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Fair Vote Canada’s out to lunch on Ranked Ballot Initiative, treatment of its own members who support it.

I’ve shared some common ground with Fair Vote Canada over the past few years, because I support electoral reform to our electoral system, as they do, and I generally believe a form of Proportional Representation is a good system to have to cure what ails our current Parliamentary system, as they do.

However, several failed referendums later (with only 1 being close in BC, and that regressed a couple of years later) , it’s rather clear to me and a lot of other reformers that Canadians simply do not have the appetite right now, if ever, for such a radical change to their voting system. I’ve been on record for awhile saying in lieu of that, I support Preferential Ballot (also known as Instant-Runoff Voting, or Alternative Voting), as the choice to be offering to voters for change. Basically, you rank the candidates of your choice in order. In this manner, as lowest candidates get knocked off and votes are tallied for the next choices on your ballot, you eventually will get a winner in the riding or contest with 50+1 majority vote. All the political parties currently use it for voting in their leaders.. so I think it wouldn’t generate as much hostility with them.. and I think it would be less scary to Canadians then PR obviously is.. and it’s not complex to explain either.

Fair Vote Canada does not like this electoral reform; it isn’t proportional (which they are correct in saying) and thus they feel it wont address real voting reform; some even think it’s worse then the status quo.

Not all of them though.

Toronto City Council is going to be voting in May on whether to request to the province that they be given the option of choosing the Ranked Ballot Voting for their elections. There is a group out there called RabiT (Ranked Ballot In Toronto), run by Toronto City activist and blogger Dave Meslin. Most of this group are still members of Fair Vote Canada.. but they are having a bitter dispute with the organization, who has decided (narrowly in a referendum – 55-45 of its members) to not support the Ranked Ballot Initiative – this despite the fact PR has little to no support among anyone on Toronto Council. It’s either Ranked Ballot, or the status quo.

Despite this, FVC would prefer the status quo, it seems. Not only that, it appears they’re going to great lengths to silence the strong minority of its members that support Ranked Ballot in Toronto. You can read more of that from Dave’s POV at the link provided, with other links going out to various parts of the story.

FVC claims Ranked Ballot will not fix our current electoral woes. Maybe not, but my question to them would be – they always have pleaded with the electorate to give PR a chance and try it out to see that it works. I would rebut to them, why not see if Ranked Ballot will work in a civic election scenario (where no parties are running, I might add.. the political ideologies notwithstanding)?

My only guess, other then being stubborn or too binded to PR, is that they’re afraid if it is a success, or more popular with the electorate, or both, then PR might be still-born/dead in the water. I’d respond it’s pretty still-born now, so why not get behind a voting reform, even if its only incremental? It’s still better then the status quo.. and perhaps if people get used to voting on a ranked ballot.. they’ll be more open down the line to voting in provincial or national elections with something like an STV setup – which isn’t too far off from Ranked Ballot.

You have to start somewhere, and I think Ranked Ballot is that place . I hope FVC will reconsider their “less then fair” methods they seem to be employing against their own members for supporting or being part of RabiT. 45% is a pretty large number, and they may find that amount leaving to form their own Electoral Reform group if they keep it up.

Quite frankly, Dave Meslin has been far more restrained then I would be, urging people to stay in FVC and calling for reform from within, but If the FVC Executive continues to employ these tactics, I’d urge him and his followers to consider making RaBiT a full separate organization; support PR by all means, but be open the fact another solution of reform may be the way to go and not close off your mind to it. It has been charged by some that FVC has become blinded to its PR ideology/Holy Grail. I fear they are right.. and it may be time for RaBit supporters to cut bait.

Update: For more information on the Ranked Ballot Initaitive and on the RaBiT group, go to their website here

10 comments to Fair Vote Canada’s out to lunch on Ranked Ballot Initiative, treatment of its own members who support it.

  • Thank you; I’ve enjoyed the comments. What we all want is the best possible electoral and governance system.

