Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Could Have Been: Elxn41 Under a Preferential Ballot

One of the democratic reform initiatives that never seems to get much publicity is the preferential ballot. Yet it's simple, assures the majority of the riding backs the winning candidate, and helps avoid some of the dangerous strategic voting mis-steps we see all too often. It's how parties elect their leaders, yet we assume Canadians can't handle ranking candidates 1-2-3.

So what kind of impact would a preferential ballot have had on the previous election?

To determine this, I looked back at the final "second choice" poll numbers from the last campaign (seen here, here, and here), applied a few minor regional corrections, and ran run-offs in each riding where the winning candidate received fewer than half the vote. So if the Greens were fourth, their votes were scatered based on the second choice of Green voters. Then if the Liberals were third, their votes were scatered based on the second choice of Liberal voters.

It's not an exact science, but it's close enough for a fun "what if" exercise.

The result?

CPC: 147
NDP: 115
Lib: 44
BQ: 1
Green: 1

In the end, only 25 seats change, but that's enough to knock the Conservatives down to a minority. The majority of their loses come from Ontario, with ridings like London North Centre, Willowdale, and the Don Valleys staying red. While the Liberals snag 13 Tory seats under this system, they'd lose some star power with Misters Trudeau, Garneau, and Lamoureux all drowning under the orange wave. After all, as bizarre as it may sound, even Conservative voters were more likely to lean NDP than Liberal by the end of the last campaign.

The NDP would therefore snag seats from the Tories, Liberals, and Bloc, and would come out of Quebec with a remarkable 66 seats.

So while it makes a certain amount of sense, it's not something I'd expect to see anytime soon unless Stephen Harper is feeling in a particularly self-destructive mood.

UPDATE - NBPolitico looks at what might have been under other voting systems



  • Preferential voting systems generally tend to moderate the results, correct?

    And a preferential voting system would make more sense if there were an NDP equivalent on the right, correct?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 11:19 a.m.  

  • The voting system was fine when it was delivering Liberal majorities without a majority from the voters but now that it isn't, it's flawed. Got it.

    I'm always impressed by how we have an election in this country and the results are immediate and clear. Much of that has to do with the system's simplicity, constitency and familiarity.

    By Blogger Patrick, at 11:22 a.m.  

  • I assume you're talking about AV/IRV here, right? Not STV? Because 'preferential ballot' is not the name of the type of voting system, it's the name of the type of ballot. The way those ballots are then counted varies greatly based on what kind of voting system it is.

    By Blogger Jae/Jennie, at 11:54 a.m.  

  • Hmmmm. I did the same thing a month ago, David Akin even did a spot on the topic based on my post on SNN.

    By Anonymous Radical Centrist, at 11:55 a.m.  

  • You make a lot of assumptions here Calgary.

    I assure you most Canadians would mark one candidate only. Also requiring a 1, 2, 3 would disenfranchise a SIGNIFICANT portion of the population and it will never happen nor should it.

    I've worked elections, including the last one as a returning officer. About 1/3 of my polls voters needed help understanding to mark an X for one candidate.

    The only way preferences can work is with run off elections and they are costly and unnecessary. With run off elections in the ridings where the candidate didn't get to 50%, I'm pretty sure the result would be almost identical. Also you would have to double campaign donations and a significant amount of time between runoffs to organize etc. which would cripple our parliament for months.

    It's an unworkable elitist, sorry dumb idea. It's also very third world. Liberals need to get out of the fantasy land that somehow a proportional system or preferential ballot would have changed anything. it wouldn't have.

    Our democracy is just fine and interestingly Liberals had no problem with it when Liberals had majority governments without 50% of the pop vote. They hypocrisy is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:14 p.m.  

  • While I'd be the first to admit that the first-past-the-post voting system is rather stupid in anything other than a 2 party system, I should point out that the people of both Ontario and BC were given the opportunity to move to something different. Ontario decisively voted down a mixed member proposed proportional representation system, and BC decisively voted down a proposed multi-member single transferable vote (STV) system (which I voted for, FWIW). By doing this, the people of 2 of the 3 biggest provinces signalled their appreciation for, or at worst indifference to, FPTP.

    Having said that, my preferred system would be a preferential ballot of some sort (e.g. single member STV). This allows for a riding to have a representative (not the case with pure PR), and it minimizes "wasted votes" (not the case with FPTP).

    Although the preferential ballot is not widely used in the world, Australia does employ STV (multi-member, I believe) and if the Aussies are smart enough to figure it out I can't see how we couldn't be.

    Obligatory pre-empt: I am not a Liberal whinging about the results of the last election as a) I am not a Liberal or Liberal supporter, and b) I accept the results of a fair and free election (unlike the folks who go on and on with the "60% of voters voted against Harpo" line). I just think FPTP makes little sense when there are more than 2 parties involved.

    By Anonymous Jim R, at 12:59 p.m.  

  • I think this system would have significant issues. Where there is an independent candidate - most partisan voters would choose them as their second choice.

    For instance, I would choose: Conservative, Independent, Green, Liberal and then NDP if I had the choice regardless of the candidates. Green before Liberal and NDP simply because they have less chance of unseating my prefered vote. I woud presume a good Liberal would vote: Liberal, Independent, Green, NDP, Conservative - or something like that.

    In addition to electing a few more independents (which is not necessarily a bad thing) it may lead to a form of collusion where the one party will run an "independent" just in order to capture the second place votes and ensure that there is no run off to the other parties.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:58 p.m.  

