In writing about the coming referendum in Ontario, one tends to spend the most time writing about what is wrong with the mixed-member proportional voting that has been proposed by the citizens’ assembly on electoral reform. We must correct that. First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.
And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.
It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20? If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter to have a run-off election or, to save money, even easier to have voters indicate a second, third or fourth choice in a preferential vote.
But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions. An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.
We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.
That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person, your MPP, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters.
When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises (or, even worse, promises they kept that they should not have kept). To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.
In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.
That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, the voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters. Both left and right wing parties have felt the wrath of voters in Ontario over the years. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.
When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.
That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses. The record of our politicians is there for us to examine. They have to meet our expectations.
And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?