This is the fourth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform. The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle. We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference. Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering. For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.
Chapter 4 – Brush up on your calculus for voting methods
In October, 2007, Ontario voters were presented with a referendum ballot that asked them if they wish to have mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting. This is a system in which each of the political parties provides a list of people eligible to be appointed to 30 per cent of the seats in the legislature. If chosen, these selected people would not have a constituency and would not be directly responsible to the electors.
On top of that, if the voters agreed to MMP, they would have to learn a new math. It is all in the plan for MMP produced by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. What the citizens’ assembly attempted to do was to give more legislature seats to smaller political parties by appointing members to the legislature instead of electing them. This requires a very confusing if not mind-boggling mathematical process for appointing 39 people to the legislature.
With this new math also comes a new language for elections. The simplest of these terms is quotient. We learned that one in the lower grades at school because it is what you call the answer when you divide one number by another. The example given is when you divide the Ontario population of 12,160,000 by 90 electoral districts and you find there is a quotient of 135,100 people per riding. Those are very large ridings.
But the quotient, according to this new math, can change if you have an ‘overhang.’ This is one of the more interesting of the new terms. Overhangs occur when your party wins more local ridings than the number to which it would be entitled according to the party vote which has been separated from the candidate vote.
In effect, the system penalizes parties that win more seats than the citizens’ assembly think they should. Under these game rules, parties who overhang will not get any of their list candidates appointed to the legislature. A party with more elected seats than all other parties combined could thus be restricted in its ability to form a government. The final results are determined by a calculation using something called the ‘Hare formula.’ This formula is used to help distribute seats to losing candidates.
This means a candidate who has lost the election in his or her riding can still be a member of the legislature because of the Hare formula. Technically, loser candidates are known as ‘list candidates.’ These are people who run in ridings and are listed in order of preference by their political parties and the names are given to Elections Ontario before the election. These listed people will be available for appointment to the legislature, only if they have been rejected by the voters in their riding.
What this means is that the citizens’ assembly was trying to give political parties the decision making power over that of the voters. If the party’s candidates are rejected by the voters in a riding, the party can still appoint them. This conclusion is not surprising. Since the citizens’ assembly members were themselves chosen by lottery, there was no requirement for them to understand democracy.
Under this formula, to form a majority government, a party has to have a minimum of 65 members in the legislature, holding either riding or proportional seats.
Much of the 2007 effort of Elections Ontario was to try to simplify the citizens’ assembly proposal for Ontario voters. We expect that was the reason literature spent little time clarifying the disproportionality figures. We also remain somewhat in the dark about the so-called Loosemore-Hanby Index.
Luckily for Ontario voters, all this confusion was to be swept away by the people (one per riding) hired by Elections Ontario. These people were there to explain MMP voting to Ontario residents before the October 10 election. Elections Ontario decided to spend just $6.8 million on all of their educational efforts. The ‘Yes’ side thought they should spend at least $13 million of taxpayers’ money to help people understand the proposal. Judging by the mathematics involved, that figure was low.
The people who did not help clarify the situation were the Conservative and Liberal parties. Why should they? The proposal did nothing good for either of them. The citizens’ assembly was just another election promise from Dalton McGuinty that he really should not have kept.
But the funniest error of all was the union support that was going on riding by riding, organizing for a pro-MMP organization called Fair Vote Ontario. The unions thought that MMP would bring the NDP more seats in the legislature. Now there is a group that really needs to study the mathematics.
©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry
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