    What do we want in that system? That we elect honest people who declare their conscience and follow it, so we are not betrayed by those we trust with our authority. The ideal, direct democracy, is possible in a small group, where everyone has time to listen to everyone, but beyond those numbers it is physically impossible for any of us to hear each of us; that is where we need to structure dialogue and find large-numbers-compatible ways of reaching a consensus. The alternative of course is dictatorship. So we seek a delegative democracy that does not become corrupt or act like a dictatorship; we seek a delegative democracy that yields as much transparency and honesty as the ideal (direct democracy) does. To achieve that, we vote for delegates in any one of many ways, and we vest trust (that we must expect to be deserved), and we could use many potential safeguards (not all of which have been taken) to counter the opportunism that can arise when delegates face a conflict of interest. Paramount amongst those safeguards is scrutiny, which requires transparency (vs. secrecy); other safeguards arise out of the structure of our electoral system. Another the right of an elected member to ‘cross the floor’ or change parties (it could be seen as an obligation when the circumstances demand it), but this is only possible in a system that elects individuals (which, in form, the Westminster system does), who may or may not be members of parties. Thus there are a number of impediments to achieving the best delegative democracy, and many potential solutions (e.g. the list at razorbillpress.com/democracy); FPTP is just one of the problems; it happens to be a very easily solved one (Instant Runoff is the easiest and most economical improvement).

    We (commenters so far) all seem to agree that no system is perfect, and so far we all seem to acknowlege that FPTP is deeply flawed and needs some kind of change. Our only task is to find a consensus on what that change should be. And, to paraphrase Churchill (I think), some systems are less perfect than others.

    We all seem to agree: FPTP may be superior to the AK47 Method, but otherwise it is a very poor system very prone to vote-splitting (as a mere problem, or, worse, as a strategy): it allows a ‘winner’ who lacks a majority of consensus support. If candidate X supporting policy_A is facing 5 opponents who all support some variant of policy_B, and if X can count on 30% (but cannot hope for more than 39%), under FPTP X can use judicious campaign donations etc. to cause the remaining 70% to be divided as evenly as possible so that each opponent has less than 30%. For example if the opponents all agree that improved voting systems are needed (policy_B variants) and X wants to keep the status quo (policy_A), s/he merely needs to prevent the opposition from reaching consensus. The Instant Runoff is a way of reaching a majority (at least a 50%) consensus, virtually ensuring that the more widely-held policy wins through a consensus opponent. That is a great improvement over the FPTP minority (e.g. 39%) consensus whereby the more narrowly-held policy often wins.

    PurpleLibraryGuy makes a good point “where there’s just one person being elected … Ranked Vote/Instant Runoff/STV/Whateveryouwanttocallit is a very good system”; indeed, InstantRunoff is considered the best system for any one-seat election. The secondary good point he makes (“Whateveryouwanttocallit”) is that a plethora of different names are given to InstantRunoff (also AlternativeVote), undoubtedly generating confusion useful to those wanting to keep FPTP.

    We’re not disagreeing with what the theory of PR is. The article really is not about that; it raises the question: ‘‘Given that InstantRunoff (aka RankChoiceVoting, aka AlternativeVote, aka …) eliminates the serious problem of vote-splitting and is thus a clear improvement on FPTP (pure plurality system), how could anyone declaring a dedication to improving fairness refuse it?’’

    Despite declaring that the ‘Heart of the problem [is]… the first-past-the-post voting system (FPTP)’, FVCa has now explicitly shifted from saying FPTP is the key problem to saying PR is the only solution. Although that has long been apparent, just not so clearly. That should challenge the cred of FVCa (as said, compare Fairvote.org, a much more credible effort).
    “I now believe FVC has crossed the line into actively working to keep the first past the post system in these contexts, a perversion of what I thought I was supporting.” (Chris Tindal, at http://meslin.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/thanks-for-your-support/)

    PurpleLibraryGuy restates what PR is, and no questions that is the theory of PR; and, as PLG notes, there are other (hybrid) systems out there that merit consideration. Nevertheless, PR as typically known and discussed is of the ‘party-proportional’ flavour, and that means parties (political corporations) will be the organs of representation rather than individuals, and I’ve seen nothing from (party!) advocates to specify support for a non-party model. As PLG states, the concept behind PR is appealing; the problem is how to do it in a way that does not entrench parties and reduce the ability of Independent candidates to run or succeed.

