Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, September 12, 2005

Coming (not so) Soon to a Ballot Box Near You: STV 2: Judgement Day

So Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals didn't waste any time announcing a plan to deal with the lingering question of electoral reform:

Highlights of the Plan:

- Appointing an Electoral Boundaries Commission, as required during this session of the legislature, to review constituency boundaries. An amendment will be introduced to allow the commission to provide for up to 85 members under the current electoral system.
- Asking the Electoral Boundaries Commission to identify the best and fairest way to configure B.C.s electoral districts under a Single Transferable Vote (STV) model.
- Holding a binding provincewide referendum in November 2008 on the electoral system, with a clear understanding of how electoral boundaries would be applied under the STV model.

Basically, they are using the fact that the electoral boundaries hadn't been fully spelled out for the last referendum as a fig leaf to provide cover for re-running the referendum to get a clearer result. What I don't get is that the plan is to use the same 'pass/fail' conditions (60% overall support) as the last referendum. If those conditions had been set properly in the first place, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. The fact that the vote came short of the specified threshold but that it was still so high that it couldn't be ignored or considered as a rejection suggests that the threshold wasn't set right in the first place.

I guess that Gordon Campbell is hoping that one of three things happens:
1) The 'yes' vote increases by 2.3% to cross 60% and STV goes forward and Campbell doesn't have to deal with it anymore.
2) The 'no' vote increases by 7.7% to cross 50% and STV is rejected by the electorate and Campbell doesn't have to deal with it anymore.
3) Neither 1) nor 2) happens and the situation is still not satisfactorily resolved but by now it's 2008 and Campbell is going to leave provincial politics so he doesn't have to deal with it anymore.


In case you're interested, here is the full text (relating to STV) from the throne speech:

"The issue of electoral reform remains following the results of the
referendum put before the public in May.

Nearly 58 per cent of all citizens who cast a ballot in the recent referendum on electoral reform supported the proposed STV electoral system.

A solid majority supported STV in all but two of B.C.'s 79 constituencies.

And yet that was not enough to pass, according to the rules this Legislature unanimously established.

Your government has been clear that it does not intend to rewrite those rules after the fact, or pretend that the vote for STV succeeded when it did not.

Nor can it ignore the size of the double majority that voted to change our current electoral system to the STV model.

There have been many interpretations of the electoral reform referendum's result.

Whatever the analysis, a troubling question remains: why did so many people vote so strongly to change the current system?

The Citizens' Assembly considered the question of electoral reform for over a year.

They, too, concluded that our current system of electing MLAs was lacking and that a better system could be found in the single transferable vote model.

They came to that conclusion after intensive investigation, public consultation, and consideration of academic advice.

Your government does not accept that the solution to a majority vote that failed to pass is to essentially ignore it and impose yet another electoral system.

It does not accept that the answer to the minority's rejection of the Citizens' Assembly's proposal is to redo its work.

It does not accept that the 79 members of this assembly are any better qualified than the 161 members of the Citizens' Assembly were to choose the best electoral model.

In any event, your government believes that the widely acknowledged success of the Citizens' Assembly flowed directly from its independence from traditional political interference.

The Citizens' Assembly had no political master and no partisan axes to grind.

It was not a body of elected politicians who were perceived to be guided by self-interest.

It was exactly what this Legislature intended a citizen-centered, dedicated, and independent.

One task that was never assigned to the Citizens' Assembly was to show precisely how its proposed STV model might apply on an electoral map.

This was arguably a design flaw in its terms of reference that in retrospect may have impacted how people voted in the referendum.

Your government believes that establishing STV constituency boundaries may provide the public with a critical piece of information that was missing at the time of the referendum. The government will recommend that shortcoming be rectified.

The Legislature is obliged to appoint an Electoral Boundaries Commission this session.

Your government will use that opportunity to take the challenge of electoral reform to its ultimate conclusion.

Legislation will be introduced to enable that requirement.

The new Electoral Boundaries Commission will be given two tasks.

First, to redraft the provincial electoral map as is currently required.

The government will introduce an amendment that it hopes will protect northern representation in the Legislature.

The amendment will allow the commission to provide for up to 85 members under the current electoral system.

And having decided on the most appropriate number of MLAs within that cap to protect northern residents, it will set its sights on STV.

The commission will also be asked to identify the best and fairest way to configure British Columbia's electoral districts under the STV model.

