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April 10, 2009

BC-STV Vote Count Confusion

Voting with BC-STV is like ordering a steak and a beer but your neighbour determines the size of the steak and whether you get a pint or a glass. STV breaks your vote into fractions with the size of each fraction determined by how others vote.

About 90 people gathered in Surrey on April 8th to listen to a debate on whether B.C. should adopt the Single Transferable Vote. The audience heard that BC-STV would mean replacing our 85 constituencies, which each elect just one MLA, with 20 large areas that would elect between 2 and 7 MLAs. The audience had many questions on how the vote count works.

With STV everyone gets one vote, but you mark numbers to indicate preferences and those numbers are used in the vote count. First all the "1s" are counted. If a candidate receives the number necessary to be elected (12.5% to 33.3% of the vote), the excess votes are reallocated to the next preferences of the people who voted for that candidate, in proportion to the excess. If a candidate is eliminated, the full value of a vote is reallocated to the next preferences of the voters for that candidate.

Your second preference could get counted as 10% of a vote while your neighboour's second preference could get counted as a full vote, as some value in between, or not at all. With BC-STV you cannot control what fraction of your vote is given to each of your preferences because how your vote is counted is determined by how other people vote.

If this sounds confusing it is, and no one should vote for BC-STV without understanding how the count works.

It gets even trickier when you try to trace what happens to the third preference of voters. For many voters, the count never gets to their third preference, for others, it may result in as little as 1% of a vote being transferred, for example when preferences one and two each win by 10%.

The more questions are asked about the details of the count, the more people are likely to want to stay with the current system, which is easy to understand. Most people think our current system is fair since it elects the candidate who gets the most votes, but many don't think it is fair for their neighbour's second preference to count 10 times, or more, as much as theirs.


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