Saturday, May 16, 2015

PEI and electoral reform.

With the recent UK election, people have been talking about electoral reform. I myself have done so a few times, right here on this blog, but I will do so again.

There are 3 basic reasons people talk about changing the voting system.

1 - The winner should not have won.
This argument frequently comes from those far on the left, who say that various conservative parties win with something like 25% of all eligible voters, but, somehow, get a majority. These same people seem to forget that argument when left-wing parties win. Regardless, it is a valid argument. Why should someone with 25% of possible votes, or 40% of cast votes, win a majority?

2 - The loser lost by too much.
PEI and Alberta, two provinces that voted recently, have a history of very weak oppositions. There have been many cases in both provinces when the official opposition has held under 10% of the seats, while the government holds the rest. Federally this would mean a government of 277 members facing an opposition of 31. There have even been cases of the official opposition holding 5% or less of the seats. One can see the problems this unbalanced situation can cause.

3 - The "3rd parties" did not win anything.
This was the cause of the debate in the UK, with UKIP and the Greens, together, taking millions of votes, but a grand combined total of 2 seats. We've seen this, on a regional level, Federally as well. Look at how poorly the Liberals have done on the Prairies in the past 3 decades. Look at how poorly the Reform/Alliance did in Quebec and the Atlantic. Now look at the popular vote in these areas and you see the issue.

Part of the reason we never seem to get electoral reform is that the concerns of the voting public - in general - and the concerns of the activists, are not one in the same.

Activists, and those who are most ardent in their support of electoral reform, will hit on point 1 the hardest. The problem with this, is simple really - it means more minority governments. Polls have shown that Canadians do not want this. Canadians are fine with a party winning 40% of the vote and a majority of the seats.

Most Canadians, however, do understand the problems caused by #2 and #3. It is these arguments that are most often raised before a campaign to change the voting system comes up, but these arguments fall to the wayside when #1 becomes the dominant issue.

The challenge therefore is to design a system that allows "losing" parties to win seats, especially the smaller parties, without over-turning every election majority with a minority.

So how do we do this?

There are a few ways to do so. Lets look at PEI for one simple method, among many, that we can use.

Take a look at the PEI election, now, take a look at it compared to the 4 Federal ridings.

PEI currently has 27 MLAs in their Legislature. Previously, they had 32. We thus know, for a fact, that they can physically fit 32 people in their legislature. Thus, we are going to add 5 new MLAs to PEI to fix some of the problems of our electoral system.

We are going to do this, in part, using those Federal ridings.

Egmont, for example.

49% voted Liberal. 35% voted for the PC Party. However, the Liberals won all 7 seats here. Thus the "largest under-represented party" is clearly the Tories.

"But" I can hear some of you say "I only want Electoral Reform so the Greens and NDP can win more seats!"

But alas, we have a third of voters in Egmont who have no representative, compared to half that (16% to be exact) that voted for the NDP and Greens combined.

In fact, the same is true for the Charlottetown riding.

Malpeque produces an interesting result.

The Liberals won 2 seats on 36%, and the Tories 3 seats on 38%. The Greens meanwhile won 1 seat and 19%.

There are many ways to calculate representation for proportional representation. One I prefer is to divide your result in half.

Thus, the Liberals, are at 36.33%
They have two seats.
Half of that is 18.165
And half that is 9.0825

I won't run you through all the math, but what we end up with is an additional Green seat.

Lastly is Cardigan, where it is the NDP who get the seat.

This gives us our 4 basic seats, one per riding, but you'll note I said 5 earlier. Where is this extra seat?

This comes at the end. You take the new totals for the entire province, and find out who remains the most under-represented.

You end up with the Greens on 2 seats and 10.81%, compared to the NDP on 1 seat at 10.98%. The NDP is thus the most under-represented.

Your end result is this as follows:

18 - Liberal
10 - PC Party
2 - Green
2 - New Democrat

This does reduce the majority of the government.

Before these additions, the government had 66.67% of the seats, whereas after, they only have 56.25%

You'll also note that I said that this would not reduce too many majorities. How can this be, you say, if this reduces it by 10%!?

The answer can be found in 1996

One can see visually that it would be the Tories who win the extra PR seat in Egmont; in the Island's west. This means of the PR seats, the Tories would take one. While I've not run the numbers, it's likely the Liberals would win the other 3, but the NDP would likely win the final seat.

