SNTV? We’d need candidates.

Under Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV), parties would be unlikely to run full slates of candidates in most ridings. I see this as a real positive, and one of SNTV’s benefits over STV actually. Unlike the ballot transfers of STV, SNTV is a one-person, one-vote system like first-past-the-post (FPTP), it’s just one with proportionality because multiple people are elected per riding. That means a party is best served by only running as many candidates as it think are likely to win. If you think you could win 3 seats in a riding and you run 4 candidates, you may dilute your vote enough to win only 2 (or even fewer). So while SNTV builds confidence that a vote is far more likely to count and leads to less strategic voting amongst the public, it does lead to strategic candidate nomination.

Why do I think this is a good thing? It reduces the number of candidates on the ballot vs. STV (where the ranked ballot allows a party to risk running more candidates, knowing their supporters can rank every candidate they put up should they wish to). That keeps the ballot simpler, and physically smaller, than an STV ballot. It also means that a higher proportion of candidates are good strong candidates. The numbers are simple: if a party runs a full slate of 87 candidates under FPTP, vs. perhaps 70 under STV, or perhaps 55 under SNTV, with each reduction of the number of candidates you’re getting fewer “filler” candidates.

I ran in the 2005 provincial election for the BC Green Party, and I was running against a little known rookie NDP candidate named John Horgan. While we were both rookie candidates, he had been campaigning for a long time (over a year at that point, I believe) and had a well funded campaign. I was more than just a name on the ballot, I participated in the all-candidates events, filled out media questionnaires, etc. But I couldn’t afford to take a break from my day job, so I didn’t knock on doors or run a full campaign in the traditional sense. Because my riding wasn’t targeted by my party, I wasn’t given the resources I needed to compete. As much as I enjoyed that experience and learned a lot, I nonetheless think that the public would have been better served by a Green candidate with more experience, more time to campaign, and better funding than me.

More recently, I watched all candidates events on TV and listened to them on the radio for the 2017 election, and the BC Liberals (which have no seats in Greater Victoria) fielded several very low-profile and weak candidates in our part of the province. They fielded at least one strong candidate in the region, but in “no chance” ridings around Greater Victoria they had some candidates that I felt were pretty weak. No offence is intended by this, I was a pretty weak candidate myself in 2005. It’s a facet of the FPTP system itself, and not a slight against those participating in it.

So fewer candidates per party means a higher proportion will be strong, well-funded candidates who will properly engage with the voting public. This represents a small improvement for SNTV over STV, but it’s a gigantic advantage that SNTV enjoys over FPTP. I think more than a few voters (not to mention party strategists!) would love to be rid of weak candidates, and especially “paper candidates” (who are a name on the ballot that doesn’t campaign). The struggle to put a name on the ballot in every riding no matter how weak a party’s organization is in a given area leads to accepting candidates that maybe aren’t ready for prime time quite yet and (to use a hockey metaphor) might be better served spending a bit more time on the “farm team”. The number of candidates required to get the job done is one of FPTP’s absolutely worst elements, and any system that replaces it should address this issue. SNTV does, in spades.

So to decide on how many candidates to run in each riding, each party must predict it’s election day strength. The logical place to start with that is to look at their share of the vote in previous elections, and to build on that to make an educated guess as to how they think they’ll do in this election. Each party will draft plans about where they intend to put their resources for the coming election, will review the growth (or lack thereof) of local membership growth and fundraising, will consider factors like whether a so-called “star candidate” has come forward, and will at some point make a judgement call in each riding. In my next article, I’ll run down the riding groupings I’ve created and try to estimate how many candidates each party would have run (and where they would have run them) had the 2017 election been done under SNTV. Stay tuned!

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