"One Ballot. Two Votes." as a premature report: Two Wrongs dont make One Right.

A report belonging to the fiction shelves?

To the very young, to school-teachers, as also to those who compile textbooks about constitutional history, politics, and current affairs, the world is a more or less rational place. They visualise the election of representatives freely chosen from among those the people trust. They picture the process by which the wisest and best of these become ministers of state. They imagine how captains of industry, freely elected by shareholders, choose for managerial responsibility those who have proved their ability in a humbler role. Books exist in which assumptions such as these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those, on the other hand, with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous. Solemn conclaves of the wise and good are mere figments of the teacher's mind. It is salutary, therefore, if an occasional warning is uttered on this subject. Heaven forbid that students should cease to read books on the science of public or business administration -- provided only that these works are classified as fiction. Placed between the novels of Rider Haggard and H G Wells, intermingled between volumes about ape men and space ships, these textbooks could harm no one. Placed elsewhere, among works of reference, they can do more damage than might at first sight seem possible.

C Northcote Parkinson.

On 15 May 2007, the Ontario Citizens Assembly produced its recommendation for electoral reform. ("One Ballot. Two Votes." Hence, 1B2V.)

There is no way of knowing whether Parkinson would have included "One Ballot. Two Votes." in the fiction section of library classifications. But on the claims it makes, I have no hesitation in so doing. Bear in mind a few of the following quotes:

Voter choice. (From page 6.)

Voters have both quantity and quality of choice on the ballot.

Highly misleading.
Voters have either a minimum of quantity choice or a minimum of quality choice. They do not have both together. The quantity vote for a party only offers a minimum of quantity choice, because only one group in society, the party politicians, benefit from the proportional count. All the infinite variety of society to proportionly represent is excluded for the pretend PR of proportional partisanship, in a mostly unpartisan society.
The so-called quality vote only allows a minimal choice of monopolised representation.

Voters should be able to indicate both their preferred candidate and their preferred party. (p.7.)

This fictitious right actually restricts voters to a minimum of one preference and in so doing it over-looks that one preference may not be even a first preference.
Moreover, both votes are at cross-purposes with respect to individual and partisan choice.

Strategic or tactical voting considerations enter into First Past The Post (and into the List vote, actually). This was a frequent complaint of submissions.

Simplicity and practicality of MMP (p.10) is another fiction.
By an unkind coincidence, the Ontario Citizens Assembly reports came out, at the time of the Scottish parliament elections with MMP. This was held with just the sort of ballot paper recommended by the CA. That is one ballot, two votes, to quote their report's very title.

In the previous two elections, the Scottish parliament gave two ballot papers: one for the constituency and another for the list. After all, they are two different systems, with two different aims, even if you combine their results to compose a single legislature. Anyone who had heeded the Welsh and Scottish parliament reports, chaired by Lord Richard and by Arbuthnott, would have known popular bewilderment towards MMP. But its doctrinaires make a point of not knowing, perhaps sensing this is a weakness to cover up.

Anyway, the British media had a field day with the hundred thousand spoilt ballot papers for the Scottish parliament. (It turned out later there were 142,000.) They didnt fail to mention that one area had 12% spoilt papers. But this was untypical. The average rate appears to have been about 3.5%. There is to be an official enquiry.

Against the Arbuthnott commission's advice, the politicians had also held the Scottish local government elections on the same day. These used a new voting system to Scotland, the single transferable vote (STV), which requires ranked choice: 1, 2, 3,...etc. The media were quick to point out how this must have added to the confusion.

But the media failed to mention how well this totally new system went with the Scottish people, spoiling slightly less than 2% of the ballot papers, tho it was introduced in the most difficult of circumstances (maybe intentionly by those politicians who didnt want it to be seen to work).
Since then, there has been a move by some politicians both in the Scottish and British parliaments to have STV for all Scottish elections.
One can almost see the place-holders chaining themselves to their safe seats, against such an eventuality.

Why do I get two votes? (Page 22.)

