The BC government has adopted a measure that will forbid parties from campaigning for or against the STV referendum after February 1. Wally Oppal says this is necessary for fairness and reminds everyone that the government will have two officially funded "sides" to promote or oppose STV. The Greens, in particular, are outraged.
Maybe it's true that this is the only way to run this show; that only registered folks should be allowed to speak on this issue, but it sure seems heavy-handed and, well, dumb! During the previous referendum, many pro-STVers were demanding that candidates make their views known on the subject. In other words, they were demanding that candidates for MLA campaign for the "Yes" vote. It seemed to me then (and now) that this is wrong-headed. Why have a candidate campaign for (or against) a referendum item that will be decided before successful candidates take their seat in the legislature? If a candidate is opposed and says "vote No" and is elected and the referendum "Yes" vote is successful, what then? Does the new MLA try to overturn the referendum results? It is really too bad that the referendum is being held in conjunction with an election. [Dec.4, 2008]
Australia may be facing a Double Dissolution of the House and the Senate. This is a big deal in Australia. DDs are provided for in the Constitution but have rarely been used in the manner for which they were intended. See more, here. Carbon tax is the big issue. Australia is still wrestling with the concept of global warming.
Oh, and New South Wales has lost its Premier in a caucus revolt, and Western Australia's Labor government called a short election for some strategic reason or other and the state may just wind up with a hung government. Note the Green gain. [Sept.14, 2008]
The last BC legislature closed on schedule, as per statute. All the undebated legislation on the order paper was then passed. Automatically. As per statute. This included the TILMA legislation which has been questioned by a great many people, not all of them unfriendly to the government. No doubt answers exist, but now we will never hear them. It is one thing to legislate an automatic end to a Parliamentary session, it is something else to promulgate laws that have not been examined by the public. This is a terribly anti-democratic, anti-Parliamentary proceeding, and I have felt so bilious about it that I feared unleashing such venom on this page that I would be immediately be branded as some kind of nut. So, I will say no more about this evil, wicked, undemocratic practice except to say that any party who promotes it as a good idea should be outlawed forever. [Sept. 8, 2008]
As expected, both Government and Opposition have agreed to accept the Boundaries Commission's Final Report plus two more seats, bringing us to an 85-seat legislature -- two less than Alberta. It was refreshing to hear both Government Spokesperson DeJong and Opposition Farnworth hinting that more seats are necessary.
[...]Mike de Jong acknowledged that the public doesn't like the idea of more politicians, "until you talk about their politicians, and in virtually every region of the province no one wants to see their representation diminished." NDP house leader Mike Farnworth agreed. "There is never a big public outcry for adding more MLAs," Farnworth said. "What we have seen, though, in rural British Columbia, in the Kootenays and the Interior, is [public demand] to ensure that their representation is maintained."Right! Seats equal representation! [March 17,2008]
The EBC has recommended adding four seats to the Legislature, bringing it to 83 members. It recommends keeping four seats in the Columbia-Kootenay region but cutting one each from the North and Cariboo. Since both the Government and the Opposition have said they would reject any proposal that removed these seats, it might seem that all is up for redistricting, but... The EBC has kindly added a boundary plan (Appendix Q) that would allow the retention of the seats, if the Legislature were increased to 85 members. In other words, Bill 39 can be re-introduced as an amendment to the EBC proposals. I expect that is what will happen. Full report here.
The boundaries for the twenty STV districts remain the same. Districts where seats were added will increase by one member. So, for instance, Victoria's Capital District will have seven members. The Kootenay District will have four. Presumably, if the Legislature amends to add two more seats, they will be folded into the Cariboo-Thompson and North Central STV districts bringing them to five and four members respectively.
In light of the difficulties it faced, the EBC is to be congratulated for doing as well as it did. [February 15, 2008]
A brief synopsis of this farce: the EBC suggests new boundaries, demonstrations in Prince George over the loss of a Northern seat cause Campbell to issue new instructions, the EBC awaits new instructions, Campbell comes up with Bill 39 that says no region will lose seats and that eight more seats must be added, Justice Cohen threatens to resign from the EBC since keeping all regional seats will violate the BC Elections Act ($ story), Bill 39 fails to pass anyway as the Opposition vows to fight it, the EBC will resume hearings in January and play out the role given them by the Legislature. Presumably, the EBC will then re-issue its earlier Report. Presumably, the Legislature will reject it. That will be the end of redistricting until after the next election. (Another synopsis)
Campbell's government bears a lot of responsibility for this mess -- it failed to provide either thoughtful leadership or constructive examination of the problems involved -- along with the NDP, who pretend to be fighting for non-interference with the EBC even as they demand interference through preservation of regional seats, and of course, us, the Public who despise our lawmakers so much we apparently can't abide the thought of adding more seats to the Legislature. Mind you, the current mess does not make any of our elected reps look good. [Dec.19, 2007]
Bill 39 will not pass this sitting. The bill was introduced to amend the instructions to the Electoral Boundaries Commission after public protests over the Commission's preliminary report. Bill 39 would have increased the Legislature to 87 members and kept seats from being removed in the North, Cariboo, and Kootenay regions. The bill may be revived in the Spring or amended once more or the entire Electoral Boundaries process be halted and re-started with fresh instructions. The Commission was charged both with drawing new boundaries to reflect BC's changing demographics and a set of boundaries to be used if the province adopts STV. Originally, the Commission was supposed to report its findings in 2008 in time for a referendum on STV. If passed, STV would have been the method used in the 2009 election. But the EBC pleaded that there wasn't enough time for them to do their job and Elections BC said there wouldn't be enough time for them to organize an election after the referendum, so the referendum was re-scheduled for 2009 along with an election run under the current system. Now the question is, will the Legislature be able to come up with a new plan in time for the next election. In other words, will we have re-districting at all?
