BC electoral reform options for referendum

The electoral-reform process in British Columbia has advanced another step with the Attorney General’s release of recommendations. The existence of this process is a product of the deal struck after the 2017 election, which resulted in a minority NDP government, backed by the Green Party.

In either October or November, there will be a province-wide vote consisting of two questions: First, do you want to keep the current FPTP system or replace it with a proportional system? Second, which of three PR options would you prefer if the province were to adopt PR? The second part will permit voters to rank-order their choices.

The choices being put to the voters are (using the names given in the recommendations):

Dual-Member PR (DMP)

Mixed-Member PR (MMP)

Rural-Urban PR

I will take the three in order of most familiar to least.

Readers of this blog are probably generally pretty familiar with what MMP is. The short version is: a system in which some percentage of seats (the proposal is for no more than 40%) are elected as “compensatory” list seats, while the rest continue to be elected as under FPTP, in single-seat districts (ridings) by plurality. The key feature is the compensatory nature of the process, so that any party’s number of seats in the provincial assembly are roughly proportional to its province-wide votes. Any seats the party wins in individual ridings are deducted from this total, and remaining seats a party is entitled to hold under the proportionality principle come from the list. It should be noted that the report says “List PR seats are to be allocated within defined regions, not on a province-wide basis.” This could limit proportionality somewhat, but this proposal is likely to be the most proportional of the three (unless perhaps if the compensation regions are quite small).

Rural-Urban PR is mostly single transferable vote (STV), but in the rural parts of the province MMP would be used. This is an unusual system in that it actually is two electoral systems, depending in where you are in the province: STV in urban and “semi-urban” areas, but MMP elsewhere. Under STV, voters rank candidates, but under MMP it seems that it would remain plurality. The logic is to prevent rural ridings from being significantly larger than they are now–one of the concerns raised with “BC-STV” when it was proposed in the province’s previous electoral reform process. The provision for MMP compensation regions in rural areas is obviously an effort to allow for proportional representation even in the areas where the districts will be single-seat. The proposal suggests district magnitudes of 2-9, with a preference for the higher end of that range.

Both MMP proposals–the full province-wide one or the rural component of Rural-Urban PR–could have either a single vote or two votes. The proposal explicitly leaves this (important!) detail to the legislature after the referendum. If there were one vote, then votes for candidates in single-seat ridings would be aggregated by party for the purposes of carrying out proportional compensation (which, for Rural-Urban, would be taking place only over the regions in which the single-seat districts were located). With a two-vote MMP (as found in Germany and New Zealand), voters can vote directly for a list of their preferred party, and thus vote for a party that is different from that of their preferred local candidate. Yet another feature to be left to the legislature to decide would be whether lists would be closed (as is typical for MMP systems), open, or flexible (also known as semi-open, but misleadingly called in the recommendations “open list with party option”).

DMP is a system not actually used anywhere (but see the earlier P.E.I. proposal), and it is a bit complex. In general, each district would elect two members, although the recommendations allow that the “largest rural districts could remain unchanged as single-member districts.” Each party could nominate two candidates, and they would be ranked by the party. Thus we have a closed-list system. Voters would cast a single party vote. The first seat in each 2-seat district would be won by the first-ranked candidate on the party with the most votes in the district. The second seat would actually be allocated based on province-wide votes. It is thus a two-tier compensatory closed-list PR system. How would the assignment of the compensatory seats to districts–given that there is no separate list or compensation district–be done? The proposal says only, “The process for allocating the second seat in each district is fairly complicated.” (Perhaps it would be something like the provisions in Slovenia or as an option for parties in Denmark.)

DMP ensures that all candidates, even those elected on province-wide votes, would represent a riding. It also ensures that one member in each 2-seat riding is elected based on the riding’s own votes. (Exception: it seems there would be a 5% threshold for any party to win seats under any of the list-based provisions being proposed; if that is correct, then it is conceivable that a party could win a plurality of votes in some riding but not be entitled to a seat.)

A puzzling aspect of DMP is the one on independents. If an independent places first in a district, that candidate is elected. That is straightforward enough. However, it is also the case that if an independent places second, that candidate is elected and “the district is removed from the remainder of the second-seat allocation process.” I don’t understand the logic of that provision.

Each proposal allows for the assembly to be increased from its present 87 members up to a maximum of 95, but does not require that the assembly size be increased.

An observation: Why not do DMP with open lists? Have the voter vote for a candidate, rather than a party. It would be a lesser break with FPTP while still being quite proportional. A potential answer: it could mean the candidate with the most personal votes is not elected (because that candidate is on a party that is overall less popular than another in the district). That could be addressed by making it more like MMP–the leading candidate wins the first seat, but that seat is deducted from the compensation entitlement. Otherwise, the DMP provisions would apply. It is interesting that the DMP proposal is explicitly closed list, whereas the list type in the MMP variants would be left up to the legislature.