The first vote on the ballot allows you to choose a party. This vote determines the total share of seats each party gets in the legislature. The second vote allows you to choose an individual member to represent your local district. Together the two votes give you strong local representation and produce fairer election results.

Fiction? Delusion: The strong local representation is the strong hold politicians have on their safe seats. The CA deemed this a source of MMP's "legitimacy" (p. 15). The chains that bind voters to a monopoly candidate are undoubtedly strong links. By repeating often enough to voters that they have strong local links to their representatives, some of them, the represented at least, may have come to believe it as a virtue.
Tho, the merely oppressive strength of monopoly is not generally considered a blessing.

The more recent delusion is that counting votes for parties produces a fairer result. It undoubtedly shares out the seats between the parties. And again thru constant repetition, this proportional partisanship is now believed fair. Called by the traditional term proportional representation, this disguises its abolition of representative democracy.

The listed parties "trade-off" their respective policies in back-room coalition deals. It is not surprising politicians should regard electoral systems also as having trade-offs. As their politics divides the country over competing lobbies for favors, an electoral system that empowers the people to the extent they agree, as well as disagree, is beyond their conception.

In short, why do you get two votes?
Two one-preference votes, enforce strategic voting, to avoid preference voting by order of choice, in a proportional count. Two wrongs dont make a right.

About accountability. (page 24.)

Like local members, list members are accountable to the voters. They are elected through the party vote. If voters are unhappy with a party's performance or its list members, they can withdraw their support for that party in the next election.

This is the doctrine of corporate accountability not individual accountability. Here the Ontario Citizens Assembly report-writers have taken it upon themselves to recognise that infamous victory for inequality before the law, namely corporate law, in politics as well as business: one law for parties, another for everyone else.
Unless recognised for the fiction it is, this statement is grievously misleading, because it pretends there is no difference in principle between voting for individuals and voting for parties.

Do lists give parties too much power?

In the current system, parties nominate their local candidates. In the new system, they will also nominate candidates to their party lists. It is the voters who will decide, through their two votes, which local candidates are elected and how many candidates are elected from each party's list. The requirements for publishing party lists will allow voters to know who is on a list and in what order, and whether a list was created in a fair and transparent way, before they vote.

This statement has the politician's bland way of not answering the question. But the answer is evidently: yes. The voters are graciously allowed to know who will be on the lists to represent the parties rather than themselves, and whether the parties played fair with themselves, tho not with the electorate.

The report thinks closed lists make for the Select Committee's requirement of "Effective parties" but it only leaves the voters ineffective. Excluding the public from representation will not engage people with party politics.

"Fairness of representation" (p. 11) is left to parties to produce balanced lists of minorities. There is nothing to stop these being stooge candidates, whatever group they may come from. That comes of abolishing representative democracy for list votes.

Of "Stable and effective governments" (p. 13) the CA is "reassured by the experiences of other countries."
God's in his heaven and all's right with the world: is hardly an argument.

For "Effective parliament" New Zealand is cited. But their Canadian Commissioner's submission said the tone hadnt changed with MMP.
A Canadian, on a discussion forum, got a complaint, because he kept on about family letters from NZ saying they hate the system and it doesnt work.

"Stronger voter participation".

The Assembly found that no electoral system by itself can have an appreciable impact on voter turnout.

It might have been more honest simply to admit that MMP does not by itself improve voter turn-out. It must be false that turn-out is not affected by how effective voters perceive the system to be. Indeed this is a common complaint against unelective elections or safe seat systems.
MMP has party proportionality but it is a doubly safe seat system.

Political scientists, who exhort electors to their civic responsibilities, would do better to study civicly responsible electoral system, and mend their own civic responsibilities. I stand corrected but I seem to remember these siren voices early on in the Ontario CA's schedule.

The report endorses MMP dual candidacy. The same candidate would be allowed to run on both ballots, allegedly because others than the first past the post "will have strong support from voters."

The illogic of this is that MMP, introduced to make representation more proportional than First Past The Post, ends up by making it less proportionly representative than FPTP in so far as MMP "elects" representatives who are not even First Past The Post.

