rd choice votes and win more seats under IRV than they would under First Past the Post.

It would require a change in the way they campaign, but it would change the dynamic in a positive way.

In the last campaign IRV would have benefited the Liberals most (and NDP second most), but it needn't always be that way.

And just because it doesn't make majorities impossible doesn't make it worse than what we have now, I for one would prefer a system where Conservatives can't win with 35% of the vote, as would I hope any progressive. If we had IRV in the last election, the NDP and Liberals would have far more seats and the Conservatives far less (they still would have had the most though given they had 12% higher in the popular vote than the Liberals).

So when it comes down to the status quo versus IRV, I'd pick IRV any day and it seems evident that that's the only electoral change possible in the next generation.

Steve V said...

Hey Danielle. Just curious why you categorize my post as an opposing point of view? More a commentary on what this means in the future, than a statement on the merits.

Danielle Takacs said...

Perhaps calling it an "opposing view" wasn't the right phrase to use, but I read your post as saying it was time for advocates of electoral reform to accept that it won't be possible for a generation. I hold the view that we should still be advocating forcefully for change, just that IRV is the only viable option left for that change.

If I misunderstood what you were saying let me know I will make the change in the post.

Steve V said...

Thanks for the clarification. I do think this represents a serious setback, because I note proponents constantly referred to the 2005 results as evidence of momentum. Now that this result shows a clear rejection, I see the wind out of the sails so to speak. I'd also note many are saying the same thing, so you have to wonder if the political impetus still exists to push hard. I mean, we can't have every election everywhere including neverending reform attempts. This is particularly true, when you have the entrenched interests making many of the decisions, if you lack momentum, where is the incentive? I'm not saying done, but there's no question a new hurdle exists and proponents need a major rethink, maybe in line with your proposition, to give renewed attention.

Eric said...

IRV is not ProgressiveIRV doesn't address any of the major flaws of FPTP, and therefore unlikely to be preferred by progressives.

Moreover, we would hand conservative Canada a 100% win. If it goes through it's all the reform we'll get, if it doesn't, we're back at square one. In short, IPV is "possible" but a very bad idea, sorry.

The art of staying homeYes, politics is the art of the possible, but there are far more possibilities to force reform than supporting another bad election system.

Here's how I think we can more easily force electoral change by supporting a trend that has been gaining more ground with every election: staying home.

Perhaps we could rename it to: "I don't care about FPTP politics".

Staying home rulesThe charm of it is that such a "I don't care about FPTP politics" campaign would start out with something close to majority, not bad eh?

Blame FPTPFPTP voters feel so disenfranchised that they simply don't bother to vote. Each time the percentage of eligible voters has been going down. I'd say, blame it on FPTP.

FPTP results in voter disenfranchisementUnder FPTP the majority of votes get wasted. This is the most pressing reason for MPs to look for a change to our voting system to a more proportional one. Just compare voter turnout of BCs FPTP system with the last general election results in the Netherlands (by the way, I'm Dutch): their voter turn out was 80.35% in 2006 (right under the table: "opkomstpercentage" means voter turn out).

Politicians know very well that when a majority of eligible voters ignores politics all together, that their "mandate" rings hollow.

The downward trend keeps going down, including in 2009:

1920-1980: around 70%1983: 78%
1996: 59.1%2005: 58.2%2009: around 50%

I will stay home when...but keep it positiveIf at the next election electoral reform is not on the agenda of one of the main parties (liberals/NDP) I will urge people to withhold their vote, and use their time better by

a) visit a grandparent
b) drop of used clothing at a "big brothers and big sister"
c) make a donation to the food bank

Why NOT add a bit of positive spin :) ?

If you don't like a system, then don't support it. That's generally been my motto in life, and I wish more people would live by it.

Eric said...

Sorry about the messy text above; my browser seems to have screwed up my formatting.

Danielle Takacs said...

Fair enough it's definitely a setback, but I also think there will only be one national referendum possible on electoral reform (just like Charlottetown was the only one we got on constitutional reform) and I'm just convinced now that any PR system would fail, so the only hope of change is with IRV. As well, with Liberals talking about the importance of uniting this country it would be perfectly consistent to advocate an electoral system that would give them more broad based representation in government from across the country.

I think you would agree Steve that our first past the post system is bad for national unity and increases regional and rural-urban divides. We can do something about it or ignore it.

Besides if we get two more minorities in the next two elections voters are going to realize that our first past the post system is creating too many elections for their own likes and will be asking for something new that gives more stability (like IRV). I think we can get ahead of the curve on that.

I believe in working to affect positive change, not sitting on the sidelines hoping for change to come. There are lots of factors affecting voter decline, First Past the Post is just one of them it's simplistic to think people will attribute voter decline entirely to our electoral system.

IRV DOES solve problems inherent in first past the post- It would end people having to vote for another party just to "stop" the Conservative candidate
- It would allow people to express approval/disappointment of both the local candidate and political parties at the same time
- It gives small parties and independent candidates that can only muster 15% or so of the vote a fair choice of winning.
- It would lessen regional and urban-rural divides
- It would cripple the Bloc Quebecois
- It would lead to more stable government rather than federal elections every two years like we have now

The only one it doesn't solve would be allowing for majority governments with less than 40% support, but remember we haven't had majorities in the last 3 elections and we could very likely not get them in the next 2 or 3 either. IRV would at least allow EVERY MP to say they enjoy the support of a majority of voting constituents in their riding, something that cannot be said in dozens of riding where Conservatives won with less than 40% of the vote.