    Clearly, the simpler the fix the more easily it will be achieved. The advantage of InstantRunoff is its simplicity. In contrast, once one delves into PR and the various flavours of it, and then even more complex hybrids with the rules and math they would depend on, the very difficulty of anticipating their effect is itself a barrier to voter support. Furthermore, if we did end up with some kind of hybrid system (like Mixed Member [+] Proportional, MMP) the first stage should never be FPTP but should be InstantRunoff. So, even for those who want such a hybrid system, InstantRunoff would be a step in the right direction. So, let’s do this; it is an easy, economical, and effective fix, one that gets rid of a very serious problem.

    SO: the challenge to FVCa is whether they are bound to support party control of politics. The question is: what makes any supporter of PR so hardcore that they will not accept InstantRunoff as an improvement over FPTP. If you have a leak in the roof, do you refuse to fix it because you want a different shaped roof, or do you fix the existing roof as well as possible and still argue for the different shaped roof? I.e. to vote (as FVCa did) to not support InstantRunoff (thus presumably any kind of runoff) only makes sense if FVCa actually fears that it might be so good that the push for PR would be diminished.

    As Scotian says “preferential ballots as electoral reform would be the easiest improvement on the current reality … which I also suspect is why it is so derided by so many of the hard core supporters of prop-rep.” Indeed.

    • This is an interesting post and I agree with a good deal of it. I think I should clarify one or two things about my own post. I didn’t actually address the problem of independents vs parties. The approach I suggested would still involve parties, it’s just that the voters would have a say in which members of those parties became MPs, even the top-up ones. I don’t actually care that much about the problem of independents. It’s related in my mind to the widespread idea that “ideology” is a dirty word–people have a hankering to elect individuals on their personal qualities because they don’t believe in political ideas. For me it’s almost the reverse. I like parties. If I’m going to elect someone to political office, I want to know what they stand for politically more than who they are personally. I know lots of people disagree and given the state of politics I can kind of see it. I’m not sure what system you could have that would actively promote the rise of independents, though. And an MMP system doesn’t make it particularly harder for an independent to get elected. They run in a riding and if they get a plurality of the vote, they get a seat–just like now.

      Also, I may have given the impression that PR, specifically MMP done my way, is my ultimate system. Well, I suppose it’s my ultimate system of representative democracy, but representative democracy isn’t my ultimate system. My support for PR is itself very much an “art of the possible under the current broad system” kind of compromise. I agree with you that the ideal is direct/participatory democracy, and I think that while the difficulties and barriers are great, it would actually be possible to scale direct democracy up to the size of a whole country. I have an essay on the topic here:
      http://www.pogge.ca/archives/003087.shtml
      One feature of it is that it relies on Instant Runoff voting to make policy decisions. After all, individual policy decisions are much like one-seat elections; only one policy can win. So really, my ultimate political system doesn’t have PR at all, because there is no Representation to be Proportional.