That is a greater anomaly than the report's apology that some candidates second past the post get more votes than some candidates first past the post. And that is no indication of the two candidates' relative popularity, if put to a genuine electoral test in multi-member constituencies offering a preference vote between more than one member of each party.

The back-ground report (Democracy At Work p. 153) states that in 2002 German elections, over 90% of list members also ran locally. In New Zealand, the figure was 84%. The report claimed this as beneficial local constituency experience for candidates.

The CA briefings, for all their political softness, pointed out that MMP made it harder to "throw the rascals out." The Richard report found it unacceptable that MMP virtually denied voters the right to reject candidates they did not want.

Parties may win more local seats than share of votes entitles them to. (Page 25.)

The Ontario CA had a change of heart by allowing this "over-hang" of seats from party-proportionality. They decided not to subject the legislature to changing numbers of seats, if only minimal changes.
Removing this complication was recommended by the academic, Gregory Morrow, supporting MMP. He also challenged the CA's balance of 90 to 39 seats. He pleaded with them to increase the 30% party proportional adjustment to 33%, with 45 list seats. The CA proposal for MMP is the least proportional mixed system in use, apart from a stray German province (DAW p. 149).

Mr Morrow also pleaded for Open Lists, because Ontarians, at consultation meetings across the province, said they did not want Closed Lists.

You see this is the problem with these consultation exercises. People know what they dont want but they dont know how to get what they do want. This was the job of the Citizens Assembly.

The assembly opted for the Hare formula of proportionality, because they said it is the simplest.
Actually it is incomprehensible, applied to the single member constituencies, which make up 70% of the Ontario CA's MMP. Using the Hare formula to elect a single member obliges a candidate to win all the votes to be elected. The Hare formula means nobody ever would be elected in single member constituencies. Only dictators claim they have practicly total support.

In two member constituencies, the Hare quota would require two candidates to have half the votes each to be elected. The Hare quota could well prevent both seats from being won.
The appropriate formula for any number of constituencies is the Droop quota, as generally used in the single transferable vote.

The Ontario CA recommended a 3% threshold of the votes for a party to receive a List seat. The small parties are the crying baby that gets picked up. Hence, the assembly's only understanding was that small parties are under-represented. But a low threshold seems not particularly helpful when the compensation to small parties in list seats is lower than in other countries. Even within the assembly's own narrow evaluation of electoral problems, this contradiction, between relatively few list seats available for relatively more parties reaching a low threshold, does not seem a thoughtful response.

The assembly's self-imposed remit to proportional partisanship has thrown up the usual range of decisions, whoever they are made by, the above discussion has indicated are unjustifiable.

There are such things as electoral standards. But the official line, that all electoral rules have trade-offs, deflected the assembly into choosing indefensible rules. Authority and academe mis-led the assembly into believing that reason wouldnt be offended whatever their choices of rules. Hence their auto-pilot report.

Why was it a premature report?

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The Ontario Citizens Assembly report was premature, because the Assembly Citizens' views were still in flux when the decisive votes were taken.

Ive already mentioned that about 800 of the independent submissions didnt appear till the month before the first vote for first choice of voting system to model. In fact the Ontario assembly's background report, Democracy At Work, reveals that 600 submissions didnt appear till the last fortnight of january. Yet the crucial first vote was taken in the first new year meeting, on 18 february.

There was scarcely time to read, much less assimilate, let alone compare notes and discuss, the independent evidence. Whereas the official briefing was over six week-ends at fortnightly intervals, followed by the Christmas holidays to further take it in. The assembly members were primed in the official line or "education" and then jumped into a decision before alternative view-points had any chance to take effect.

On 18 february 2007, ten times the assembly members prefered to model MMP (78%) to STV (getting only 8 votes). In fact the vote was really greater than ten to one, because the remaining votes mostly went to similar, or partly similar, systems to MMP. That is the Parallel system and the List system.

On 1 April 2007, the final vote was taken to decide between MMP (75 votes ) and STV (25 votes).
Anyone who has been in a small minority knows how hard it is to move a mass opinion your way. There were only two weekends a month that the Assembly met. These sessions were time-tabled, like a school, which must have further limited the opportunities for airing this particular controversy.

