Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Preferential Ballot

Like a lot of self-described progressives, I'm still annoyed that the Harper Conservatives managed to eke out a majority government earlier this month, despite winning significantly less than fifty percent of the vote. Moderate and left-leaning Canadians in swing ridings are forced to vote strategically, trying to predict which candidate - the Liberal or the New Democrat - has a better chance of defeating the Conservative. As we saw in Edmonton-Centre and a number of other ridings across Canada, the resulting vote split allowed Tories to win by "running up the middle" and capturing a plurality, but not a majority, of votes...and a plurality is all you need to win in our first-past-the-post system. Folks on the right had the same problem when the Progressive Conservative/Reform split allowed Jean Chretien's Liberals to win a succession of majority governments.

A lot of folks on the centre-left have suggested that proportional representation might better represent the true intentions of voters, but the most common criticism of this route is its unlikelihood of producing majority governments.

Another option occurred to me on the drive home from work yesterday: what if we kept the first-past-the-post system, but used preferential ballots to rank the candidates? Also called "instant runoff voting," this gives voters in a multi-party system the freedom to choose candidates without the fear of handing the race to their least favourite candidate.

For example, a ballot in Quebec might be filled in thusly:

Ralph Hardliner (Conservative): 3
Joe Moderate (Liberal): 1
Annie Socialist (NDP): 2
Anna Verte (Green): 5
Marie Vivrelibre (Bloq): 4

If none of the candidates manage to get a majority of first-place votes, then a second round of counting begins, with the candidate with the least number of first-place ballots eliminated. His or her ballots are reallocated to the remaining candidates, with the second choice on those ballots being awarded to whichever candidate earned them. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of first and second place ballots. He or she wins the seat.

Assuming that voters in Edmonton-Centre listed the Liberal and New Democrat candidates as their first or second choices, in whatever order, then one of them likely would have won. Of course that assumes that all Liberal voters choose the New Democrats as their second choice, and all New Democrats reciprocate...a dangerous assumption! But at the very least, it seems as though this system would stand a slightly better chance of producing less polarized results, with fewer disappointed voters.

Cast your vote in order of preference:

Earl, you're on the right track
Earl, this is a dumb idea because you haven't considered all the ramifications
Earl, I wish you'd blog less about politics and more about popular culture
Earl, I wish you'd blog less about popular culture and more about politics
Earl, I wish you'd learn HTML so you could have put a voting widget here


Andrew said...

1 - Earl, I wish you'd learn HTML so you could have put a voting widget here

2 - Earl, you're on the right track

susan_rn92 said...

I second Andrew. And from all the votes in the comments so far, I believe we have the majority.