British Columbia chooses a voting system ( part 2 )

British Columbia chooses a voting system ( part 2 )

Single transferable vote ( STV )

Single transferable boat

Origin of proportional representation

Proportional representation was originally invented, in the mid-nineteenth century, as a proportionally counted preference vote, by the Danish statesman Carl Andrae. In Britain, soon after, Thomas Hare independently came up with the same formula. On the continent, the preference vote was soon abandoned by politicians who thought that the proportional count only mattered for their parties, rather than the election of individually prefered candidates.

In English-speaking countries, the campaign for 'Hare's system', and its development into STV, persisted. This no doubt owed to a tradition of individual freedom. Above all, it owed to the support given by John Stuart Mill, who immediately recognised that Hare's proposals, to improve representative democracy, were much better than his own.
He called the reform both 'proportional representation' and 'personal representation' to emphasise that prefering the best individual representatives was as important as representing all portions of the nation. Mill never made the mistake of many modern electoral reformers that democracy was no more than equal treatment between political parties in an election count.

Since 'Fair Votes' campaigns started in Britain and were taken up in other English-speaking countries, this fairness between the parties is what they have meant. To be fair to British Columbia's Fair Votes campaign, they have said that proper representation of small parties is an important consideration but not the only one. And they have been generous in response to the British Columbian government's generous agenda for electoral reform.

Besides fairness, there is freedom to consider. After all, to 'elect' means to choose-out. Voting systems should not cheat voters of a free choice or the means to put it into effect, as we saw in the previous part of this essay.

Not only fairness and freedom but also fraternity is needed. A rounded definition of democracy, as good as any, is the French republican slogan: liberty, equality, fraternity.
A genuinely democratic voting system puts these principles into practise. This is what STV does. Freedom of choice comes from being able to prefer candidates, who must win equal portions of the votes, in a multi-member constituency, before they can be elected.

Democratic functions of STV

In a single member system, personally unpopular representatives rely on being the nominee of a party, for whom the constituency is a safe seat. With STV, there are no such cheats of the popular choice, because candidates of the same party have to compete for preferment. And only the favorite candidates of the parties with sufficient portions of support will win seats with STV in a multi-member constituency.

An STV general election has in-built primary elections which all the voters can take part in. This is a big improvement on primaries exclusive to party members. In a democracy, the voters' right to decide, which way a nation goes politically, includes the right to decide which policy ways the parties go.
It means that parties are much less likely to be hi-jacked by small groups taking over the selection committees of the single ( safe ) seat system. This was the complaint against British Labour being infiltrated by Trotskyists in the nineteen seventies and eighties. And it was alleged, in the ensuing period, that more Tory selection committees were choosing candidates in favor of capital punishment.

The democrat believes it is better to let the people make their own mistakes than have 'elites' make them on their behalf. This is the wisdom that currently informs British Columbia. Long may it prosper.

The proportional count, used with transferable voting, is a logical continuation of an over-all majority count for a single member, requiring at least half the votes for a candidate's election, which none of the other candidates can exceed. ( If two candidates got half the votes each, lots would have to be drawn for the winner. ) In a two member system, two candidates each require one third of the votes, which cannot be exceeded by the remaining candidates. This gives a two-member proportional representation of two-thirds the voters. In a three-member system, the PR is three-quarters, and so on.
This system of proportional counting is called the Droop quota, and it is standard to STV.

Party lists systems and Additional ( party list ) member systems have no agreed proportional count. They have a chaos of methods for sharing out the seats for party votes, which more or less favor large or small parties. This is another source of bias in the result, to those mentioned in the previous part.

There are technical objections to both quota methods and divisor methods of conducting a party proportional count. The more basic objection is that they impose a dogmatic rationalism on the voters presumed to be all-or-nothing partisans, whose vote may count for any one on a party list, once they have voted for a party candidate. Or, worse, the voters are given only a vote for a party, denying the right to elect individual representatives given in the Sankey Declaration and the following UN Declaration on Human Rights.