In a short period with few meetings, STV gained from less than one in ten supporters to one in four supporters. This brought it close to that important psychological tipping point, when one can no longer merely go with the crowd. In fact, the shift of support to STV in the Ontario Citizens Assembly followed a similar time-scale to that in the British Columbia Citizens Assembly.

The Ontario government should not have rushed the CA exercise. Now we will never know what the Ontario Citizens Assembly would have decided had they also had almost a year to follow thru, instead of seven months from september to end of march.

Now we cannot say what the definitive decision of the Ontario CA would have been over a year such as is typicly taken by a government commission (some much longer). We can only say that the government prevented it from reaching a settled opinion, that was afforded British Columbia.

In the (first) British Columbia referendum on the Citizens Assembly recommendation, STV was decisively endorsed on two counts, province-wide and by district. The Press routinely said it was "defeated" because just one, of the two arbitrary thresholds required, was not met. Yet the other threshold was far exceeded. A second referendum is scheduled.

Mr Urquehart of The Toronto Star coupled STV with such slights as "absurd", "loopy" or "barmy," every time he mentioned it. Press prejudice is why someone needs to say that in reality, the Ontario Citizens Assembly was a rushed business, before its official house-view collapsed on its sand foundations. Its sand foundations were most obviously the government's and their hired academics' "trade-offs" apology for world anarchy of electoral methods.

It is also noticable that the Ontario government intends to fully fund the explaining or "educating" of the province to its Citizens Assembly recommendation, unlike the gesture, now admitted to be token, of the British Columbia government to promote awareness of its Citizens Assembly recommendation.

From the start, the Ontario government gave its views of differing voting systems, as if it knew already what they were about. The assembly followed.

As discussed on the page about due process, the politicians told the Assembly that every system had its advantages and disadvantages or trade-offs. The very idea of right and wrong was disappeared. Political scientists, brought in from all over the world, didnt bite the political hand that fed them, as they were reported by the secretariat to endorse this view that the Assembly had a consumer choice of voting system, like choosing a make of car or a suit to peculiarly fit Ontarians rather than anybody else.

Hence, the Assembly was given one message by political authority reinforced by academic authority. These two authorities then urged the authority of the Ontario electorate upon them. They were told their efforts were otherwise "meaningless." Again no question of right or wrong but of the electoral fashion abroad in the province.
Right and wrong do not depend on authority, nor on how fashionable a view is.

The Citizens Assembly report claimed to seek the best choice for the people of Ontario. They meant that they had chosen the system that best fit the province's wishes. They didnt mean some system that was necessarily better for Ontario or anywhere else. They meant a subjective decision. But voting method objectively depends on a logic of choice.

A derisory example was how the Ontario CA could vote for the people of Ontario not to have preferential voting but they couldnt do it without using a preferential ballot. (Democracy At Work, pages 105, 110, 118. Hence refered to as DAW.) The academic support staff knew that multiple choices require a preference vote, to avoid split voting producing an obviously faulty result, which would have mocked their professional competance.

But admitting the truth of the principle behind a necessary practise would have put their neutrality in conflict with the status quo. That is to say that the Citizens Assembly was not really initiated into the mysteries of the occult science of elections. On graduation, they were called Alumni but most may have had their counsels darkened.

Historicly, some parties clamored to be better off with proportional counting but ignored the equally necessary condition of preference voting as only of advantage to the voters. Like most naive folk, the Ontario CA have been the undiscerning mirror of that power politics.

The Assembly Citizens were set up to "design" a required voting system for Ontario. (DAW p. 102) They were put in a position of infantile self-centredness. It's like treating physicists as designers of the universe, who could make up their own laws without reference to realities. A message of this critique is that politicians and academics have to grow to recognise standards of genuine democracy.