Bill 39 did not pass because the New Democrats decided to oppose it. The reasons given were two: first, that they feared the additional seats would be alloted to Liberal areas and, second, that nobody wants more politicians anyway. It is hard to imagine sillier arguments than these. Some areas of the province have seen great population increases since the most recent redistricting. To deny these voters representation is to deny democracy itself. Fair and just representation -- and the NDP is the party of fairness and justice -- requires redistribution. The second argument -- that no one wants more politicians -- is contemptible. If the people are to be represented then they must have representatives. The NDP is pandering to prejudices fostered by anti-democratic interests -- the wealthy and powerful few who would just as soon do without politicians altogether. Political representation is the only way most people have to affect government. Diluting this representation diminishes people's power. What was Mike Farnsworth thinking when he bragged about not adding more politicians? Is he saying that politicians are unnecessary scum? Surely, he didn't mean himself! There was a time when the NDP was the party that defended democracy. Democratic reforms -- Hansard, for example -- were introduced in the western provinces by CCF/NDP governments. Alberta, which never had such a government, lacks these instruments of democracy. Killing Bill 39 was not a progressive move and the New Democratic Party should be ashamed of its actions.
But the Liberal government is also to blame for this mess. Bill 39 was a hasty reponse to public pressure. There was a lot wrong with the EBC preliminary report but it needed an overhaul, not a patch job. Once again, the real problem is that the Liberals don't want to add seats to the Legislature. The Citizens' Assembly was crippled by not being allowed to make any proposals that would require more seats. Although the Electoral Boundaries Commission was allowed to add a few seats, it was not encouraged to do so. (The EBC preliminary report makes it clear that the Commission felt constraint in this matter.) But increasing the number of representatives would answer many of the problems electoral reform is supposed to solve. It would allow sparsely populated areas to keep enough lawmakers to represent their regions. It would allow heavilly-populated areas to add seats so that everyone has a fair share of government. It would make for more opportunities for smaller parties, for women and minorities. It would make election results more proportional. Increasing the Legislature to 100 seats is a far more important reform than tinkering with the voting system. [Dec. 3, 2007]
Antony Green's guide to the Senate Races is now up. Of great interest is Green's guide to group ticket voting including a list of all party tickets and preferred transfers. There is also a general guide to the group ticket concept (including a new-to-me option, the Langer Vote). [Nov.11]
Optical scanners were used to count paper ballots in a Connecticutt election and things mostly went well. The only reported snag was people trying to feed wet ballots into the scanning devices. It was raining and some ballots were brushed against coats or handled with wet hands. Elections BC is probably thinking of introducing scanners if STV is introduced -- or at least that's what I make of the various hints thrown out in the last three years. [Nov.7]
PM John Howard has announced an election with a long six weeks campaign, possibly hoping for some miracle that will save his government. Info on the election by the ever-excellent Antony Green is here. At this writing Green has not yet posted his observations on the Senate races, which, of course, are run under a sort-of STV (see here for details on Australian Senate STV). Tasmanian senator Bob Brown, leader of the federal Green Party, is running for re-election and expected to win handilly. Brown visited BC before the last referendum to promote STV and recordings of his radio interviews on the subject are frequently replayed here. [October 14]
The New Zealand local elections have finished with far less confusion than three years ago, although a number of local results are not yet finalized. Those wondering about the Meek system might check out the final results for the Bay of Plenty district (PDF). Note that the quota changes for each iteration (number of iterations not shown in these results) and is calculated out to six decimal places. So candidate Debby Short exceeded a quota of 5930.162598 votes to win a seat. This should demonstrate why the Meek system has to be handled by a computer. It might also be noted that the difference between the candidate elected with the lowest count and that excluded with the highest count is very large. In other words, the elected reps were runaway favourites. I don't know what local conditions in Bay of Plenty might be at play here.
One other curious note about these elections is the combination of low turnout and candidates acclaimed without opposition. Whole slates of mayoralty and council candidates ran unopposed. I take it there is a general lack of interest in these elections except in the larger cities. More on the elections here. [October 14]
Sometime over the next month, the Australian government will dissolve Parliament and head into an election. The House of Representatives is elected by a preferential or Alternative Voting system. Voters rank the candidates (and they must rank all of them). If no candidate receives 50% or more of the vote, then the lowest-ranking candidates will be eliminated and the ballots examined again. So, if a voter's first choice candidate is eliminated, then his/her second choice will be the one receiving that ballot. The system is also called Instant Runoff and is the most widely used system in Australian elections. Certain state elections have Optional Preference Voting where voters are not required to rank every candidate. This is a controversial topic in Australia since it means that candidates can be elected with a plurality of the vote. On the other hand, forced ranking can lead to situations where so many candidates are listed that people spoil their ballots, intentionally or not, and these votes are lost altogether.
