“Local PR”

I recently learned of an electoral system design proposed by some activists in Canada. They call it “local PR“; I am not fond of the name, given that it plays into the argument that proportional representation threatens local representation, which I do not believe is a claim supported by the evidence–if it is MMP or, with pure PR, if district magnitude is not too large and/or there are preference votes. However, it may be very good branding, given that misconception of PR is so widely held.

I wonder what readers think of this idea. Basically, it is a form of PR with nominating districts, a model that has been discussed on the pages (leaves?) of this virtual orchard before–including by JD on Éric Grenier’s previous proposal for Canada, and in discussions of Romania, Slovenia and Denmark. However, in an important twist from those models–as I understand them–this proposal ensures every nominating districts has one of its local candidates elected, while still being proportional over the wider allocation districts (which combine existing single-seat districts). In this sense, the “nominating districts” are not just subdistricts in which candidates run–although they are definitely that–but also are single-seat electoral districts in the sense that each one has one and only one of its candidates elected within it. (Typical nominating-district PR can have either more than one candidate from a sub-district elected or can have some sub-districts with no local candidate elected (or both).) JD calls these systems “districted-ordered lists” which is also a fine moniker.

The specific proposal is to use ranked ballots, so it is a variant on STV. I am inclined to like the general goal behind the model, as it is highly compatible with my Emergency Electoral Reform for the US House. (In that, I push open-list PR, but I also point out my proposal could be done with STV.)

Probably the most important page for understanding what is being proposed is the one on “counting votes” (which is actually just as much about allocating seats). Two key paragraphs are:

The counting process under Local PR is done in rounds where each round elects one candidate. It maximizes the value of every ballot while keeping every candidate in the running as long as possible.

In each round, a riding is won by the first candidate to acquire the number of votes needed to win a seat [a Droop quota–ed.]. This is called reaching quota. If no candidate in the region reaches quota based on first ranked preferences (the “1”s), the ballots of the candidate with the fewest votes are redistributed to candidates who are next-ranked on these ballots. This is repeated until one of the remaining candidates reaches quota. Once a candidate reaches quota, he or she is elected and other candidates from the same riding are eliminated, concluding the round.

Subsequent rounds are started with all of the original candidates except those who have been eliminated from ridings with an elected candidate. Ballots for the eliminated candidates are redistributed to next-ranked candidates. The round continues until another candidate reaches quota. Rounds continue until one locally-nominated candidate has been elected in each riding.

There are important further details on that page that are worth your time if you are interested in exploring the idea.

I can see plenty of advantages, and also disadvantages (see JD’s post on the Grenier proposal for general criticisms of the wider family). Such is the nature of electoral system designs. It is always about tradeoffs. I am curious what regulars around here (as well as any always-welcome newcomers) think of it.

12 thoughts on ““Local PR”

  1. I have problems with the proposal.

    My first is that the locality requirement may reduce proportionality. Let us examine the district of Upper Middle Bogan. M=3. All electors are either Blue or Red. They are distributed into 3 subdistricts (Little M) as follows:

    Upper 2 Red 1 Blue
    Middle 2 Red 1 Blue
    Bogan 2 Red 1 Blue

    Standard STV would return 2 Red and 1 Blue.

    Local PR STV would tend to return 3 Red and 0 Blue depending on the number of candidates.

    It’s also not difficult to envisage an independent/small party candidate who might have a quota in the district as a whole, but not in any subdistrict. They can still get elected, but they must be assigned a subdistrict, their election excludes all the candidates for that subdistrict and doesn’t necessarily reflect any real link to that subdistrict. The people of Upper will not dance in the streets if they get a nonlocal local member.

    That could be overcome to some degree by having a Little M that is less than M, but that could be read as say Upper ‘unfairly’ getting 2 members instead of 1.