As a matter of fact, people are not blind partisans, except in the most extreme instances of tyrannical disrespect for human beings as individuals. Party lists ignore the evidence of people's wishes. Party list bosses only allow the voters to tell them what they want to hear, namely that the people are ideological conformists to party lines.
STV allows voters to prefer candidates on purely partisan lines, if they wish. Proportional representation enables proportional partisanship. But the reverse is not true, as shown by party lists.

The transferable vote allows voters to prefer candidates of more than one party, enabling supporters of one party to say which other party they would most like to see in coalition with their most prefered team. STV allows the voters to express a degree and kind of national unity, on which a governing majority can be based. The public become the stabilising arbiters of policy negotiations.
This effective method of allowing the public to form a government is another essential attribute of a democratic voting method unique to STV.

This is what was meant by saying STV satisfies the principle of fraternity. It allows offering a degree of preference to friendly candidates across social and political divides. A party vote only counts for some manifesto package, peculiarly relevant to leaders or activists. A transferable vote works by electing individuals, with all the attributes, political or social, relevant to the voters. In particular, candidates, who agree on a single issue can be prefered. STV may act like a referendum taking place within the general election. Parties are less able to jointly ignore popular issues or force policy dilemmas on the public.

As the proportional election of individual candidates, STV does not discriminate against independents. Like them, party candidates have to earn their portion of the votes thru personal preference. Because they depend on the public rather than their party boss, party candidates can be more independent on particular issues. With the list system, the party candidate may need only a sufficiently high ranking on one preference vote, that of his party boss ordering the list to pre-empt the election. Such privileged candidates become party servants rather than public servants.

The proportional count of a preference vote is what makes STV fulfill the above-described requirements of a democratic voting system, and also allows it to work for all kinds of election, political or professional, and at every level of government. ( In Eire, STV is used at every level of government, from local to European elections. )

The lack, of preference or proportion or both, makes other voting systems unworkable at some level, despite the low standards of election law. These short-comings are disguised by the much wider use of party list systems, in particular the fashion in additional or mixed member systems. But no system ( other than STV ) is used at every level of government.

It is not generally recognised that STV has a role to play in elections for a single vacancy.
Take the French presidential elections by the Second Ballot. In the first round, the socialist candidate had so little personal support that the National Front candidate Le Pen came second, and won the right to a second round with Chirac, the front-runner.
In the second round, Le Pen won no further support and Chirac took some eighty per cent of the votes.

That landslide victory only represented Chirac's popularity relative to Le Pen. It gave little idea of the main blocs of French public opinion.
If the successive rounds of the presidential elections were conducted with a proportional count of even up to five rounds, it is doubtful the national front candidate would have got beyond the first round, because that party did not achieve a fifth of the votes. With the Droop quota, the first round could require four candidates to each win one fifth of the votes. The second round would then require three of those four to each win one quarter the votes. The third round sees two candidates each win one third the votes. In the fourth and final round, the candidate, with over half the votes, is sought. Such a way of using STV is not without its critics, even among STV supporters, but it would be a huge improvement on the Second Ballot.


My other web pages give other information on voting method, including examples of STV elections effecting primaries, governing majorities, informal referendums, and the representation of social as well as party political minorities. Also discussed, in places, is why other voting systems dont work at every government level, etc.

In his Autobiography, John Stuart Mill tells how he started a radical journal to try to change the climate of British political opinion. Looking back, he was realistic about the limited influence of reasoned persuasion. He guessed that that all he decisively promoted was a democratic constitution for Canada.
I thought this justified calling Mill a founding father of Canadian democracy. ( Not every one agreed with me. )

The illustrations, to these two web pages, come from R M Ballantyne's children's novel Hudson Bay. They are by Bayard and other artists, based on sketches by the author.

Best wishes to the citizens and government of British Columbia in their democratic endeavors.

Richard Lung
15 june 2003.

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