or Ireland's: Which voting system?
the regret if BC voters adopted the "single transferable
vote" (BC-STV) in the May 12, 2009 referendum only to
discover later that it is worse than the current first past
the post system (FPTP). It is impossible to test drive BC-STV,
or even get an idea of what it would be like by looking at
where it is used: Ireland, Malta, Australian Senate, Tasmania
and some municipalities. STV functions differently in each
of those jurisdictions, but some of its proponents say that
they believe its adoption in BC would be like Ireland. That
is not necessarily true, but for the sake of argument it is
worthwhile to have a closer look at how BC's electoral system
compares with Ireland's.
the exception of 1952 and 1953, BC has used its current voting
system for all of its 150 year history. The system is simple.
Each constituency elects one MLA and whichever candidate gets
the most votes wins. BC used to have some constituencies that
elected two MLAs, but then voters got two equal votes and
whichever two candidates got the most votes won. It was considered
a reform in 1991 when all constituencies elected just one
Republic of Ireland uses STV for all Dáil (lower house)
elections, Seanad (senate) elections, Presidential elections,
European elections and local elections. The single transferable
vote is just one vote, even though there may be 5 members
of the Dáil to be elected; however, voters can number
as many candidates as they choose and the numbering is used
to transfer a fraction of the voter's vote when circumstances
warrant during various rounds
of the count.
WWII BC has elected majority governments. In Ireland, one
Fáil, has formed the government in all
but 19 years since 1932, as a majority government until
1989 and as the major party in coalition governments since
1989. It is currently government in coalition with the Greens;
last partner losing 6 of 8 seats in the 2007 election.
STV was used as the voting system since 1922, so contrary
to what supporters of STV say, it is hard to conclude STV
keeps one party from dominating politics.
following table compares BC and Ireland on key factors related
to voting. Unless otherwise noted information on the 2005
BC Election is from the Chief
Electoral Officer's Report and information on Ireland
is from Ireland's Citizens
Information and ElectionsIreland.org.
to be elected (MLAs or Dáil member)
per elected member
of candidates (all BC or all Ireland)
per elected member
of registered political parties
election expenses (all candidates plus central party)
in candidate maximum.
limit per candidate
in a five-seat constituency, $56,576 in a four-seat constituency
and $45,306 in a three-seat constituency
of multiple-member areas (constituencies)
per average STV area
or Dáil member per area
Ireland have roughly the same populations and the same number
of eligible voters (not all of BC's eligible voters register
to vote). Ireland is a country and as such has issues that
a province doesn't have. Those factors may not be relevant
to an analysis of STV, although it is important to keep in
mind that any differences in politics and outcomes between
BC and Ireland could be attributable to any of the differences,
not just the difference in how representatives are elected.
May 17, 2005 provincial election only the NDP and Liberals
were successful in electing candidates: NDP 33, Liberals 46;
together with the Green Party, they were the only parties
to run full slates of 79 candidates. In Ireland the practice
is for parties to run no more candidates than they expect
to win in each of the areas that elect 3 to 5 members. Contrary
to what supporters of STV say, partial slates are not a universal
feature of STV; in Malta parties run more candidates than
there are positions to fill.
made by some supporters of BC-STV is that it would be easier
for third parties or independents to be elected if the rules
were changed to be more like Ireland. In 1991 the BC Reform
Party was able to elect members to the BC Legislature under
our current system, and in 1996 the Progressive Democratic
Alliance was able to do the same. Contrary to what supporters
of STV say, those examples suggest that it is NOT how we elect
our MLAs that determines whether "third parties"
also claim that the system gives voters greater choice. It
is hard to see that from the table above unless one means
electing twice as many politicians gives greater choice. By
greater choice, STV supporters might mean the illusion that
is created by ranking as many candidates as a voter chooses,
but the voter still gets just one vote and the rankings are
just instructions on how the vote may be broken into fractions
and counted. The number of candidates running in the 2005
BC election and the 2007 Irish elections were about the same
even though Ireland elected 166 members and BC only 79. In
BC 25 of its 45 registered political parties fielded candidates,
three parties fielding full slates. Ireland
had one dominate party and 13 others. How is that "more
say: "Strengthening local representation should be a
test of any electoral reform." Think of the difference
in geography between BC and Ireland. Under BC-STV some of
the electoral areas would be several times larger than all
of Ireland. Voters sometimes complain that in municipal elections
most of the candidates are elected from one part of town,
leaving other parts feeling unrepresented. With our current
first past the post system, people know who their MLA is and
regularly see their MLA at community meetings and events.
Under BC-STV some communities that used to have representation
may find that all of the elected members come from the other
part of a large riding. The average size of a electoral area
under BC-STV is more than 13 times the size of an electoral
area in Ireland, making it unlikely that you'd see your MLA
when you stop in for a pint of Guinness.
to what supporters of STV say, it is expensive to campaign.
the 2007 Irish election, Fianna Fáil spent €3,650,240.55,
which is $5,485,216 at the 2007 exchange rate. It looks like
the price to win in politics is just as high in Ireland as
it is under FPTP in BC where, in their central campaigns,
the BC Liberals spent $3,670,165 and the NDP spent $3,078,049.
It is tricky to compare party spending between Ireland and
BC because the figure for Ireland is the total, but the figures
for BC are just what the parties spent centrally; campaigns
for local candidates could also spend an average of $65,565
(although most don't spend anything close to that much). When
actual spending by constituency as reported to Elections BC
is added to the central party spending, the total spending
in 2005 for the BC Liberals was $7,758,375 and total spending
for the NDP was $5,884,001.
interesting to note that in Ireland in 2007 the Green Party
spent €553,858.70 ($832,283). In 2005 in BC the Green
Party spent only $43,901 on their central campaign, when spending
in all constituencies is added, the Green Party in BC spent
$$281,448. Powell River-Sunshine Coast and West Vancouver-Garibaldi
were the only constituencies where the Greens spent over $10,000.
Many might think that the Green Party's inability to elect
a single MLA is more related to the organization and financing
of their campaign than to the electoral system. do we really
need to change BC's electoral system to be like Ireland's
just because the Green Party can't raise enough money to run
Columbians have no desire to become experts on politics in
Ireland, let alone Malta and Tasmania, yet they are being
asked to adopt the electoral system used in those places.
If BC-STV passes many of us will have to live with it for
the rest of our lives. The referendum does not contain a sunset
clause, and we cannot count on another referendum. Some people,
including some opponents to STV, would like to see adoption
of a true system of proportional representation such as that
used in Germany or New Zealand. Adopting BC-STV would kill
the chances of seeing a referendum on that option.
usually the case, the only way voters can sort out the truth
about STV is to do some research for themselves. Alternatively,
voters may simply be safer staying with the system that has
served BC well for most of the last 150 years.