“The mixed-member system would indisputably fix all of the mistakes caused by the plurality system all the while increasing voter turnout and female legislative representation.” attributed to an undergraduate student at the University of Western Ontario.
Would it not be wonderful to be so sure of ourselves? To be convinced of our ideas? To make such a positive statement. And would it not be wonderful if such simplistic solutions to fixing our voting systems would work?
But the truth is that it is not so simple. The plurality system–better known as first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting–has had hundreds of years of development throughout the English speaking world. At the same time, proportional representation (PR) has evolved in many variations. Mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting is just one variation that tries to accommodate both FPTP and PR. MMP is the system that is being presented as an option for Ontario voters in the October 10 referendum.
But can it improve voter turnout? No. The voting method is not what influences voter enthusiasm or voter apathy. MMP voting in Mexico could hardly overcome voter apathy during 71 years of that country’s politics being dominated by one party. It was only the winds of change that took the usual 40 per cent turnout to over 60 per cent in the year 2000 to elect a president from an opposition party.
It has been constantly proved in Canadian elections that the closeness of the contest, the attractiveness of leaders and candidates, the efforts of campaign workers, the reporting of the news media and the major issues being argued as well as regional events are all factors in influencing voter turnout.
“Increasing female legislative representation” is an ongoing myth of those who support MMP voting. This idea might have something to do with the high percentage of women in public office in the Nordic countries of Europe that use PR voting but there are also sociological factors to consider. An unusual factor in Norway is a 40 per cent rule in the Storting (parliament). Despite the successes women have had, they still feel they need a law to ensure 40 per cent of the legislators are women. Some sociologists suggest that this rule limits women more than ensuring their role. Since Norway uses pure PR voting, the party lists for each of their electoral districts have the obligatory female representation. According to the International Parliamentary Union, currently 37 per cent of the legislators in Norway’s Storting are women.
Some people would consider it unfair to suggest Mexico’s MMP voting helps increase the number of female legislators. They would point out the supposed Mexican male machismo and that male dominance in a devoutly Catholic country would hold women back. And they would be wrong. Despite women only winning the right to vote in Mexico in 1947 and the right to run for election in 1953, they have progressed to almost the same share of seats as women legislators in Canada. Mexican women hold just over 20 per cent of their federal congress seats and Canadian women currently hold just over 20 per cent of the seats in our House of Commons.
And if you are foolish enough to earn the displeasure of a Latina woman, you just need to tell a female Mexican legislator that she owes her election to the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate to MMP voting. You can be sure she earned that seat through hard work.
MMP voting is no panacea. It is a system that the Mexicans have fiddled with for the past 90 years. They are still not sure they have it right. While the Mexican President is chosen by direct FPTP election, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (similar to the U.S. House of Representatives) use a mixed-member selection process. Of the 128 senators, 96 are elected and 32 are selected from closed party lists. In the Chamber of Deputies, 300 deputies are elected by FPTP voting and 200 selected from party lists.
In Ontario, the proposal is that there be 90 members elected by FPTP in larger ridings, averaging 135,000 people, and then another 39 members be selected from party lists according to the party vote. How this will fix all the ills of our plurality (FPTP) system remains very much a mystery.
The suggestion often made by MMP supporters is that the FPTP system means people who do not vote for the winner are wasting their vote. They also think people are wasting their vote when they add their vote to the winners’ pile when the winner already has more than enough votes. It is not a very logical argument.
Hundreds of years ago, before voters were given ballots to indicate their choice, they would gather in the market square and would shout out their choice of person to send to parliament. While that system was not perfect, it was the best that could be done at the time. Even today, FPTP is not a perfect system but at least it allows us to make a choice and not have to trust political parties to make our choices for us.