Any of these systems would seem like a clear improvement for BC. Rural-Urban is an odd mix, but it could work. MMP is proven. DMP is unusual but not based on wholly unknown principles.

(For further reading, see On Elections or Sightline)

BC deal between NDP and Greens

In the wake of British Columbia’s provincial assembly election, which did not result in a single-party majority, a deal has been stuck that would see the government change. The NDP (41 seats) and the Greens (3) would topple the incumbent Liberals (43).

It is a “confidence and supply” arrangement. That is, the NDP and Greens are not forming a coalition cabinet; rather, the Greens are promising support to the NDP to form and maintain a minority government. The deal is intended to last for four years.

Details remain scant at this point, but regarding Greens’ priorities, the Globe and Mail (second link above) reports that the party

had set out three “deal breakers” that include official party status, campaign finance reform and proportional representation, although other issues, including the party’s opposition to several Liberal resource priorities, also would have factored into such talks.

BC 2017: Non-Duvergerian watch

British Columbia votes for its provincial assembly on 9 May. Eric Grenier’s vote and seat projections at CBC suggest it could be a “non-Duvergerian” outcome, especially in the votes. The NDP looks likely to win a majority of seats, manufactured by the electoral system, as its votes are likeliest to stay below 45%. The Liberals are running well behind, but are also likely to be over-represented due to their more efficient votes distribution: Grenier’s average projection for the party would put them on just under 35% of votes but 39% of seats.

The non-Duvergerian aspect of the election is the Greens: average projection of 20% of the votes, which is on the high side for a third party under FPTP. The mechanical effect will crush them, however: average seats only 2 of 87. That, of course, is “typical” FPTP.

Where things get interesting is if the Greens rise even just a few percentage points. The “high” projection takes their votes up only to around 23% but their seats to 12 or more (around 14%)! Clearly, they are running second in many districts–particularly on Vancouver Island.

The reason this pattern is non-Duvergerian is that the so-called Duverger’s law says voters tend not to want to waste their votes on a third party. They should “coordinate” with the more-preferred of the two big parties. Further, this defection should be more likely after the third party has suffered from the mechanical effect of FPTP in past elections, as the Greens in BC have. Instead, their support is evidently growing.

But there is not much incentive to choose between the major parties when you have three-party competition throughout much of the province, and the third party could win a significant number of seats even if it stays well below 50% in the districts where it is most viable.

The BC NDP platform promises: “We’ll hold a referendum – and campaign for the “yes” side – on replacing our outdated voting system with a proportional one.”

Will they follow through if FPTP delivers them a majority?

Update: The tracker of where the party leaders are campaigning is interesting. Of course, there is much emphasis on swing districts, particularly for the NDP. However, this quotation from Richard Johnston (UBC political scientist) is spot on:
“You do have to campaign everywhere; you have to validate the existence of your candidates.” In Chapter 10 of Votes from Seats (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press), Rein Taagepera and I refer to this phenomenon as the “embeddedness” of districts in nationwide (here, provincewide) politics. We do not consider non-Duvergerian districts to be quite the puzzle that others do, because we expect voters to be more oriented towards the aggregate outcome than towards their own district, and parties to care about “showing the flag” even in districts they may not be very likely to win.

Brexit vs. BC-STV: Help with my principles!

As I noted earlier, I happened to be in British Columbia while the British were voting to leave the EU.

[Note: If you want to make general comments on Brexit and what happens next, please comment at the earlier thread. I’d like to keep this one on the narrower topic raised here.]

I never liked the BC-STV vote having been “defeated” in 2005 despite a clear majority (57%), due to a threshold of 60% having been set. But I do not like the UK “mandate” to leave the EU by a vote of 51.9%.

Is there a principle that reconciles my two positions? Or do I just have no principles regarding referendums*, and assess the rules for passage by whether I like what is being proposed? Help, please!

(I have written about referendum approval thresholds before.)

________

* Other than that, in general, I’d rather not have them. I rather like representative democracy and deliberative institutions.

BC election 2013

British Columbia’s general election is today.

All indications are that the NDP will defeat the incumbent Liberals, in power since 2001, by a wide margin, although the race has tightened during the campaign. BC’s First Past the Post electoral system has a history of periodically producing anomalous results, but a near-total wipeout of the losing party no longer seems as likely as it did when the election was called. The last time the NDP won a BC provincial election was in 1996, when it was the beneficiary of a plurality reversal: it lost the vote to the Liberals, 39.4%-41.8%, but won the seats, 39-33. The only other time the NDP won an election was 1991, when their 41%-33% vote lead translated into a whopping 51-17 lead in seats. Today’s result could be similar.