    Moreover, you are going to have problems with very long ballots because every party must nominate enough candidates to ensure they can still win seats after subdistrict exclusions. If all the Red candidates came from Upper, they could win only 1 seat despite having 2/3 of the districtwide vote. Trying to predict where candidates would be elected would become a highly technical exercise and I suggest parties would tend to run at least M multiplied by Little M candidates.

    The system would somewhat favour large parties because they are better at candidate recruitment and have the resources to microtarget subdistricts.

    In jurisdictions where gerrymandering is allowed, it would be possible to rig subdistrict boundaries in various ways.

    It could be made to work proportionally, but I’m absolutely unsure the benefit of having a local candidate elected from each subdistrict would outweigh the disadvantages of the proposal.

  2. Analyzing how it works is easy, since it has been done for the 2015 results:

    “Local PR” simply doesn’t work well, once you look at how it works. This is not my simulation, it comes from the Local PR site.

    Hamilton—Brant (7): In Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, a tight Liberal/NDP race, the 3rd-ranked Conservative is elected. In this seven-MP region the Conservatives elect two MPs, but instead of them being the two elected in 2015, minister Diane Finlay is defeated while Diane Bubanko, who got only half Finlay’s votes and stood a poor third in Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, is elected instead. How? Because Haldimand-Norfolk’s defeated Liberal happens to have 865 more votes than the winning Liberal in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, as you see in count #17 of Round 4 when Liberal MP Bob Bratina is eliminated by Liberal Joan Mouland. Hamilton East—Stoney Creek is a “left-over riding” which eventually falls to the 3rd-ranked Conservative in the final Round.

    Mauricie—Centre-Du-Quebec (7): in this seven-MP district the Bloc with 1.76 quotas elects 1 MP, while the Conservatives with 1.60 quotas elect 2 MPs.

    Quebec City (7): 4 first choices are elected; cabinet minister Jean-Yves Duclos loses his seat to a Bloc candidate who ran 4th , while the Liberals elect someone else instead, defeating Conservative incumbent Sylvie Boucher; the NDP has 1.70 quotas while the Bloc has only 1.13, yet the top NDP candidate is bumped out by the Bloc candidate in the 2nd Round, while instead a New Democrat defeats Conservative incumbent Joel Godin.

    In Simcoe—Dufferin—Owen Sound (7): 3 first choice Conservatives are elected; Liberals defeat Larry Miller, Bruce Stanton and David Tilson; and a New Democrat (who got only 9.6% and ran 3rd) defeats Kelly Leitch in a rural riding.

    Of the 335 MPs from provinces in the 2015 simulation on the “Local PR” site:
    231 were the ones elected in 2015 as the choice of voters in that riding.
    80 were defeated in 2015, the second choice of voters in that riding
    22 were defeated in 2015, the third choice of voters in that riding.
    2 were defeated in 2015, the fourth choice of voters in that riding.

    Furthermore, in Ottawa Centre, the Liberals would have known that Paul Dewar would be safe, so they would not have run their star Catherine McKenna in that riding, they would have put her in a different seat. This introduces a serious distortion that punishes good candidates arbitrarily. Any system that rejects our best individuals on this basis for a multi-member riding will quickly be rejected — forcing parties to coordinate where to run star candidates is proof that unfair and arbitrary distortions will occur.

    • There’s also the delicate question of whether you can nominate in more than one subdistrict in the same district. If you can, then obviously you nominate for all subdistricts and the system defaults to regular STV. If you can’t, you need to ry predict the subdistrict where you will do best and that’s a bar to small parties and independents who don’t have the same resources as large parties.

  3. I (a physical scientist) understand “local” to be a term of art in political science referring to one of the tiers in a multi-tier system, such as the single-member districts in conventional MMP. The term “local” does not apply in a system with a single tier of multi-member districts.

    The examples given by Wilf and Alan show that the workings of “Local PR” are more like what Einstein would have called “spooky action at a distance” than forces acting locally. A marriage of STV and Dual Member Proportional has produced an offspring lacking the good features of either parent?