This means that while the 2015 election's 18-8-1 split gets us a 18-10-2-2 split, the 1996 election results in 19-11-2

The closer the win, the more chances that the winning party will lose in particular areas, and thus, gain more PR seats.

While this proposal is specific to PEI, the basic idea can be applied anywhere.


  1. This "riding" system is not for every province. Newfoundland has 40 seats, 7 ridings, and 1 "extra" seat under this system, or, 40-8.
    New Brunswick would be 49-11, Nova Scotia would be 51-12, Saskatchewan would be 58-15, and Manitoba 57-15. In the latter, 21% of the seats would be PR seats, and this means there is a real possibility of overturning a majority, something that, as outlined, is not wanted. It only gets worse in the larger provinces. Thus the larger provinces should use different systems.

    There are simple ways to do this. For example, just add, oh, 24 seats to Ontario which are PR seats, and calculate them based on simple math. Use a Parallel system. That means that given the Liberals won 38.65% of the vote last time, they'd win 38.65% of the seats, or in this case, about 9 seats. 15 extra seats for the opposition is nothing to laugh at, in fact, the Greens would have a seat, but it means less of a chance of overturning a majority.

    Very narrow majorities, however, would indeed be overturned, and, frankly, that's how it should be. If your party has won a 1 or 2 seat majority, the new system would mean that you lose that majority. Majorities are still possible - indeed even the Ontario Liberals, with their "narrow majority" still retain a 3 seat lead on the opposition - but elections you will still need a few extra seats to get there - Ontario for example currently has not a 3 seat lead, but a 9 seat lead.

  2. All very interesting Teddy, but I think critics would point out the lack of "proportional" in your PR. A party winning a majority with less than 4-in-10 people voting for them is still pretty damn ludicrous, and giving the Greens a seat here or there hardly makes up for it.

    1. Let me translate "Teddy, you are forgetting about point #1!"

      No, I remember it, and I specifically avoid it.

  3. Brits and Canadians only talk about electoral reform when it benefits their cause.

    The right screamed foul when Chretien swept Ontario during the 1990s, yet Reform also punched above its weight in B.C. and Alberta with FPTP.

    Small-c conservatives would have wanted electoral reform federally back in the 1990s, now they would not. A conservative would state that this is how the system works and it produces stable results. But wait, the same people would then complain when the NDP wins a majority in Alberta with 41% of the vote claiming it is not a true representation of the electorate!

    The federal Liberals were silent about electoral reform only until they reached third place status in 2011. Even then the Liberals would prefer the ranked ballot method that favours centrist parties. Why would other parties get behind this?

    The NDP portrays themselves as the holy party of electoral reform...until they benefit from it. "Orange crushes" are "orange crushes" because of FPTP.

    1. I propose to make the system better for all parties, not just this one or that one during this or that time period.

  4. This is not a "left" vs. "right" issue. Of 34 developed countries, only the UK and Canada award absolute power to MINORITY parties on less than 40% of the vote. The other 32 countries embrace the literal interpretation of democracy: that is, government by the people should represent an actual majority of voters.

    Since political parties arbitrarily divide the left-right political spectrum, this means a primitive voting system like FPTP will award power arbitrarily. So what is deemed the "will of the people" in Canada and the UK is actually a crap shoot. It is nothing short of insane the way the media in these countries interpret these random election outcomes.

    There are two ways to ensure elections produce democratic results.

    One: make politicians earn their seats with a majority of votes. This is done with a runoff votes. But if voters rank candidates on their ballots, the outcome can be determined with "instant runoff" virtual election rounds. This is a voting system with many names: Ranked Ballot Voting, Instant Runoff Voting, Preferential Voting, Alternative Vote, etc.

    Two: use some form of Proportional Representation. This distributes votes federally (or provincially) to ensure each party gets the same percentage of seats it got in votes. The major kinds of PR: party-list PR, Mixed-Member PR and Single Transferable Vote.

    The best way for Canadians to choose an election system democratically (in a referendum), is to have a three-option ballot with a runoff referendum. The three options would be: FPTP, Ranked Ballot Voting and PR. If PR makes it to the runoff referendum, voters can decide which kind of PR they prefer: MMP or STV.

    1. I prefer IRV personally, though I could live with MMP or STV - just for the love of all that is holy, avoid a system like Israel's.