Thursday, February 08, 2018

BC government consultation stacks the deck for proportional representation electoral system

BC government electoral system referendum website consultation logo
Bill Tielemans 24 Hours Vancouver column

Tuesday November 21, 2017

By Bill Tieleman

“When you're playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder.” 

-       Pat Riley, ex-National Basketball Association head coach

Heads or tails?  Ante up or fold? Black or red?

Whether it’s flipping a coin, playing poker or roulette – you have two choices, not multiple choices – just pick one and either win or lose.

Unless you are the BC government and consulting the public online about possibly changing our electoral system in the fall of 2018, which determines how we are governed and how we choose our representatives.

Regrettably, the New Democratic Party I support wants to change the voting system to something called proportional representation.  So does the Green Party.

I disagree – and successfully led opposition to the Single Transferable Vote in referendums in 2005 and 2009.

But I respect voters choosing through a democratic referendum.

What I don’t understand is why the NDP government appears to be reneging on a clear pre-election promise Horgan made.  

Horgan told the Vancouver Sun in May that referendum ballot would have only two choices – either keep our existing First Past The Post system or move to some proportional representation model.

“A consensus on yes or no is pretty easy.  You are going to have 50 per cent say yes or no,” Horgan said then.

“So you give them one system to vote on?” a reporter asked.

“Yeah, yeah exactly,” Horgan responded.

But last week Attorney General David Eby launched a consultation website that’s anything but clear – except in its bias towards proportional representation.

It appears to encourage using a “ranked ballot” in the referendum – designed to maximize the possibility of some proportional representation system squeaking through. 

How?  Voters whose first choice comes in last place then get their second choice counted.  And maybe their third and fourth choices.

One disturbing question: “The referendum should offer voters the choice between the current First Past The Post voting system and MORE THAN ONE Proportional Representation voting system.”

And then another: “Voters should rank order their support for all the proposed systems.”

So – is the referendum ballot going to be “yes or no” – one system or the other – as the premier promised? Or multiple choices and a ranked ballot?

Instead of stacking the deck in favour of proportional representation the NDP government should reshuffle – and get back to what it promised.



homunq said...

You want a simple yes/no question on the referendum?

So do @YesPRBC, @fairvotebc, @fairvotingbc, @CCPA_BC, and pretty much every other group I know of who's commented on the referendum format. Yes, many suggest letting voters choose which PR method they like best, but all agree with you that there should first be a simple yes/no question.

The entire premise of this article is invalid.

Scotty on Denman said...

The proposed referendum is about picking an electoral system, not a voting system. That might sound nit-picky but, unfortunately, the difference is germane in this case—adding more mud to muddle through as if there isn’t enough smeared all over this issue already.

The mail-in ballot is the voting system proposed; each registered voter will receive a referendum ballot in the mail and, before mailing it back to Elections BC, each voter will mark on it which electoral system he or she prefers, not which voting system. The mail-in voting system is problematic and, if the question was really about “how we vote”—which it will not be: the referendum will be about how we elect—I’d vote “no” to the mail-in voting system for three reasons:

1- mail-in ballots have obvious, insurmountable veracity and fraud problems because it’s impossible to verify whether the intended voter, the addressee, is the person who marked the ballot, or if someone other than the addressee fraudulently marked it instead; just as it is impossible to know if the addressee was coerced into voting a certain way or was paid to vote as instructed

2- because the mail-in voting system proposed is inescapably susceptible to undetecteable fraud, a very close result around the 50%+1 threshold proposed will make it impossible to determine which referendum option prevails, making the result arguably illegitimate, presumably for anyone unhappy with the result.

3- if the referendum result can’t be determined because of the mail-in ballot’s unsolvable fraud and veracity problems, then its controverted legitimacy has the potential to incite all sorts of political tumult and instability, ultimately undermining democracy’s most fundamental criterion: a trustworthy electoral process.

Either replace the mail-in or raise the threshold to statistically compensate for anticipated voting-fraud inevitable with mail-in ballots. Or, least desirable, cite the mail-in fraud problems to seek nullification of an ambiguous result by court order. A redo would only push the matter further into the realm of political football, the electoral system of the previous election condemned by opposition parties, moving electoral goalposts perennially promised. The on-again-off-again ‘test-drive’ option would have the same effect if permitted.
Parties are training voters to associate electoral systems with partisanship, to oppose systems as much as parties do each other. This is wrong.

The facts that recusal and delegation hasn’t happened, that government continues to elicit “input” from voters with loaded questionnaire questions and fuzzy goals (we still don’t know what options will be on the ballot, nor what selection system will be used) looks like hedging, like keeping open opportunities to influence the referendum. The blatant pro-rep boosting on government websites is suspiciously inappropriate. JT did this to scuttle the federal exercise: his ruminations about his personal system preference while the special committee deliberated was blatantly inappropriate. An online questionnaire and the minister kept interrupting, the deck chairs kept getting rearranged and the PM suddenly decreed a referendum “too divisive.”

The best action: delegate the process to Elections BC immediately, recusing partisan politicians completely. The worst: continue as we are now: steadily undermining trust in our democratic institutions. Whatever the reason electoral reform became an issue, now that a referendum has been promised, we need to get it done with utmost impartiality and veracity so’s to get a clear result that’s final. We are currently in the danger zone.

Tomasz said...

An interesting article and an interesting approach to the topic, I am waiting for more information!

gman61 said...

Don't worry your pretty little head about all this Bill. As wrong as you are about proportional representation, you have nothing to worry about. Your precious, but corrupt, NDP will deliberately sabotage their own efforts because they are like the Liberals ( both provincial and federal) and the Conservatives. They want power (which they currently have) not Pro-Rep.