Ignoring all paradoxes, the summary report (1B2V) appeals on subjective grounds, such as that certain people did not want sweeping changes. No doubt they didnt. But I dont remember any such consistent sentiment in the submissions. And whether the change is sweeping or dusting is irrelevant to whether it is right. The truth has to be respected on its own terms, not on one's conservatism or radicalism of temperament. It's not a matter of Right or Left, it's a matter of right or wrong.

The report also appealed to the authority of the so-called principles of the three main parties' select committee report. But the fact is that anybody could and anybody did argue every which way on the basis of these catch-phrases. They had no scientific merit. They did nothing to further anyone's understanding of the issues involved. It was a conditioning exercise by politicians.

And indeed the report might have been written by politicians for its blandness. It was a successful training exercise in making citizens think like politicians, which is to say, not to think at all, but to follow the official line.

An ancient Chinese proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names. The Ontario government's "democratic renewal" turned out to be an exercise in oligarchic renewal, based on the premise that everything is alright with the world's anarchy of electoral systems: it's just a matter of the locals' subjective choice.

It is perfectly true, as the back-ground report says (DAW p. 153) that the basic principle of the Ontario CA's recommendation, the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, is that the share of seats a party wins is roughly proportional to its share of the party vote.
In other words, MMP is a party-based system not a voter-based system. That is the difference of deference to the party few, from preference for the representatives of the many.

The back-ground report (DAW p. 150) says that a "closed list is used in almost every MMP jurisdiction." It adds: "the research shows a majority of voters prefer to vote for a party and that the candidate-option often has limited effect on who is elected."

This is how the report justifies the hovel of a democracy it offers the people of Ontario:
Firstly, nearly everyone else lives in a hovel, so who are you to think you are any better?

Secondly, most people only vote for a party, so just give them a party vote - never mind that the party vote is nothing but a party vote, so they couldnt prefer to vote otherwise, even if they wanted to.
This is a perfect example of circular evidence masquerading as "research". It breaks the first rule of investigation: presumption is not proof.

Thirdly, and following from secondly, open lists dont work, so you might as well put up with closed lists.
It's rather like saying: we cannot stop the rain coming in, so you cannot have a roof. It's an example of fallacious reasoning. The condition is true: open lists don't work (because they remain essentially party votes). But the implicit premise, that all (proportionly counted) votes must be party list votes, is false. And that is why the conclusion is false, since it doesnt follow that if open lists dont work, you have to put up with closed lists.
Well, if the report cannot do democratic method, others can.

The report falls back on happy side-effects of the variety: it may rain in unimpeded, but think of this as indoor showers. Of the closed list, we hear: "This provides a measure of predictability for voters." (DAW p. 150) So, of course, do any top down clique that cannot be popularly dislodged. That merely apologises for dictatorship or place-holding.

We are also told (DAW p. 109) a closed list is "simpler and more transparent than an open list." It's true that open lists are an ineffective muddle and that at least with a closed list you know who's boss, indeed the whole party pecking order. But democratic election goes beyond feeling secure from knowing who is in authority, or uncritical leader-worship.

The report goes on that closed lists are more likely to secure representation of women and other under-represented groups. But this is true of any multi-member system. It is an argument against single member constituencies. Not an argument for closed lists, as such.

Conversely, (DAW p. 108) "The members clearly valued local representation and many were ready to sacrifice some proportionality, if necessary, to maintain it."

This dilemma fails to distinguish the issue of local levels of government from more or less proportional elections. It fails to distinguish local constituencies from single member constituencies. And if, as previously claimed, people mainly vote for a party, why must they have only one representative per constituency?

The fact is that the official briefing on-line did not examine, or did little if anything to disturb, conventional wisdoms such as that a monopoly representation is a strong link or that proportional representation is essentially proportional partisanship.

Instead, it was drummed into the assembly citizens from the start, that all voting systems have their advantages and disadvantages and there are trade-offs to be made between them. As a consequence of such an "educated" attitude, it was logical of members to resort to a mixed system.

The trade-off scenario suggests why the Ontario CA opted for a less mixed system than other MMP systems.

