Possible stop-gap proportional voting systems

If a jurisdiction was moving from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to a radically different proportional system that required significant changes to riding boundaries, or significant voter education, there may be a need to implement a stop-gap voting system that didn’t require new riding boundaries or voter education.

Here are some options for how one might do that. These systems bring together voter desire for a local representative with the simplicity of FPTP, and yet add proportionality. Nearly perfect proportionality in every case, in fact.

The first one is weighted voting. The other is one that I just crafted.

WEIGHTED VOTING

With weighted voting, each elected member carries the weight of votes cast. There are a few different ways to calculate that, but they all share the principle that the elected member doesn’t count for one vote when they vote in the house, they representing a number of voters. It might be the total number of voters in their riding, or it might be a share of the people who supported their party province-wide.

The most common form of weighted voting is corporate shareholders meetings. Shareholders all own different numbers of shares, so they all vote at the same time but they vote with different levels of strength.

If you applied this province-wide and broke it down between members of different parties, each of the three Green MLAs might cast a vote worth 5.88 votes, each NDP might cast a vote worth 1.05 votes, and each of the Liberal MLAs might cast a vote worth 1.0 votes. I set up the votes so that none of them was below a full vote, but the actual amount of each vote doesn’t matter, just the ratio between them. Each elected member is represented unequally, but that’s to make sure that every *voter* is represented equally. Each Green MLA’s vote is worth more because there were a lot of Green voters for relatively few Green MLAs.

An advantage of this system is that it still requires a party be popular enough to win at least one seat, which some would argue helps keep out fringe parties. However, it’s a nearly perfectly proportional system so voters might feel more confident voting for less popular parties, so long as they’re confident that party will win at least one seat. For parties where voters are not confident they’ll win at least one seat, this system might be seen as unfair to them (and their voters). Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective (many proportional systems have a minimum threshold that a party has to pass in order to get seats just for this reason).

TOP CANDIDATES PR

My proposed system is to work out how many seats each party should get, and then pick the most successful candidates for that party. There are a couple of variations that are immediately obvious to me:

– most successful candidates by percentage of votes cast

– most successful candidates in terms of how successful to other candidates in their riding

My inclination is to go with the first option. That brings up another set of possible variations:

– elect the most successful candidates for each party even if it means one riding elects 2 and a corresponding riding elect 0, or

– elect the most successful candidates for each party, with adjustments to make sure that each riding elects only one candidate

My inclination is to go with the second option, which means in a few ridings the candidate with the most votes won’t be the one elected.

Let’s do a dry run with the 2017 BC Provincial election results to see how that would have looked, going with the most successful candidates for each party by percentage of votes cast, but making adjustments to make sure each riding elects only one candidate.

ABSOLUTE REPRESENTATION

Just as I was about to put this article to bed, I was informed about another system, Absolute Representation (AR) (thanks Philip!). AR is interesting in that the winning candidate in a FPTP election becomes an elected represented, but they represent only their share of the vote, while the losing candidates get to assign their sliver of the vote to any winning candidate in the legislature (and later re-assign it if they want). What I like about this is that independent candidates would get to assign their vote share too, potentially giving independent candidates a stronger say than they’d have under other systems, and potentially giving voters more interest in supporting independent candidates (win or lose).

PROs and CONs

Advantages of these systems include:

– ridings can be very small in rural areas, without that ruining the province-wide result

– they’re nearly purely proportional (or even purely proportional in the case of Top Candidates PR), making them actually more proportional than most implementations of STV and MMP

– the voting process changes not at all for the voter, and strategic voting is minimized

– every vote would count, meaning a vote in a safe riding would count equally to a vote in a swing riding

The main disadvantage I see with Weighted Voting is that a party needs to elect at least one person under first-past-the-post, and there’s no mechanism for independent candidates to represent each other meaning most votes for independent candidates and minor parties would be wasted.

The main disadvantage I see with Top Candidates PR is that candidates seeking re-election would have a tougher time predicting their odds, making it unpopular with politicians, and voters may occasionally find a popular incumbent getting a lot of votes yet being defeated anyway.

I don’t actually see any real downside to Absolute Representation, aside from (like all these systems) it being based on top of FPTP and the fact that some groups may find they are assigning their vote to people they don’t believe in because they were unable to elect someone they did believe in anywhere in the province.

But if we wanted a proportional system we could drop in for a single election while we wait for another system to be implemented, voters may tolerate one of those disadvantages in exchange for the significant advantage of having a PR system in place more quickly.

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