Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thoughts On STV 6 - Canada's Experience With STV (Contd)

Certainly, there were a lot more candidates on a ballot. But apparently it wasn't that big of a problem back then. In fact, the two elections with the largest number of candidates on a ballot (about 40 candidates in a 10 seat riding,) were the two "tiral" elections of 1920 and 1922, when Winnipeg was the only constituency to use preferential voting. In later elections, political parties began to realize that there's no point running full slate in a multi-member riding that uses proportional representation. Since late 1920s and up until Winnipeg was split into smaller ridings, its 10 seats were contested by about 20-25 candidates.

In Alberta, where major political parties insisted on running full slate, number of candidates ranged from 14 in the 5-seat Calgary (1940) to as many as 30 in the 7-seat Edmonton (1955). Wikipedia doesn't provide a ballot example, so we can't see if it was one huge list of names or if candidates from different parties were listed in the separate columns (or sections,) but neither Wikipedia, nor other sources mention spoiled or invalid ballots as a serious problem during that election.

But what about counting? All the counting was done manually back then and, according to Wikipedia, it could take up to 5 days to count the votes in a 7-member constituency like Edmonton. An opponent of the STV could use that as an argument against the system: if it took 5 days to count all the preferences on just 76,000 ballots (with no weighted transfers used) - how long will it take to count over 150,000 ballots we may have in the BC's 7-seat Capital Region?

However, let's not forget that the time between a general election and the first seating of a newly elected legislature is measured not in days, but in weeks, if not months. So, while a 5-day delay in counting was certainly irritating for many (especially - for the politicians,) it never caused the opening of the legislature in either Alberta or Manitoba to be postponed. And, of course, if we compare the situation then with what's proposed for BC - let's not forget that with the technology we have today, (from handwriting scanners to vote tabulation machines,) the ballots could be counted much faster.

But in the end, the STV was abolished, wasn't it? Unfortunately, it was. Wikipedia mentions long counting as one of the reasons. But I believe, the true reason why STV was abolished, was different. The same Wikipedia article mentions that in the 1955 election, opposition supporters were largely united behind the Liberals. That looks more like it. Switching back to FPTP ensured that supporters of different parties could no longer unite against the governing party without running a single candidate. In other words, then governing political leaders merely chose to "kick the ladder". It didn't prevent the PC victory in Manitoba, but in Alberta, it prolonged the Social Credit rule by 12 years.

Finally - in case you noticed that I didn't say anything about BC experience with STV - that's right. The electoral system BC was using for its 1952 and 1953 provincial elections, was single-member preferential voting (instant runoff,) but not STV. Even in the multi-member ridings, where STV was technically possible, strict instant runoff voting was used instead, with each MLA elected on a separate ballot. The reason for that is because the outgoing coalition government wanted nothing but a system that would allow their supporters to unite against the CCF. Proportional results in multi-member ridings, with at least 1 or 2 CCF candidates elected in each STV constituency, was the last thing they needed.

In the end, the Social Credit government, (which had replaced the Coalition, following the 1952 election,) realized that instant runoff could allow voters to unite not just against the CCF, (which had been the original intent,) but also against their own party. So they kicked the ladder, bringing back the FPTP - just as their counterparts in Alberta and Manitoba did a few years later.


Mark Greenan said...

You're doing a real public service with these well-written and researched posts on STV. Kudos!

Anita Nickerson said...

Just stumbled across your post, Leonard! As we start the consultations for a new electoral system, I've helped put together an STV site: