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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What the hell is STV and is it contagious?

The STV or single transferrable vote is an issue that British Columbians will be asked to vote to approve or reject on May 12th. It is an issue that has received relatively little coverage in an election campaign that seems to have garnered little interest from voters. But STV holds the potential to radically alter the way in which we elect our politicians here in British Columbia.

In order to pass it needs 60% of voters to approve it. Current polls suggest that the public is evenly divided on the issue. Instead of the present first past the post system where we have 85 ridings each electing one MLA, STV would instead have only 20 ridings each electing 5 to 7 MLAs.

Obviously in rural areas these ridings would be huge and would include about 350,000 people each. Instead of voting for your favourite candidate, you would have the option to vote for up to seven candidates you like much like you do when you vote in a municipal election. As is the case in a municipal election you do not have to vote for all seven positions. You can instead plump your ballot by only voting for one or two or three candidates the choice is yours.

The theory is that by having this municipal style voting at the provincial level it would result in more representative government. It would certainly help the Green Party which routinely gets around 12% of the vote but has yet to ever elect an MLA.
Under STV it is likely that instead of being shut out, the Greens would finally get some MLAs elected. That is why people who support the Green Party of BC have been speaking out in favour of STV. STV also has other more conservative supporters such as former Socred MLA Nick Loenen.

These supporters, I presume, believe that under STV it would allow Liberals to run as Liberals and Conservatives as Conservatives without causing a vote split that would allow the NDP to win as would be the case under our present first past the post system.

But STV has its critics, most notably Bill Tielman of the BC NDP who feels that STV would make politicians even less accountable to the voters and even more beholding to their political party. He notes that Malta which has an STV system has not elected an independent politician since the 1950s or a third party candidate since the 1960s.

Ireland, which also uses the STV system, seems to be an example of where party discipline takes precedence over all other matters. However is our first past the post system that much different?

Perhaps the most troubling fact about STV is the complicated system used to figure out who has actually won an election. According to the Citizen’s Assembly which recommended adoption of this system, “The BC-STV system recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly uses the Weighted Inclusive Gregory method under which all votes are counted and assigned to other candidates still in the count according to the voters’ preferences, but the ballots are given separate transfer values depending on their origin (that is, whether they are first preferences, or transfers from one or more other candidates).”

With both the BC Liberals and BC NDP opposing this change it is my prediction that STV will fall short of the 60% required to be approved in this election.

However this is such a sleeper election that who knows what could happen. On May 13th we may have woken up to Carole James as the Premier and STV being the way we are going to elect BC politicians for at least the next three elections. That is why it is best you to take the time to inform yourself and vote on May 12th.

Please note that this story has also been posted on The Western Standard's Shotgun Blog as well as in Vancouverite.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

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