If IRV results in a majority Liberal government well then I would say that Liberal government would enjoy much more legitimacy across the country than would a majority Liberal government elected under First Past the Post (which would likely have less rural/Western representation then they would receive under IRV).

If PR is all you'll accept then I'm afraid you'll just have to wait a generation or forever. I would like to make improvements on the current system instead. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Kyle G. Olsen said...

IRV is such a small step, I do believe that implementing it without a referendum would be legitimate.

It isn't a fundamental change like STV, MMP, or PR, which require modifications of our entire system of 'responsible government'.

Eric said...

I believe in working to affect positive change, not sitting on the sidelines hoping for change to come.Traitor!Sure, that was the reasoning of the NSB in the Netherlands too, especially when Hitler had taken over the country. Oh, a more current example, let's not forget the reasoning of the American Psychological Association when asked why they took part in the torture of refugees. Politics of the possible, for sure, but not one I would ever want to be a part of.

Active ResistanceNo thank you. Active resistance is needed, and that's not sitting on the sidelines. It's being actively involved in informing people that there are better causes to spend ones time than participating in a degenerated version of democracy, one in which the results are largely decide by flaws of the system.

Better causesThere are many opportunities outside of Canadian politics where people can actively work towards positive social change. Look around, a plethora of NGOs have popped up during the time Canadian politics failed us so badly. Volunteer or donate all you want!

PatheticCanadian politics is pathetic. Danielle, if you choose to be part of a decreasing group of people that still believes that a flawed system (FPTP or IRV) can bring the representation a country's population deserves by some tweaking, fine with me.

But I'm out.

Antony Hodgson said...

I largely support what you say about IRV, while acknowledging the downsides others have pointed out - particularly the lack of proportionality. Fortunately, IRV can be quite easily extended to be substantially more proportional simply by creating multimember districts (of as few as 2 seats) and doing the transfers until only 2 (or 3 or 4) candidates are left.

Eric said...

IRV can be quite easily extended to be substantially more proportional simply by creating multimember districts (of as few as 2 seats) and doing the transfers until only 2 (or 3 or 4) candidates are left.Yes, but that would be called STV which "has been dealt an essential blow".

Referendum abusedThe problem isn't STV, or proportional representation: the problem is to referendum. We hardly ever use the referendum in Canada, and as I've already said it before, there's no need for a referendum on this issue either; current parties can simply implement it (as they've done in BC before).

But politicians have found the perfect way to make it appear that the people still want FPTP (over any other form of PR) by organizing a referendum on the issue without the willingness to give the new system its full support.

To convince a majority of the voters to vote for a voting system as complex as (for example) the carbon tax, but without the explicit approval of a major party will (read my lips) NEVER happen in Canada.

And that's exactly what the current two major parties had hoped for. Mission accomplished, for now at least.

FPTP eventually untenableIt will be hard to find a sound politician these days that will openly state that FPTP is the best voting system in the world: that would be an untenable position, and given the current awareness that electoral change is long overdue, a bad position to take.

At least that's the ground we've won. Let's make sure we keep pressing out MPs for PR: we owe it to ourselves.

Antony Hodgson said...

What I proposed above (ie, IRV with 2 or 3 seat districts in some areas) is a form of transferable vote, but it avoids what turned out to be one of the single greatest criticisms of STV, which is the perceived complexity of the fractional vote transfers, and it can also be implemented in stages - one could adopt IRV almost immediately, and then once voters have become comfortable using it, it would be fairly straightforward to imagine in the not too distant future moving to more proportional version of IRV by proposing merging 2 or 3 adjacent ridings in areas where it makes sense - ie, most urban areas, including cities like Kelowna, Prince George and Kamloops where there are already two ridings centred on the major town.

I'm therefore agreeing with Danielle that IRV does have some real, though arguably modest, advantages over FPTP, with Eric that a referendum campaign has proven to be an unnecessary obstacle, and with Kyle that a switch to IRV could probably be accomplished without anyone demanding a referendum. Since it could be seen as a stepping stone to a more proportional system and since adopting it could contribute to generating some forward momentum on modernizing our key democratic institutions, I think it's well worth pursuing.

Eric said...

Good analysis, Anthony, that could indeed work. The cynic in me still thinks (though) that the move to IRV could just as well stall the progress to PR. But who knows?

Any parties interested in such a route, you figure?

Antony Hodgson said...

Hi Eric,

I don't know if any parties would be interested (ie, see a substantial benefit to themselves), but that doesn't necessarily mean that they wouldn't be interested in passing it. The Liberals, particularly the premier, would probably like to derive some political benefit and recognition for this whole initiative, and both major parties might like the increase in legitimacy that would come from MLAs being able to say "over 50% of the population supported me". It's a bit hard to tell where the partisan advantage might lie - the Liberals would probably absorb most of any unsuccessful Tory or independent vote (most independents in recent years have been disaffected Liberals), along with 30-50% of the Green vote, while the NDP would probably absorb 50-70% of the Green vote. All in all, I think it's close to a draw in terms of which major party would benefit most, so any net effect is likely to be small. There'd probably be some resistance from the NDP based on their historical experience with AV back in 1952 (that's a long memory!), but they're overall stronger in the province now, so are more likely to benefit from AV.

As for stalling progress towards PR, it seems to me that both MMP and STV are unlikely for a while, so there's little to be lost and some real, though modest, gains to be made by adopting AV. I'd like to see it adopted if for no other reason than that it would establish the principle that voting change is possible - this would likely make it more possible for a future reconsideration in another couple of election cycles.

Anonymous said...