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March 7, 2009

By-Election in Dublin Central

Before any British Columbian accepts the claims being made about BC-STV, attention should be paid to how politics works in Ireland with "large personalized political organizations" and machines of "ward bosses and street captains".

In June a by-election will be held in Ireland's electoral district named Dublin Central. That is important thousands of kilometers away in British Columbia, where the results will come too late to help inform B.C.'s referendum on electoral reform.

Dublin Central provides a particularly interesting case study in how the Single-Transferable-Vote (STV) works. In Ireland's 2007 election, Cyprian Brady was elected although he finished in 9th place on the first count of ballots. The fact that Paschal Donohoe had 3,302 votes on the first count compared to Brady's 939 didn't matter in the end, because after 8 rounds of counting, transferring and exhausting ballots, Brady emerged victorious even though he didn't achieve the 6,928 vote quota to win on an earlier round. The way STV works, the last person elected frequently wins with less than the minimum quota necessary in the early rounds.

If British Columbians vote in favour of BC-STV, they had better get used to unpopular candidates winning. The death of independent Tony Gregory necessitates a by-election in Dublin Central, but contrary to propaganda from proponents of STV, the wrote: "Gregory, as an Independent, was an electoral peculiarity, managing to hold his seat in eight successive general elections." BC-STV proponents would have you believe that their favored voting system makes political parties weaker, but the wrote: "For the last three decades its politics has been dominated by large personalized political organizations, of which Gregory's was only one. The strongest was, and in theory still is, Bertie Ahern's, with its legendary well-resourced machine of ward bosses and street captains." That sounds more like the fabled Chicago or New York ward politics of another century than like the stuff of electoral reform.

Ireland uses the single transferable vote in its elections, something that British Columbians need to understand before they decide whether to become the first significant jurisdiction not to reject it as their electoral system. In New Zealand's 1992 referendum on electoral reform only 17% supported STV. Ontario's Citizens' Assembly rejected it, as did Prince Edward Islands' Commission. British Columbia is the only place with a population more than 1 million than has seriously come close to adopting Ireland's unusual voting system.

Before B.C. accepts large multiple-MLA electoral areas, voters need to learn more about how STV really works in Ireland, Malta and Tasmania.


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