The Greens, who won their first seat in federal politics in a BC riding (district) in 2011, have some shot at picking up their first provincial seat. The Green Party has won as much as 12.4% of the vote in a provincial election; that was 2001, when the Liberals defeated the NDP in a landslide. In 2005 and 2009, the party’s votes declined to 9.2% and then 8.1%.

As the election has tightened, the Greens’ odds of winning a seat may have declined. The BC Greens leader says her party has a chance at 4-5 seats on southern Vancouver Island, and that she will resign if she does not win her own seat. She is running against an NDP incumbent; given the strong NDP winds blowing this year, her odds would seem not so good.

The Liberal Party ran an ad in the Victoria Times-Colonist that has created some controversy. It praises the Greens for their environmental leadership, apparently hoping that a strong Green vote in the region will allow the Liberals to win some three-way races. NDP leader, Adrian Dix, responded to the ad by saying:

They will say anything, they will do anything. What the Liberals are saying is our path to get to power is for you to vote Green. I say the way to change the government, to get a new and better government, is to vote NDP.

The Green candidate in the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding also had an interesting response to the ad, saying that if his campaign could afford a full-page ad, it would say the same thing about their environmental leadership and the NDP’s “flip-flopping”. Moreover,

What it would acknowledge is Ida [Chong, the Liberal incumbent] is certainly not in the lead … she’s not even second in this riding.

That’s a great example of the expectations game in FPTP elections: if you can convince voters that a given candidate is in third place, you might be able to promote strategic defection your way. The district in question was won by the Liberal with a margin of only a few hundred votes in 2009, without the presence of a strong Green challenge.

The other small party to watch is the Conservatives, who long have been scarcely a factor in the province’s politics. The last time the party placed as high as third was in 1979, with 5.1%. The now defunct Reform Party, which was a Western splinter from the Conservatives that later re-merged with it, was third with 9.2% in 1996. ((And probably a factor in the plurality reversal that year, though I have never looked at riding-level results to see to what extent.))

The BC Conservatives could have a chance at a seat this time. As the Tri-City News notes about the contest in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain :

If there is one thing Shane Kennedy is hoping voters remember when they head to the polls next week, it’s this: they needn’t cast a ballot for the NDP to get rid of the Liberals.

A bit deeper into the story is this interesting policy note:

He agrees with the Liberal’s stance on bringing the Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C. but said the money it generates for the province should be used to fund green industry.

Kennedy is also quoted as advocating more bus service for the area, so we have both local and provincewide–and not necessarily obviously “conservative”–positions being advocated in attempt to secure the seat.

Nonetheless, as with the Greens, the overall tightening of the race probably works against any BC Conservative candidate.

Good headline: “BC Conservatives woo voters with liquor.”

BC: FPTP forever?

The BC-STV proposal suffered a resounding defeat in British Columbia’s referendum yesterday. The electoral reform, originally recommended by a Citizens Assembly, won only 38.2% of the vote,* a nearly 20-percentage-point drop from what it earned the first time it was on the ballot, in 2005. (Then as now, it required 60% provincewide and majorities in 60% of the districts to pass.)

One needs only to look at the results of the concurrent general election to see why FPTP retains such widespread support: The first-past-the-post system is working well for the province. FPTP, in a parliamentary form of government, is expected to produce a contest between two principal parties, one of which will win a clear governing majority. And that’s what BC got out of this election, with the incumbent Liberals winning 46% of the vote (a small increase over the 2005 election) to the New Democrats’ 42.1%. The Liberal party’s strong plurality translates into an even stronger majority of seats–49 (57.6%)–just as is expected from FPTP.

That the STV proposal managed a majority in the 2005 referendum is likely attributable to the fresh memories of how a FPTP parliamentary system can fail to do what is expected of it. Two elections prior to that, it had produced a plurality reversal (NDP seat majority despite Liberal vote plurality), while in 2001, the Liberals swept almost every seat, depriving parliament of an opposition presence.

The 2009 election represents the second consecutive return to normal performance after those two anomalies. Presumably, roughly three fifths of BC voters are relieved that they had the opportunity to revisit their yes-but-no outcome of four years ago, and cast a loud-and-clear vote against abandoning their British electoral heritage.

BC results at CBC.ca and Vancouver Sun.

_______
* Very marginally better than the MMP proposal crafted by a Citizens Assembly in Ontario performed in October, 2007.