      Couple of quibbles.
      One: I don’t think it’s coherent to have the individual ridings in an MMP done as InstantRunoff. The point of MMP is that after you do the elections in the ridings, you measure the popular vote across the region and compare the percentage of votes cast for different parties to the percentage of MPs elected for different parties, and you have a number of extra seats which you give to the parties in proportions that leave you with the percentages now basically matching. OK, so say your riding elections were InstantRunoff instead of FPTP. Your second step would be measuring all the first choice votes to see what the percentages were. The final mix of MPs assigned from the topup would just negate whatever the InstantRunoff did with lower ballot choices. The only difference from FPTP would be in how many list MPs relative to riding MPs would be needed and what directions the skew would have to be to make the results proportional–and I’m not sure the InstantRunoff wouldn’t actually require more list MPs. I guess it wouldn’t do any harm, it just wouldn’t change the end result and the ballots would be more complicated.
      Two and three: I also would argue that in the most important sense, MMP isn’t a “hybrid” system. It’s hybrid in the sense that it retains geographical ridings, but it’s not hybrid in the sense of being partially proportional–the results are fully proportional. Plus, from the voter’s perspective, a “best losers” system is very simple. You vote in your riding, put the X beside your choice, just like now. It’s just that if your candidate loses in your riding, your choice still helps elect a regional MP, specifically someone from the party you voted for who did pretty well but didn’t quite win.

  • While I’ve never written on this topic myself I have to say I have never been all that impressed with the idea of proportional representation and I much prefer the idea of preferential voting as the method of voting reform for the moment. As has been shown the prop-rep is not something that sells well outside of its core believers but I suspect that many voters would wish that they could rank their preferences so that in the first past the post system we use that at least if their first choice failed their second might make it instead of something utterly unacceptable to them winning (as the Harper example so clearly illustrates for 2/3rds of the voting public). Something I think some people find hard to accept that is that for all that in some respects the Canadian public is progressive it is also rather conservative in the true sense of the word in others and the idea of radically changing how we elect those we entrust with power is never going to be an easy sell, and personally I think that is a good thing myself. Like many of these swing voters my own political beliefs are a mix of liberal and classical conservative ideas and principles depending on what is under discussion, and I suspect my preference for preferential ballots as electoral reform would be the easiest improvement on the current reality to sell to a majority of voters, which I also suspect is why it is so derided by so many of the hard core supporters of prop-rep. That’s my nickel on this one (since the penny is gone can’t give my two cents anymore…sigh).

    • Excuse me? The hard core supporters of prop rep support it as a measure of basic democracy: 20% of the voters get 20% of the seats, 51% of the voters get 51% of the seats etc.
      If you’re going to support representative democracy at all I fail to see how this can be an unimpressive concept. If on the other hand we don’t agree with the idea that the majority of voters should command the majority of representatives, then what are we claiming representative democracy is supposed to be about?

      • Believe it or not PLG I actually understand how prop-rep works and in greater detail than you chose to use I might add, the little lecture was rather unnecessary, and since I know you are aware that I am fairly well informed on how political structures work based on my years of commenting and occasional blogging especially regarding process issues I must assume that you meant it as something of an slap/insult. I also find your insinuation that anyone not in favour or as I put it not impressed by it is inherently an idiot also more than a bit shall we say projective. I think you oversimplified the matter in your response and did so in a manner which I would suggest to you undercut your own position far more than mine. I never said it was a bad method, I said I was unimpressed by it and that is no less than my honest opinion. I think that it is a hard sell in this nation, I’ve thought that for over a quarter century now, and its track record to date has shown that I am far from unreasonable in thinking so. I would also suggest that any approach which increases voter intention being acted upon is a good thing, and that while your preferred choice would for your purposes be best I prefer a choice that is more incremental when we talk about the core of how power is legitimized and transferred in our nation, which is why I prefer the use of a ranked ballot to allow for elected MPs with 50%+1 of the votes. It is a real improvement on the current travesty without having to make serious fundamental changes to our underlying processes, which means it is a far easier sell and is far more likely to be accepted and implemented than the more extreme (as in drastic or broad in scope/nature, nothing more than that) approach of prop-rep.

