Why BC-STV is Simpler than FPTP, Two Words, Strategic Voting

April 3, 2009

Strategic voting is one of the things people like to complain about most in our current electoral system. I  wrote about strategic voting during the last federal election and how it has led to creative voting solutions like vote swapping.  Strategic voting is a natural response to an unfair system, if you don’t vote strategically under FPTP then you are not really accepting how your vote is counted. Bernard von Schulmann has a nice article about strategic voting and how BC-STV removes the need to worry about it.  Ideally we would like to have  a system that does not require strategic voting or anything complicated except people expressing their true, honest preferences on election day.

Thats why BC-STV is actually simpler than FPTP.

That’s right, simpler.  I know some people are saying BC-STV is too complicated.  But for the voter on a election day, its much simpler.  You look at the list of candidates and rank them.  You can use what you know about them as people or just use the party they belong to.  You can rank candidates from any and all parties. This lets you influence which members of the party you hate make it into the legislature even while you have clearly stated that you’d rather see anyone from the other parties win first.  A FPTP voter can’t even imagine doing this and its as easy as 1,2,3,4,….,etc.

In return the system guarantees that your vote will be allotted to candidates by as much as they need to get elected a no more.  The portion of your vote not needed to elect a candidate is allotted to another candidate further down your list so that as much of your vote is counted as possible.  It does what you would expect it to do, so you can vote honestly.

Compare this to what you currently have to do as an informed voter.  You have to get to know all the party positions. You need to read polling data and predictions from pundits. You have to look at the predicted number of seats each party is going to win in parliament and estimate how likely this is to be true, how it could be influenced by news since the last polling data and how accurate the polls themselves are.

“Why do you need to do all that?” you say?  Because, if you don’t know those things you can’t vote strategically. If you don’t know how your vote is going to split with other parties and possibly lead to your least favourite option getting elected then you are aren’t really voting as a fully informed voter in FPTP. This is strategic voting.  Strategic voting is risky too, because there is a lot of uncertainty in all your estimates of seat counts and polling data.  Its a horrible solution, but its better than voting blind and hoping that voting for the party you love will help them.  Its better than voting for them even if you know they can’t win your seat.  It seems like you should vote for them anyways, but in FPTP, this loyalty to your party in the face of their certain defeat in your particular riding is not rewarded at all.  Strategic voting is the only rational reaction to this in our current system, voting for the lesser evil who can actually win is the only way to go.  But given all this uncertainty, that’s actually very complicated.  Just because I only have three or four choices doesn’t mean its simple, it means its actually hard. Its hard because I have to pick just one person to represent me and I know the person I really want to pick won’t win.

In contrast, coming up with a ranking of everyone running is certainly more writing, but its actually much simpler because there is no strategic thinking involved, no polling data, no uncertainty.  Just a lot of “He’s better than her, she’s much better than him, anybody’s better than those ones, but that one isn’t as bad as the others in that party, etc.”  People are very good at that kind of thing.  What we are not good at is gathering together provincial-wide opinions and weighting them by our uncertainty of the data and estimating the most likely outcome of the election so that we can optimize our electoral choice.  Really, we’re not good at it, and it just lets politicians play the game of fear of other parties that keeps us from voting for what we really want.

With BC-STV we tell them exactly what we want, in simple terms and then they become what want them to be because of our choices.  Thats simple and thats a democracy we can all believe in.


3 Responses to “Why BC-STV is Simpler than FPTP, Two Words, Strategic Voting”

  1. murray shaw Says:

    The STV is wrong on so many levels. The first item is how does being able to vote for up to seven people, while others are only allowed to vote for three people, thats fair??

  2. Mark Crowley Says:

    I see your concern, there are two possible reasons why you might be worried about this apparent inequality.
    1) it seems like people in Victoria (7 seats) get more votes than in Prince George (3 seats)
    2) it seems like the people in Victoria get more respresenatation than the people in Prince George

    To answer 1), its called Single tranferrable vote for a reason. Everyone has just one vote. As much of it as necessary is used to elect your first choice unless they are eliminated. If there is any left after this the remaining portion of your vote goes to your second choice, third choice, etc.

    So, really, what’s happening is that everyone in the riding is cooperatively having a discussion about who the 3 or 7 MLAs for the riding should be. In reality, there will be MLAs elected in the riding who have come from different parties and very different points of view. So 2) isn’t as much of a problem as it seems because each voter will feel represented by the MLA(s) who most closely match their views on different issues and won’t really think of all 3 or 7 of them as ‘speaking for them’.

    If this still sounds unfair, consider that it is actually a vast improvement over the current system where there is just one MLA per riding and over half the voters do not feel the MLA ‘speaks for them’. Now everyone has multiple chances to get more representation.

    The variation in riding sizes partly arose from a tradeoff between equality and local representation and was actually requested by the northern member of the Citizen’s Assembly that came up with BC-STV. More members per riding allows the possibility of more distinct points of view per riding. But in the North, a 7 member riding would encompass…well, the North, all of it. So they decided on less diversity per riding but more diversity between regions of the North.

  3. […] FPTP – first past the post – whomever gets more votes than the other candidates gets the nod. […]

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