    In making all of the seats “local”, the system makes none of them local in the poly sci sense. But selling reform depends on the public understanding of “local” – we may understand “PR” to stand for Public Relations.

    • I suppose this proposed system is indeed a two-tier system: [see my later comment] it has one criteria for winning a “local district” and another for winning in the wider area. The outcome, as in any two-tier system, is a composite of the different criteria.

      I also think we political scientists use “local” much more broadly than what Dave posits. Note that the designer of this system is not a political scientist. Not that this matters, just worth noting in light of Dave’s comment.

      • My re-reading of the election procedure for Local PR is that it’s a kind of alt-STV. As in STV a candidate is elected when s/he acquires a quota of votes in the multi-seat region. The difference lies in the way candidates are eliminated: in STV the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated; Local PR instead eliminates all other candidates in the district of an elected candidate. Rinse, repeat until all seats are filled.

        All successful candidates are elected by the same process of vote transfer and all failed candidates are eliminated by the same mechanism. I don’t see how Local PR candidates can be sorted into 2 tiers.

        Agreed that political scientists may/do use “local” more broadly. Harmless so long as there’s no confusion when they talk to civilians about voting systems.

      • On further reflection, no, I do not think it matches my working definition of a two-tier system. It (and all the other similar models mentioned above) are districted systems with a subordinate component, not a super-ordinate one, as required for “two tier.”

        For instance, Slovenia has both. There are sub-districts (the subordinate component), but parties initially win seats based on their votes across combinations of these sub-districts. These combinations are what I would call basic-tier districts. But even here, only full quotas are awarded seats. The remainders are allocated based on a remainder-pooling process, which is an “upper tier.”

        I really do not know how to think of “local PR” but I retract the earlier statement that it might be a form of two-tier system (unless, of course, it also has a higher-level compensation or “top up” tier).

      • Dave, right. See my follow up (which I composed before seeing your reply).

        Note that in the initial remarks I made about this, I said I did not like the name that the promoters attached to this proposed electoral system, based on my understanding of what political science has said about local representation and electoral systems. Your objection is a good further (but related) reason for disliking it.

        Also, please, not “voting systems”!

  4. I think Canada wants a system that doesn’t exist and can’t possibly exist, which is proportionality with single member districts.

  5. I’d note that Lebanon actually independently adopted such a system, but with constraints around the faith of candidates/winners rather than their geography.

    The genesis of the Canadian version was a Liberal MP (Lloyd Longfield) said he would take to the Liberal caucus any proportional reform that satisfied all the concerns he had about proportional representation. This was the result. To my knowledge I believe he broke is word.

    This was itself based an ERRE submission that proposed a similar system but with fewer sub-districts (bailiwicks?) than there are seats available, which allowed some seats to “float” and addresses some of Wilf’s issues. Almost a synthesis of OLPR (or STV) and MMP really.

    On the branding thing, I think what we advocates need to recognize is that the branding matters a lot, and that word salads get us nowhere. Rural-Urban Proportional as presented in the BC referendum was a mess of a mess, and it did very well in rural areas just because of the name IMHO.

    As such I propose calling OLPR of the sort Jack Santucci advocates for as “local choice voting.” Thoughts?

    • Branding really is not my thing. I prefer to call electoral systems–real and proposed– by names that make sense to me, as a scientist, blogger, and teacher. Advocates are best placed to come up with whatever they think they need to sell their proposal.

      By that sort of OLPR, you mean this sort?

      Honestly, I do not like the name, “local choice voting” because (1) many electoral systems have a “local” component (see the first paragraph of this post), and (2) all electoral systems in democracies involve choice. So the name is vacuous. Also, note that at least at one time, pro-STV advocates in the US were calling the system “choice voting.” (Aside: I did a project with a LWV chapter and one of the women in the group said, “sounds like it would be about abortion”).

      But as I said at the start of this comment, I leave the advocacy branding to others.

      • Exactly that sort. My own (poorly edited so I won’t post here) submission to the ERRE was along those lines as well.

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