Single Transferrable Vote

We’re gearing up for a provincial election here in BC on May 12. This is also my 8th wedding anniversary. Since Jon works in TV news, this lovely coincidence means that I won’t see him since he will be busy covering the election. Fun times! But as I’m not writing this simply to whine about my bad luck with the election day / anniversary collision I will move on.

In addition to voting for our elected representatives, we will also be voting on a new electoral system. There will be a referendum on the Single Transferrable Vote, or STV, system. We had a similar referendum four years ago, which was very narrowly defeated. Since it was so very close, they’re trying to garner more support this time around.

So what the heck is STV? It’s a little bit complicated, and I think as a result there’s a general lack of awareness and interest. I was able to find a pretty clear animated explanation, which includes an example of a fictional riding. The problem, though, is that it’s several minutes long and involves mathematical equations. I can see why most people don’t really understand how STV works.

My brief summary is this – each riding would be made larger, and multiple representatives would be elected from each. The total number of ridings, however, remains constant. A baseline number of votes for a candidate to be elected is chosen for each riding based on how many representatives are being elected and how many votes were cast. Each person ranks candidates by number when they’re voting (1, 2, 3, etc.). You can rank all of them, or just choose one. Then the number of first choice votes are tallied up. The candidates with more than the baseline number of votes are elected.

Then it gets sort of tricky. If there aren’t enough candidates, then the elected candidates’ votes are re-examined to determine each voter’s second choice. Another mathematical formula is applied to weight these votes according to how much ‘surplus’ the elected candidate has. Then the votes are applied to the remaining candidates. This continues, more or less, until the correct number of representatives are elected.

Under our current system, we elect one representative from each riding. Then, the leader of the party with the most representatives becomes the premier (or, nationally, the Prime Minister). The downside to this system is that a party which has received only 40% of the popular vote may form a majority government, especially when there are many parties vying for seats. STV aims to address that. It also aims to provide a voice to parties like the greens, who receive a significant number of votes but never get a seat in the legislature.

One of the ramifications of STV is that there is a much greater likelihood of having a minority government. Certainly, some of the overwhelming majorities we’ve seen in BC in the past are less likely. Also because voters can vote for multiple parties, it sometimes results in a reduction in the partisanship we see today. I can see choosing candidates differently when I’m ranking 3 or 4 of them, instead of marking my X for only one. And I’m sure I’m not alone. We can expect elections to be fought and won (or lost) differently if we change the electoral system, which is neither good nor bad in and of itself.

There are advantages and disadvantages to STV, just as there are advantages and disadvantages with our current system. I think the most important thing is that you educate yourself, form your own opinion, and vote. No matter how we elect our politicians, our voices matter. We need to let them know that we are paying attention, and one of the best ways to do that is to show up on election day.

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  1. It’s great that you’re taking part in election day. Unfortunately, many people ignore these days.

    Happy Anniversary.

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