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Some advice for electoral reformers: better messaging needed.

That’s what my friend and colleague Michael Taube writes in the Calgary Herald in this column, about how proponents of electoral reform can have better success.

Last week, I trotted out the idea that electoral reform advocates needed to now forget about MMP or STV and instead start advocating the voting voting model known as Instant-Runoff-Voting (IRV), which I felt would be easier to explain to people, as well as be a bit more of an incremental change that Canadians might accept. Mike takes a more general view – he doesnt pick out a specific voting model, but related to my “pick a voting model that is simple and easy to explain to people” point, he does think electoral reformers need to get better messaging out there to the populace, if they want to have a shot at succeeding at passing electoral reform:

First, unite behind one model. Trying to pass MMP in one province and STV in another simply confuses the issue. Most countries use or have used one electoral reform model, which gives citizens time to understand the mechanics. Second, devise teaching materials which are easy to understand. Fair Vote Canada and small political parties have failed miserably from a communications standpoint to sell Canadians on PR. Producing simple literature for mass consumption is the only way to get real results.

I’ve highlighted the 2nd point, because I think that’s the more important of the 2 points made. I think in fairness, different Citizen’s Assemblies that looked at these voting models voted to put forth 2 different models in Ontario and BC. That was a bit out of the control of electoral reformers as to what system those C.A’s preferred. I do agree however that the communications effort has been miserable. Part of that in my opinion has to do with the complexity of the various PR models that have been put forth (as Mike touches on). The more complex the setup, the easier for the status quo folks to punch holes in it; which is another reason why I think IRV is the model to be advocating, because it’s very simple to explain.

4 comments to Some advice for electoral reformers: better messaging needed.

  • Sorry to have missed out on the discussion, but it was nice to read.

    From where I sit, Proportional Representation by political party is a mistake. That is not a democracy of the people. We already have a PR system. It’s called Rep by Pop. FPTP has one good thing going for it. That’s Single Member Districts (SMD). People find that simple, clear, understandable. But “one X to elect” doesn’t try very hard to give the people majority rule. STV had something special when they offered preferential ballots, but chose to elect people proportionally with it. They forgot about majority rule. MMP had a good idea when they offered 2 elections on one day, but all they wanted to do was elect some people using FPTP, and more people with their second try, proportionally by party. FPTP, STV and MMP don’t want majority rule. So, people complain.

    The answer is there. Respect the people, and trust the people.

    IRV offers a simple, understandable process to find majority rule in one trip to the ballot box. Use it with SMD. Let the people decide WHO represents their district (and everybody in it). Add a second election to let people decide WHAT they want the politicians to do. Have the politicians go to parliament knowing what the people want and work together to get it done in the best possible way.

  • I will agree that the voting reform people need better messaging. I won’t agree about supporting IRV (also known as the Alternative Vote–AV) which is not a proportional voting system.

  • Michael Taube

    Thanks, Scott. I’m glad you liked the column.

  • Not bad ideas, although the “Simple as 1-2-3” video I saw for STV was very straightforward. However, does IRV actually result in proportionality? If not, I’m not sure I see the point.

    I think we should consider doing what New Zealand did: first, hold a referendum asking whether or not people want a change in voting system and then, if the answer is ‘yes’ (theirs was 80% in favour), THEN hold another referendum asking which system people would prefer. That way the easy decision is made first, and people can argue out the particulars later.

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