  • Two points:

    1. In many places that use AV preferential voting - it is optional. If you want to just vote Green and not make any second and third choices then once your candidate is eliminated your vote goes in the garbage. On the other hand, if you really want at all cost to stop someone (ie: the Tory) you at least have the option of putting down a second choice.

    2. Keep in mind that if your preferred candidate is in first or second place - your other preferences are irrelevant since they will never be counted - it only matters if you voted for a third or fourth or fifth place party first.

    By Blogger DL, at 8:51 p.m.  

  • Assumptions abound.

    Try re-running your selection with voters choosing between Liberal, New Liberal, Libertarian, Green, New Democratic, Democratic, Conservative, New Conservative, Progressive Conservative, Communist, Marxist-Leninist, and Independent candidates all running in the same ridings.

    Preferential systems work to fragment the candidates, and then try to create false coalitions within the voting public, with the result being that platforms are irrelevant because they will not be acted upon except as bargaining chips in the wheeling-and-dealing after the election is complete. Worse, the effective coalition is different in each riding, so the collective will of the voter is never discerned.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:42 p.m.  

  • I've advocated for this system for some time, not because it might produce different results nationally, but because it addresses some of the "wasted vote" issues that concern advocates of PR, without losing the single-member constituency - the basic organizing unit of a representitive parliamentary democracy.

    Anon 5:58, I think you misunderstand the single riding preferential ballot. Your first choice counts as your vote until he or she falls off the bottom of the ballot. Then the next choice on the ballot still in the contest counts as your vote, and so on. "Parking" a second-choice vote has no strategic value. In fact, there is no strategic benefit to voting in any way other than for your preferred candidates, in order.

    Anon 12:14's tale concerns me more, but I think we might be overstating the complication of this. Mark your first choice with a one, your second choice with a two, and so on... I seem to recall that Elections Canada bends over backwards offering language of choice to voters. Not trying to be a complete elitist about this, but if a voter is flummoxed by the above instructions, explained in one's first language, well, I'm not sure we have a responsibility as a democracy to make our elections simple enough so that person can understand them. Otherwise, why not convert to a direct-elect presidential system the first time a voter is presented with a ballot that, confusingly, doesn't have any of the party leaders listed?

    By Blogger Don, at 1:14 a.m.  

  • Patrick - I've always preferred a preferential ballot. If I were ranking electoral systems, it would be near the top.

    And I'm still not sold on PR, even though that would have helped the Libs last election.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:29 a.m.  

  • Anon 12:14pm - It only disenfranchises people if you require a second choice. You can still accept a ballot marked "X" and just assume they have no second choice.

    That's actually what I assumed in this exercise. Those people who didn't give a second choice on the poll questions were assumed as not marking one on their ballot.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:31 a.m.  

  • Anon 11:42 pm - Those concerns might exist in a PR system, but a ranked ballot wouldn't help the fringe parties...in fact, it might hurt them in the long run since it would be harder for them to command 50% of the riding's (eventual) support. It would be a lot harder for them to get in on the split vote (which is why it would hurt the Bloc).

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:34 a.m.  

  • It's sad that politicos of the most engaged and elite variety, which all the people on these comment threads are have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE, how voting or politics works for most Canadians. This is why Conservatives are massively underestimated in polls.

    I worked an NDP riding and I had MANY, non English speaking Canadians, with no idea how to fill out a ballot, say to me while gesturing at the ballot, "Harpers Party. Harpers Party" That's all they could say and they wanted me to point to how to do it.

    The vast majority, and I mean 80% of voters would only mark one choice, and a good number are only able to. The Liberals and their partisans are tragically unable to connect with regular voters and these threads only prove they have no clue whatsoever.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:52 a.m.  

  • THe story I'm most drawn to right now is the PQ woes... seems like not much coverage on it, which I understand, as it's complex and hard to figure out/gauge. Lot of drama tho!

    I don't know what electoral system is better but I do know citizens have the right to vote for head of state as well as local representation.

    The parties have too much power; the people have too little.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 3:38 p.m.  

  • The US's electoral system works for me.

    I'm not saying the US is perfect, tho I am saying the problems they have are not related to their voting system.

    Would I rather vote for an MP with ZERO power under a party whip or a rep with zero power under a party whip and a republican head of state (ie. no monarchy) and my province's senator? Hmm..... tough call....

    The basics they work on are basics I can work with.

    If we don't want a President, no problem -- we can have a Head of State and a Prime Minister.

    *Don't get me wrong, Elizabeth II *rocks*! I'd be scared to face her in a wrestling ring.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 3:44 p.m.  

  • Just reading comments...

    CalgaryGrit's right, he's always been open on this issue... Patrick's BS implying CG now wants a change bc the RedTeam was decimated is, well, BS.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 3:46 p.m.  

  • IRV (AKA HARE & AV) which is a subclass of Preferential voting has some very strange effects when determining a winner.

    Some very good work on this has been done by Mr Yee
    and Mr Smith

    At this point I think it is the logical conclusion that IRV is very poor at aggregating voter intentions into a result.

    I suggest you research Condorcet, Approval and Range voting.
    All show significant improvement over plurality in determining voter intention, unlike IRV.

    By Anonymous hswerdfe, at 8:24 a.m.  

  • PR is vastly preferable, one reason being (because I don't have time right now to post all the others) that preferential voting can lead to perverse results. See the post by Don at 1:14 AM who would preferentially vote strategically not based on who he prefers after the first candidate, but rather who would result in the least likelihood of unseating his preferred candidate. If everyone does that, choice number 2 can be someone very few prefer, and nobody thought would win.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:16 p.m.  

  • Anyone who votes under Preferential Voting using the method above doesn't understand how how Preferential Voting works.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 p.m.  

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