In view of the double difficulty of this assignment and a new census not expected to be completed until 2007, the time frame for the commission to complete its work will be extended from the time prescribed in the current legislation.

The commission will be asked to submit its final report on electoral
redistribution under both electoral systems by the spring of 2008.

That information will be put before the public as part of an extensive
effort to better inform British Columbians about the two electoral
options: the current system and STV.

Equal funding will be provided to support active information campaigns for supporters and detractors of each model.

The two models will be put to a province-wide vote, along with the applicable electoral boundaries, in a referendum that will be held in tandem with the November 2008 municipal elections.

That question will be crafted by the government and will be debated and voted upon in this Legislature.

All members, including cabinet ministers, will be free to speak to it and vote as they wish.

In establishing electoral boundaries, it has been the practice that all members are invited to make representations to the Electoral Boundaries Commission.

All members will be encouraged to also use that opportunity to comment on the relative merits of both electoral models under the boundaries proposed.

No one is obliged to support STV or remain silent if they have concerns.

The Premier will remain neutral, but all government members will be free to support or oppose either model.

In the final analysis, the people will again decide - not the politicians -— which electoral model and boundaries suit them best.

The people will have their final say on STV.

The same rules and thresholds that applied for passing STV in the recent referendum will apply in the November 2008 referendum.

Whichever model succeeds is the model that will be employed to elect the next parliament, on May 12th, 2009.

The government intends to launch a province-wide enumeration prior to that date to ensure that the British Columbia voters list is both up to date and accurate."

and you thought *I* had trouble getting to the point...


  • Good lord, that's long-winded.

    But this part -

    Nor can it ignore the size of the double majority that voted to change our current electoral system to the STV model

    - has me curious. I had to look up "double majority", which in this case apparently means that both a majority of registered voters voted on STV, and a plurality of those who voted, voted in favour of it. Did a majority of registered voters vote on STV? I can't find data on voter turnout for the most recent BC election, but I remember that in the weeks leading up to it, polls were showing that a majority of voters either didn't know about STV, either didn't care about STV. It would surprise me to learn that more than half of registered voters actually submitted an STV ballot, but I guess it's possible.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:45 PM  

  • I think (emphasize 'think') that what they were referring to was that over 50% of people voted yes, and over half the ridings votes yes. This would correspond to the two criteria that were set out beforehand.

    But it isn't clear.

    The number of people who voted in the election 1.762 milion was quite close to the number who voted in the referendum, 1.701 million.

    There were 2.744 million people registered to vote for the election (at the start of the campaign: so perhaps a majority did cast a referendum ballot (even an 'STV' majority of > 60%!).

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:00 PM  

  • I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a large majority to approve of a change so drastic. It does seem a little odd to re-do the referendum when they just did it a year ago but it is true that the level of understanding about STV was extremelly low so maybe opinions will solidify one way or the other once people learn more about it.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:13 PM  

  • OK, now I feel dumb - here I was Googling variations of "STV voter turnout British Columbia", and I didn't even think to check out the Elections Canada website.

    So there actually was double majority support for STV. (Triple majority, since a majority of ridings voted for it...) That's good, though I honestly don't know what to make of that, in light of the polls that indicated, as late as a week before the referendum, that a majority of BC residents knew "little or very little" about STV.

    By Blogger Moebius Stripper, at 2:46 PM  

  • calgarygrit - Variations on greater than 50% majorities being required in assemblies, legislatures, etc. are fairly common but examples where > 50% has been applied to a referendum are few and far between.

    On the topic of drastic, keep in mind that 50% was the threshhold for referendums on Quebec sovereignty, changing the Canadian constitution and bringing in conscription.

    It has also been used as the threshhold for electoral reform in other countries (e.g. New Zealand, Ireland) and will be used in P.E.I.'s upcoming referendum.

    Further, the B.C. referendum act specifies a 50% threshhold for all referendums (except this one).

    In the history of Canada and B.C. no other question ever required a >50% majority. Maybe modifying the electoral system is a bigger deal than splitting up the country, changing the constitution or forcing our young men to fight and potentially die overseas but I don't buy it.


    As for people not knowing much about STV, my best estimate based on the few polls that were done was that support for STV ran around 60-65% among those who claimed to be knowledgable on the subject with the rest of the population splitting roughly 50-50. This might suggest that greater awareness would help the 'yes' vote or it might just be that the people who are paying the most attention also happen to be the people who most want the system changed.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:32 PM  

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