Dear resident of Edmonton Riverbend:
Throughout the summer I have had the pleasure of spending a great deal of time in Edmonton-Riverbend, speaking to many of you about your concerns, and priorities. Through these conversations it has been made clear that there is a need for more information on the Liberal government’s electoral reform proposal.
As you may know, there is a special committee on Electoral Reform which has been called to study and evaluate alternative voting systems, mandatory voting and online voting. They have been charged to do this by broadly consulting with expert witnesses and organizations as well as looking at studies and examples that have been undertaken in other jurisdictions. If you would like learn more about the committee mandate, or even participate in an e-consultation you can visit http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/About.
Few things are as fundamentally important to a democracy as the way in which the people choose their elected representatives. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that ensuring we have a fair, transparent and just way to elect federal representatives is as fundamentally important to a democracy as our freedoms of expression, the press and association. To help you stay informed I have compiled some information below by summarizing a Library of Parliament backgrounder entitled “Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: An Overview”. The Library of Parliament is a non-partisan institute that provides research on important topics such as this. The systems that were covered may not be exhaustive or exactly what the committee is considering, however it does an excellent job in laying out how the systems work, and what their advantages and drawbacks are. I have done my very best to keep my opinions out of the below summaries, and only report the objective data that the Library has provided. If you would like to look at the document in its entirety, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the systems, it can be found at http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2016-06-e.html?cat=government.
First Past-the-post; our current system
The First Past-the-post system has been used in every federal election since confederation. The Provinces and territories are allocated a number of seats in the House of Commons based on relative population. This is further broken down within the jurisdiction into electoral districts or constituencies. Each constituency elects a single representative.
In majoritarian systems the winning candidate is the one who receives the most votes from their district. Depending on the system that is in place the successful candidate may need to have a plurality (just more votes than the second place candidate) or a majority (over half of the legitimate votes cast in the district). Our current electoral system is a plurality system, as candidates do not need a majority of votes in their district to win, only the most votes of all candidates. The other types of majoritarian systems are
- Also known as preferential voting.
- Voters rank candidates in order of their preference.
- Candidate must receive a majority of votes. If one does not on the first count, the candidate with the fewest first-preference is dropped and the second choice on those ballots is allocated to the indicated candidate. This continues until a candidate receives a majority of the votes.
- Also known as a run-off system
- Two election days, typically weeks apart. The first operates much as it does under the current first past-the-post system, except a majority must be obtained for the candidate to win.
- If no candidate receives a majority on the first vote, the second vote takes place with only the top two candidates from the previous vote on the ballot.
- The candidate who receives the majority of votes on the second ballot is elected.
Block Vote (Plurality)
- Would typically be done in the same way as first past-the-post however constituencies would be able to have multiple seats, and the top x number of candidates would fill the available spots.
Proportional Representation Systems
Proportional Representation (PR) systems seek to closely align vote share and seat allocation. Voters often elect more than one representative per constituency or geographical area. Typically PR systems use complex equations to determine the seat distribution. Generally citizens vote for several candidates or a party and the results determine what mix of individual members will sit in the legislature and the distribution of seats by the party, according to the preconceived algorithm.
List Proportional Representation
- Two types of list PR systems.
- Both types of List Proportional Representation use national or regional lists of candidates in each constituency, drawn up by eligible.
- Considered to be a very flexible system.
- Candidates select the order in which candidates appear on the lost, and citizens vote for the party. As such the party controls the precedence in which their candidates are elected.
- All candidates the party are on the ballot and can be ranked by the voter, so they effectively choose the order in which candidates are elected.
Single Transferable Vote
- Multiple candidates on a ballot are ranked by the voter (as many or few as they want)
- A vote quota is established using the total number of votes cast and the number of eligible seats. Candidates that meet the quota on first ballot preferred votes are elected.
- If seats still remain a second count occurs where any votes in excess of the quota for candidates already elected are redistributed. Candidates who reach the quota after this are elected.
- If no candidates reach the quota in this second step, the candidate who received the fewest preferred votes is dropped and there vote share redistributed. This continues until all seats are filled.
Single Non-Transferable Vote
- Multiple seats per constituency.
- Each voter selects one candidate
- A number of candidates with the most votes are elected until all the seats are filled.
Mixed Electoral Systems
Mixed Electoral systems combine elements of both plurality and majority systems with proportional representation. Citizen casts two votes, one for a candidate and another for the party.
Mixed Member Majority
- Single member electoral districts cast two votes, one for party the other for candidate
- Candidate vote conducted in the same manner as first past the post.
- Each party presents an established list of candidates like in the list proportional representation system.
- Predetermined number of seats are filled according to the two systems
- Votes are fully independent of each other. Party seats do not compensate for disproportionate constituency elections.
Mixed Member Proportional
- Is conducted in the same manner as the mixed member majority system, except the vote for the party is used to compensate for disproportionate outcomes in the constituency election.
- Additional seats are awarded to parties where the outcome fails to represent the percentage of the vote the party received.
Rural Urban Electoral System
Although this system is not currently being looked at by the committee, it has been a system that has been brought up in debate around Canada on Electoral Reform. Rural Urban is a mixed system that uses a majoritarian system for large rural ridings, but uses a proportional, multimember system for denser and more populated cities.
This produced proportional results in the cities where proportional systems (MMP, STV) are used, but majoritarian results everywhere else (FPTP, AV).
In order to correct for the disproportionality amongst the majoritarian districts, some proposals advocate for an additional top-up layer akin to the one used in MMP to correct for the discrepancy between vote share and seats.
Other Issues the Committee is Studying
The Electoral Reform Committee is not only studying a new electoral system for Canada, but also issues such as compulsory voting and online voting.
Compulsory voting requires citizens to register to vote and present themselves at the polling station on Election Day, unless you have an acceptable reason to not attend, such as illness. While you are required to be present you may spoil your ballot or abstain. Some ballots even have options to indicate none of the above candidates.
Online Voting has been employed at a municipal level in Ontario and Nova Scotia with some success. Internationally it has been successfully studied and/or implemented federally in some jurisdictions, namely Estonia. Elections Canada has suggested that a moderate number of electors would take advantage of online voting and that the percentage will likely increase with time as the younger generations reach the age of majority. While it could expand voter accessibility and potentially increase turnout, there are reliability and security concerns that could be difficult to address.
If you have any further questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-992-3594.
Matt Jeneroux, M.P.