Elec­toral re­form: Make haste, cau­tiously

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION -

Two weeks ago in this space it was sug­gested that since the Is­land’s four fed­eral elec­toral dis­tricts are fairly evenly di­vided in terms of the num­ber of peo­ple per rid­ing, they could be the ba­sis for de­ter­min­ing the num­ber of MLAs in the leg­is­la­ture. If each fed­eral rid­ing had an equal num­ber of MLAs this would at least give a nod to the con­cept of rep­re­sen­ta­tion by pop­u­la­tion.

The days of two-party con­tests are long gone. Given the paucity of sup­port the Lib­er­als got in the spring elec­tion it hardly seems fair that the three par­ties in op­po­si­tion with 60 per cent of the votes got only 33 per cent of the seats in the leg­is­la­ture.

Many will ar­gue that the only way to as­sure a proper seat align­ment is to go to some form of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR). And there in lies the rub, which form?

One form is where each party cre­ates a list of, say 27, since there are cur­rently 27 MLAs, and elec­tors would then vote for the party they favour. If the Lib­er­als got 40.8 per cent of the vote, they get the top 40.8 per cent from their list cho­sen.

Us­ing this sys­tem and the last elec­tion re­sults, the stand­ings in the leg­is­la­ture would be; 11 Lib­er­als, 10 Con­ser­va­tives, 3 NDP and 3 Green.

In or­der to gov­ern one of the two main par­ties would have to form an al­liance with one or both of the mi­nor par­ties. For some, this ten­dency for coali­tions is one of the main prob­lems with PR.

But there are other more se­ri­ous prob­lems. There is no dis­trict rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The top few names of each list could all be from one area - there would be no re­gional MLAs. Also, who se­lects the names for the list? And, just as im­por­tantly, who de­ter­mines the or­der of the names on the list?

For these and other rea­sons, a mod­i­fied form of PR is sug­gested. Again us­ing the present 27 seats in the leg­is­la­ture; make 17 of them dis­trict seats, rid­ings, where elec­tors would vote for in­di­vid­u­als, plus 10 seats from party lists to be cho­sen by PR.

The PR el­e­ment of the vote might be based on the per­cent­age of vote each party got in the dis­trict elec­tions, or it could be a sep­a­rate bal­lot where each voter in­di­cates the party they pre­fer. This over­comes the re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tion prob­lem, but, does noth­ing with re­gards to who se­lects the lists or de­ter­mines the pri­or­ity of the names.

Another form of vot­ing that en­sures each can­di­date is se­lected with a ma­jor­ity, but doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily en­sure pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, is the use of pref­er­en­tial bal­lots.

Us­ing the pref­er­en­tial bal­lot sys­tem no one can be elected un­til they have achieved sup­port from more than 50 per cent of the vot­ers. This sys­tem is not dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from what is presently in use, there are no lists and no de­ter­min­ing seats by per­cent­ages.

The dif­fer­ence is in the bal­lot it­self. In­stead of each voter pick­ing the one per­son they want to be their rep­re­sen­ta­tive, each voter has to se­lect who their first choice is, their sec­ond choice, third choice, etc. depend­ing on how many can­di­dates there are.

If there is no clear win­ner when all the first choices are counted, then the sec­ond choices of the can­di­date who fin­ished last are dis­trib­uted. If there is still no win­ner, the bal­lots of the can­di­date who came sec­ond-last are dis­trib­uted, and so on un­til some­one gets 50 per cent of the votes.

There are many dif­fer­ent ways used to elect peo­ple in democ­ra­cies around the world. The first-past-the-post sys­tem we use is quite rare. Some form of PR is the most com­mon. And while many Is­lan­ders feel there’s a need for change they should keep in mind a cou­ple of old adages; per­fec­tion is of­ten the en­emy of progress, and in­cre­men­tal change is usu­ally the most suc­cess­ful.

Alan Hol­man is a free­lance jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Char­lot­te­town. He can be reached

at: achol­man@pei.east­link.ca

Alan Hol­man

The Med­dler

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