Australians call spoiled ballots "informal votes". Informal voting became such a problem in Senate elections, where STV is the system used, that Australia introduced the group ticket or "above-the-line" option, a single box that can be ticked which casts the ballot for the preferences of a single party. This means that, not only do that party's candidates receive votes in preferred order so that they do not run against themselves, but that minor parties often receive votes transferred from major parties who don't want to help their prime opponents. So Labor might park its votes with some very small fringe party in order not to help the National or Liberal parties. This, of course, has led to a proliferation of minor parties. Senators are elected state by state. In the populous states there may be hundreds of candidates running for six seats, so 95% of voters will choose the above-the-line option. Forty (out of 76) Senate seats will be voted on in this election.
The state of Victoria uses STV in its Legislative Council (state senate) election. Tasmania uses for Legislative Assembly (state lower house) elections. Both have adopted a modified Optional Preference system where voters only have to mark as many names as there are seats -- five in these instances. Tasmania has no above-the-line option, Victoria does and 95% used it in the first state senate elections under STV.
Australians have a dilemma here. Their political tradition calls for mandatory voting but does that mean ranking every name on a multi-candidate ballot? What if the perceived value of the Alternative Vote or STV system is lost without forced ranking? Should voters have to decide whether to rank the neo-Nazis, Soviet Separatists, or Islamic Fundamentalists last, or should they have to mark a vote for them at all? This is a peculiarly Australian dilemma since no other place has such a strong tradition of mandatory voting.
The Electoral Boundaries Commission began hearings September 7. Public protests were so vehement that the ECB has effectively withdrawn its proposed redistribution. Most of the public protest arose from the elimination of three Interior seats. Premier Campbell has directed that these seats be kept and says that he will authorize adding more seats to the legislature to allow this. Apparently, the new legislation, to be introduced October 15, will allow the creation of eight seats. The ECB was restricted to six new seats and suggested adding only two of these.
The addition of seats to the legislature is welcome, although eight is probably not enough. So far there has been little attention paid to the ECB's flouting of the Citizen's Assembly STV guidelines. Hopefully, someone in the legislature will bring this to the Premier's attention so that it may be included in the new instructions to the ECB. [September 14]
October 13 is election day for District Health Boards and other local governments in New Zealand. Since 2004, the twenty-one District Health Boards have been required by law to have seven of their members elected by STV, the remaining four members of each board are appointed. The eighty-five City and District Councils may opt to use STV or the same multi-member FPTP system that is used in BC municipal elections. In 2004, after an extensive government public relations campaign to explain STV (the "Easy as 1,2,3" slogan was coined for this campaign), ten local councils choose to use that system. The election was a fiasco. Many votes weren't counted and it was months before final results were announced. The problem wasn't so much STV but the particular method of counting that was used, known as the Meek system. Meek was devised by mathematicians to provide the most accurate vote transfers possible. Calculations are made to at least four decimal places and logarithms designed to figure how much of a vote to transfer. All this number-crunching requires computers and that was the source of the New Zealand problem: the programs designed for the election weren't up to the task. Even so, after perfunctory hearings, NZ decided to stay with the STV option in place. This year, in addition to the Health Boards, eight councils will use STV.
The New Zealand government has pushed hard for STV. This official explanation of the voting systems available to localities is rather dismissive of FPTP (called FPP here) and its "wasted votes". Support for STV rises partly from the notion that it will increase Maori representation on local councils. So several areas with large Maori populations selected STV as a voting method. Ironically, it was the voters in these areas who were failed by the system. Why not ditch Meek and use a different counting system? Maybe bureaucratic stubborness, maybe political unwillingness to admit an error.[September, 2007]
British Columbia Electoral Boundary Commission Report
The EBC preliminary report ignores the Citizen's Assembly instructions to create ridings with as many seats as possible. The CA specifically suggests a three-seat riding in the Kootenays and two-seat riding(s) for the North, but says every other riding should be as large as possible. The CA wanted to increase proportionality and, the more seats, the more proportional the results. The Electoral Boundary Commission responded by not creating a single seven-member seat and only two six-member seats. The EBC claims that a five-seat riding is optimal, though I cannot find anywhere justification for this strange concept. How can reducing the election chances of small parties and independents be optimal? The EBC quotes Dr. Ken Carty, who teaches political science at UBC, to the effect that "there is little appetite" in Ireland for ridings with more than five seats. Far be it from me to judge Irish appetite but since Professor Carty was advisor to the Citizen's Assembly, I assume this information was known to Assembly members. At any rate, neither Carty nor the EBC should be allowed to override the CA's recommendations. This is a direct blow at the entire concept of the Assembly.
The Report is here. [September, 2007]