Further explanation may be offered by the size of Ontario's legislature having been reduced to well below the average for Canada's provinces. It must have seemed providential to assembly members that all they had to do was restore the number of MPPs with party lists. They were thus taking advantage of a situation unique to Ontario. And this could seem right to them, because they had been told to do just that: come up with a system best suited or tailored to Ontario.

This legislature short-fall offered the assembly a spuriously "Ontarian" way out they had been instructed to find, without bothering their heads beyond this superficial solution. Revealingly, the chairman George Thompson told the assembly that, just once, he was stepping out of his passive role, to advise them not to get hung up on the issue of the legislature's size in choosing an electoral system.

Final remarks.

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Firstly, a few paragraphs in my own defense. Amongst many other things, my Ontario CA submission did warn against the nonsense of the government and academic apology for the world anarchy of voting methods. I insisted very fully there are democratic standards, in accord with scientific method, which must be met.

I warned Ontario that the anarchic folly had already been followed in my own country.
In Britain we have half a dozen undemocratic voting methods where one democratic method would do.
The only approach to sanity is the successful introduction of STV for Scottish local elections in may 2007.

I also warned against choosing a system, to please everyone, that would please no-one. This was the fate of the Jenkins report, in the UK. I cannot say that the Ontario CA have tried to please enough. They failed to deal with the submission complaints against strategic voting. They failed to deal with the consultation meetings' opposition to closed lists.

The assembly had not only the superficiality of their own knowledge but that of the public to contend with. MMP is largely the propaganda success of smaller party control freaks, in the political profession, who are too small-spirited to realise that in making stooges of the voters, they are systematicly making stooges of themselves to two constituency-entrenched parties.

Doubts have already been expressed about whether the Ontario CA report will be well received by the public.
Nobody has asked me and I do not know how Ontarians will disentangle themselves from the mess of their exercise in direct democracy, that was directed too much, and cut short directly independent evidence was in.

The logistics of the Ontario Citizens Assembly, as described in the report, Democracy At Work, remind me of H G Wells' short story, "The Pearl of Love." Or, one might crudely liken the exercise to a moon colony launch that forgot the crew. After all this fanfare about democratic renewal, after every conceivable contingency taken into account and provided for, the original purpose was forgotten. The point of all of this was supposed to be that the Citizens Assembly would have every opportunity to make an informed choice, between voting systems, of whose wisdom we could benefit by.

But when it came to their making that choice, not even the back-ground document gives any clue as to the key debates. It is rather as if you built a forum, say like the Canadian federal parliament, fully equipped with modern communications, and then decided to hold crucial meetings informally on the lawn.

We dont know from the reports, what members views were when they voted first to model MMP. That was on february 18, when the schedule bounced them into their first crucial decision, as soon as the bulk of the submissions had come in, and sooner than any independent evidence could take effect among a hundred people from all over the province.

The report (on p. 125) gives no account of the first of April debate between MMP and STV. The chairman no doubt held a fair debate, asking different points of view in turn. But we are not told what they said. No doubt the information is somewhere but it should be in the reports. Striking is the casualness towards the supposed assembly objective when arrived at. A mountain of preparation scheduled a mole-hill of deliberation.

Likewise for the debate between the old Simple Majority system and MMP. There may have been only eight members who voted for it. But judging from the government's reluctance to part with a system around since 1792, the report might have actually reported someone's prepared arguments to keep it, and almost everyone else's reasons for not doing so.

As that former Canadian resident Rudyard Kipling said, of triumph and disaster: treat those two imposters just the same. It looks to me as tho the British Columbia and Ontario Citizens Assemblies were respectively triumph and disaster.
I suspect that if the Ontario assembly had the time of the BC assembly, they would have followed the same learning curve, as they were already doing, up till the 1 April's decisive vote, in the much shorter and much more controled Ontario procedure.

I dont want to repeat the qualifications to this assessment on my previous page about due process for future assemblies. The point of this page is to review the Ontario Citizens Assembly reports, showing that the lead by authority has not resulted in an authoritative report.

Richard Lung.
7 June 2007;
slight addition, 10 june 2007.

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