        BTW, I’m unimpressed with it because I think it is too much of a sell outside of hard core political junkies to buy, and have thought so all along. I’m unimpressed with it because to implement it in federal politics it would cause significant upheavals in how our federal political structure works and I am uncomfortable with such without a lower level test bed proving the concept out in our context and how we could best implement it occurring first. I’m unimpressed with it because even after so many years of campaigning for it by people like yourself and groups like fair vote it has failed to catch on to any significant degree in the wider electorate as a way of improving our democratic structure. Most important though it comes back to my being unimpressed for my own reasons which you failed to even ask me about and instead essentially bitch-slapped me. Not one of your better responses PLG, and quite honestly I am more than a little disappointed in you, I’ve come to expect better than that from you based on your prior work, another reason why I’ve taken the time to go into this so much here.

        • Whether it’s a tough sell has little to do with its fundamental characteristics. You didn’t say you were unimpressed by the political prospects, you said you were unimpressed with PR. Not my fault if your communication was slipshod.
          And after all, plenty of countries have managed–rather more, in fact, than have done Instant Runoff. So I don’t see why it’s reasonable to just say “Oh, you guys should just give up because it’s so impossible.” In any case, if you’re so all fired accustomed to my posts you should know that I am, as I mentioned below, pretty radical. The general approach of saying “The best thing to do will certainly be defeated so you should shut up about it” is not something I’m really willing to put up with over a whole range of issues; this would be one of them.

          On the question of lecturing–dude, it’s not all about you. In my longer post I was replying to a fair degree to bluegreenblogger and to some extent to anyone who might be lurking around. I have no idea what they know and don’t know, except that I do know bluegreenblogger believed PR lists were necessarily party controlled, a not uncommon impression which people can reasonably pick up from talk going around but inaccurate.
          One thing that is about you is the tone of the reply to you that you’re complaining about–but that’s because I am disappointed in you. I bitch-slapped you because you collectively bitch-slapped all PR supporters with a general ad hominem to the whole goddamn category–you got a lot of nerve complaining. What was this supposed to mean? “I suspect my preference for preferential ballots as electoral reform would be the easiest improvement on the current reality to sell to a majority of voters, which I also suspect is why it is so derided by so many of the hard core supporters of prop-rep.”
          That’s a direct accusation of bad faith, which would apply personally to me and to anyone who strongly supports PR (even though virtually all of us had nothing to do with any of this shit that went down). And then you’re upset because my response was a bit terse? Give me a break and look at the beam in your eye, man. I went easier on you with provocation than you went on my whole category without. If you’re going to get all upset over a relatively mild post, maybe you shouldn’t be slinging collective slander in the first place.

  • Those actions by FVC sound very nasty, an unconscionable effort to suppress different points of view.
    And really, when it comes to elections that elect individuals, with no parties involved (especially, say, leadership ones or mayoral ones where there’s just one person being elected and so there’s nothing to have proportions of), Ranked Vote/Instant Runoff/STV/Whateveryouwanttocallit is a very good system. I’ve also argued repeatedly that it would be a great system for dealing with things like legislative initiatives and referenda, because it would allow a choice between multiple options rather than “Do this or do nothing” which is what you get with yes/no votes.

    I do generally agree with FVC’s majority that for broader legislative elections with parties, it kind of sucks. Sorry, I don’t think it’s much of an improvement. Maybe it’s because I’m a radical, and I see Ranked Vote as a way of making sure that radicals never get a voice, ever, because relative centrists will get most of the second choices from those further to the other side. But that’s not remotely an excuse to muzzle and sack people for having a different opinion.

    bluegreenblogger, I do have to disagree about the lists. There are lots of different ways of doing proportional. My personal favourite approach is a particular kind of Mixed Member Proportional called Best Losers. You may well know about MMP and how it has mostly individual ridings like now, with some regional MPs as well who go to whichever party is getting too few from the FPTP elections in the ridings. The “Best Losers” method, instead of using a party list, gives the regional spots to whichever losing candidates in the ridings came closest to winning. That way, everyone with a seat faced the electorate and the ones that get in are still the people from that party who were most popular with their public. List problem solved.
    There are also methods which put lists on the ballot; I find them kind of cumbersome but they still aren’t “the party choosing the lists behind closed doors”. Well, unless you want to talk about the choice of who runs in a riding “the party choosing the candidate behind closed doors”–but surely that’s what a party’s membership is supposed to do.

