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On electoral reform and Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV)

David Graham had a detailed article written in the Guelph Mercury that he highlighted at his blog yesterday about how he was in favour of reforming the voting system we have by changing it from what we currently have (First Past The Post) to Instant Run-Off Voting.

David and I have disagreed many times – sometimes vehemently – over what type of electoral voting system reforms Canada should have. We were on opposite sides of the MMP referendum last year in Ontario. That said, I follow the view of the website Liberals For Electoral Reform, who yesterday affirmed that while the site does support the Single-Transferable Vote Option that narrowly failed in BC in 2005 and is up again for consideration in May 2009. it will support IRV if STV fails again to pass in the BC referendum.

I don’t think IRV is the best electoral reform we can have. Indeed, I’ve written before why I didn’t think IRV was the correct answer for electoral reform. But, like Liberals For Electoral Reform, I recognize it may end up being the only viable alternative to the First Past The Post (FPTP) we currently have in place, and thus I support trying IRV out, because I think it is still inherently better then the current FPTP voting system – witness David reminding us at his column that 70% of Guelph voters did not vote Conservative, yet the Conservative candidate came with in 3% of “winning” the riding.

So to sum up, I too hope STV passes in BC, so voters can be given a chance to see how the model works and if it works better then FPTP. If it does, then there is a good chance it may gain favour in other voting locales in Canada. If voters decide not to give STV a look, then IRV has to be given a look-see. I should state though that if in a province or federally IRV was implemented right now, that wouldn’t bother me either. My view is despite some of the flaws that IRV might contain, it still would be an improvement over FPTP.

This is why I’m in mild disagreement with some of my electoral reform colleagues farther left then I am, who argue that if a voting reform were to pass that they didn’t like, that we’d be stuck with it. That’s not true at all, in my view. Every voting system has it’s flaws, but the only way to see if a voting model works better or not then the current model is to actually put it in place and try it out. Nothing stops people from reverting back to the old FPTP or something different if the IRV model is tried and it isn’t an improvement over FPTP.

6 comments to On electoral reform and Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV)

  • Ralph Anderson

    Correction to previous comment, in the 4-3-2 vote example shown, Candidate “A” wins with 4 votes in both FPTP and IRV (44%).

  • Just like FPTP, IRV allows for accountability between the voters and the representative. This is not practical in multi-member systems of PR by party (or candidate of first preference) based on quotoas and quotients.

    Just like FPTP, but to a lesser degree, IRV can lose chioce that most voters want. This happens when the real compromise falls of the ballot before the final count (finishing third or worse).

    This really needs to be fixed because it is a problem and it is often one of the arguments for FPTP. I suggest a limited set of alternative recounts that allow the votes stuck behind the top two choices (the big t’irds) to keep going with each candidate’s permission, if it helps the voters get a better result. Here’s a typical 4-3-2 vote split where Candidate “A” always wins with in FPTP (44%) and IRV (55%).

    4 voters want Candidate “A” but would settle for “B”.

    3 voters want “B” but would be happy with “C”.

    2 voters want “C”.

    It’s left to right opinion, A to B to C.
    There are 2 majorities, one behind “B” supporting “C” (55%) and one behind “A” supporting “B” (77%). In my opinion, when B loses, he should have a choice to let his votes go, if that helps “C” (55%)do better that “A” did (44%), then “A” gets the same choice if letting his votes going to “B” (77%) helps beat what “C” got.

    I have a play by play example on my web pages (reform 6 of my slate).

  • mushroom

    I agree with Chrystal. IRV is worse than FPTP because it will punish parties like the Greens and the NDP even more.

  • I’m not going to jump into the IRV discussion at this point (believe me, I have a lot to say about it), because right now we have a referendum to win in BC. Please keep in mind – BC voters already gave a resounding “yes” to STV, but the game was rigged, and now they have to say “yes” again. I really hope reformers spend the next six months rallying to win that referendum rather than strategizing on how to deal with Canadians’ “rejection” of PR.

  • IRV or the Alternative Vote (AV) is another majoritarian, winner-take-all system. The only difference between it and first-past-the-post, which we have now, is its use of the preferential ballot. In all other respects, the two systems are identical.

    As is the case now, the majority of voters are likely to see their 2nd or 3rd or nth choice elected to form the government. I don’t see how that can be seen as an improvement.

    IRV/AV gives people the sense that their preferences are taken into account. But in the end, with only one candidate in each riding to be elected, those other choices don’t matter. They matter no more than voters’ unstated nth preferences do now.

  • Hi Scott —

    Good post. I agree that STV would be the best alternative to First Past the Post in Canada. We’re lucky that we have the BC referendum coming up and voters will again decide if this is the change they want.

    At the end of the day, this is a decision that Canadians will make for themselves. At its core, this is a choice between a pluralist system and a proportional system. If Canadians decide they don’t want a pluralist system anymore and want to move to proportional, the question then becomes what is the best PR system. In my mind, it’s STV. The only downside of STV is it would require much bigger legislatures to ensure local representation doesn’t get too watered down with bigger, multi-member districts. If voters decide they want a PR system, then hopefully they’d accept this.

    However, as all PR models come with downsides, some of which the public seems hesitant to embrace (ie. lists, or bigger ridings and more MPPs or MPs), convincing Canadians to switch to PR remains difficult.

    Meanwhile the flaws of First Past the Post continue. IRV would be an improvement over First Past the Post in a number of ways that are beneficial to voters. There would be no need anymore for strategic voting for one. Secondly, I don’t believe IRV would shut out smaller parties any more than FPTP does now. If a strong local Green or NDP candidate can gain a large portion of the vote in a riding, enough to win under FPTP, then it’s highly likely that person would have great second & third choice appeal under IRV as well and still win. IRV is not something that would necessarily benefit only Liberals, far from it.

    If Canadians decide they are happy with pluralist voting systems and don’t feel comfortable converting to PR, that is legitimate. If STV fails in BC in May, I’m afraid I don’t see how the PR folks are going to turn this around anytime soon. If that happens, we should continue to advocate for change, but consider the minor improvements involved with IRV rather than the major ones involved with PR systems.

    PR is a good idea as a concept – the problem continues to be coming up with an actual model that works well and can win the support of the people.

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