THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #4- Revised It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.
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 will not have a constituency and will not be directly responsible to the electors.
The referendum was defeated. By almost two to one, Ontario voters rejected this form of voting. You would think it was settled. No such luck.
People still want to have seats in the legislature and in Parliament for the losing parties, proportional to their popular vote. They think this is simple. It is not. When you agree to proportional voting, you will find you have to learn a new math. It was in the plan for MMP produced by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. What the citizens’ assembly attempted to do was give more legislature seats to smaller political parties by appointing members to the legislature instead of electing them. They asked for a very confusing, if not mind-boggling, mathematical process 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 will be 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 will penalize parties that win more seats than the citizens’ assembly think they should. Under the new 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 political parties get 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.
Luckily for Ontario voters, all this confusion was swept away by the people (one per riding) hired by Elections Ontario. These people were to explain MMP voting to Ontario residents. Luckily, Elections Ontario decided to spend just $6.8 million on all of their educational efforts. The ‘Yes’ side thought they should have spend at least $13 million of taxpayers’ money to help people understand the proposal. Judging by the mathematics involved, that figure was low.
But the funniest error of all was the union support that was doing the riding by riding organizing for a pro-MMP organization called Fair Vote Ontario. The unions thought that MMP will bring the NDP more seats in the legislature. Now there is a group that really needs to study the mathematics.
Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry
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