  • Very interesting news and thank you for the analysis, and thanks too to Catherine and Bluegreenblogger for their comments. Evidently a number of us are coming to similar conclusions (see razorbillpress.com/democracy/), which is great! If a runoff is good enough for the parties to elect their leaders, why not let us have it? The simple possibility is that if a group insists that PR is the only supportable method, they have a problem of credibility. For one thing, as Catherine points out also, PR entrenches parties; it’s difficult to see how Independents could have a role, or how a person could out of conscience cross the floor. To explicitly refuse to support Runoff (Instant or not) as an improvement to FPTP is in fact to support vote-splitting — there’s no escaping that. Now check out the difference between “fairvote.ca” and “fairvote.org”; they are not at all similar!

    There may be room for hybrid constituency and proportional systems, but why not simply use a system that Gets Rid of One Big Problem: the problem of vote-splitting. Let nobody get elected if 50% want them out. See this enjoyable article: Grenier, Éric (20120507): “How would Harper fare in a French-style run-off election?” in the Globe and Mail. (The French method in that case is a runoff.) Instant Runoff can be implemented federally by simply letting people rank the candidates, and that could be done on the same ballots we now have; just a few lines in the Elections Act and it’s done. If people insist on using just one tick (equivalent as Catherine says, “just 1 and a bunch of zeros”), their ballots can still be counted that way.

    My opinion: FVC’s (the .ca one!) true purpose, undeclared, is to maintain or advance the influence of parties; PR is the ultimate goal in that, and the status quo is next best. PR would be a profound change: districts, loss of or amalgamation in the constituency representation, and of course the elevation of parties, which after all really are corporate entities in the business of politics, with all the risks attendant to us in having such an arrangement. If it really cannot support Instant Runoff, if it really prefers FPTP, FVC should rename itself Un-FVC.

    Instant Runoff, as well as eliminating vote-splitting tricks, lets everybody vote their actual preference, without needing to guess how everyone else would vote. No more thinking “oh, that person doesn’t really have a chance so I can’t vote for them, even though I think they’re the best”. Here’s what Fairvote.ORG say, “genuine voter choice”:
          “Upholding the principle of majority rule and accommodating genuine voter choice are marks of a well-functioning democracy. That’s why we encourage understanding, adoption and effective implementation of instant runoff voting, a ranked choice voting system used in a growing number of American elections.”

  • catherine

    I don’t know Fair Vote Canada very well, but having studied their website a number of years ago, where they essentially ranted about ranked ballot or instant runoff being the worst system of all, I decided they must have some agenda because they came across as so rigid and closed-minded How can allowing voters to give more input be even worse? What about the impact of candidates trying to be second choice if they are not your first choice?

    I guess some people only want exactly what they want, but I’ve never felt that way. At times, I really wanted a NDP rep or candidate A, but felt if I couldn’t have that, I could be satisfied with a Liberal rep or candidate B, etc. In other words, I do have ranked preferences, not just a 1 and a bunch of zeros. Federally, now I am rather attached to the Liberals for the time being, but I still don’t like the idea of having political parties play an even larger role. For that reason, I feel uncomfortable with proportional representation.

    When you say some think ranked ballots are worse than our current first past the post, can you explain in what way they think it is worse? I would like to try to understand this.

  • yeah, I heard about this last week. It was a real head scratcher. Just how the hell is Toronto going to implement Proportional Representation when there are no parties there? All of a sudden, voting reform becomes a revolutionary act of transforming the entire system in the City. I have never been comfortable with prop rep. either, for the simple reason that the candidates lists get created behind closed doors by the Party’s, not by voters. It sounds great if your objective is to cement the power of the Party establishments for all time, but how exactly is that of value to the electorate? I do like ranked ballots though. They oblige every party to at least take into account the needs of their competetors constituents. Combining open nominations with ranked ballots would be a very worthy reform of our electoral system.

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