Advantages and disadvantages of voting systems

What and whom do different franchise systems support?

Having followed the welcome discussion of Canada’s voting system, I and other readers should recognize that there are important issues that have not been discussed. That is, what and whom do different franchise systems support, and what and whom do they not support?

So, let’s look at the present and proposed voting options.

a) The present First Past the Post system (FPP) generally allows a political party to gain control of government with, usually, less that 50 per cent of the popular vote. Such was the past Conservative Harper administration and the present Justin Trudeau government, in which both political parties had or have approximately only two-fifths of the total popular vote. This results very often in a majority government, however. For those who believe that majority governments give the best governance, regardless of total voter turnout, the FPP is favoured.

Conservative political parties and usually Liberal political parties, as witnessed by Justin Trudeau’s reversal on his promise to end FPP, generally favour the FPP.

b) A second voting system, using a Preferential Ballot (PB), in which voters rank their preferences by numbering their first, second, third, etc. party choices, does have the advantage of having elected representatives who serve as MPs or MLAs receiving over 50 per cent of the ordered choices of voters in their constituencies. In this respect PB overcomes one of the possible weaknesses of the FPP voting system, in which an elected candidate usually has less than 50 per cent of the popular vote. A possible disadvantage of PB is that a political party can still form a majority government with less than 50 per cent of the total popular vote.

PB presently is favoured by the federal Liberal Party, which rejected the federal Commision Report on Electoral Reform, which did not recommend PB. The preferential ballot, in the past federal political climate, would likely find dissatisfied Harper Conservative voters choose either one or two as their Liberal preferences, would greatly favour the Liberal Party. PB is not generally favoured by the Conservative, NDP or Green parties. It is interesting to note, however, that in choosing the leaders of their respective political parties the use of the preferential ballot is used. Mr. Radford proposed the PB voting system in your last issue.

c) The new kid on the Bloc (pun intended) is Proportional Representation (PR). PR is touted to increase voter turnout in that every vote counts and voters are represented in one form or another because of their choices. To give a simplified example, if there are 100 Members of Parliament or a Provincial Legislative Assembly, and Party A receives 40 per cent of the total popular vote, Party A would have 40 MPs or MLAs. If Party B received 15 per cent of the total, then Party B would have 15. This, it is hoped, will increase the numbers of people who vote since some non-voters state that their votes are wasted in the present FPP voting system.

It must be noted that PR often results in minority governments. This, depending on a voter’s values and political leanings, can be an advantage or disadvantage. PR, because usually of the needed support of two or more political parties to form a majority, can result in greater co-operation and civility among political parties since they are necessary for a coalition party to remain in power. If such consideration is not there, the result could be numerous elections and possible instability. It should be noted that most nations in Europe and many in Africa and Asia have PR. New Zealand and Australia, as former members of the British Empire, have adopted PR, unlike Canada. There are many examples in the U.S. of PR in municipal elections.

Unlike a) and b) above, PR can have several forms. The one endorsed by the NDP Federal Party is known as Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR). It still retains the advantages and disadvantages of PR, but can choose some candidates from the party. Some people in New Zealand, although favouring PR, do not like MMPR since all legislative members are not responsible to or elected by a constituency. This is the type of PR noted by Mr. Rusland, since it may not create harmony and co-operation in the legislature, but still may foster political partisanship. MPP can be advantageous since those appointed members can foster greater participation by women and visible minorities if used in that manner.

Other types of proportional representation, such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV), usually encompasses other considered franchise advantages. In PRSTV for example, in which voters vote for candidates using the PR or Preferred Ballot, when a very popular candidate, who is the first choice of a voter, receives in excess of the number required to be elected, that excess is transferred to the voter’s second choice.

In nearly all Proportional Representation systems, voters choose preferentially the candidates that represent a political party, and also individuals from lists submitted by parties. Those lists can be closed or open, the latter allowing for a wider selection of names.

PR is favoured by the NDP and Green parties, who traditionally are unrepresented in Parliament or Provincial Legislatures by our present voting system. The Conservative Party prefers the present FPP system, while the Liberal Party also embraces the Preferential Ballot system. But since both the Conservative and Liberal parties traditionally have formed majority governments with less that 50 per cent of the popular vote, and realize that this may not occur under a PR system, they oppose PR.

In summary, every voting system has its advantages and disadvantages. It is important for persons to recognize these, and not be misled.

Don Bright

Cowichan Bay