More questions and comments about EasyPR

My goal was to come up with a system that didn’t require vote transfers, didn’t require top-up seats, didn’t complicate the actual act of voting, allowed independents to contest every seat (except for Leaders seats obviously), and didn’t require a boundaries commission. At several points in the development process I was pretty sure it was impossible, so to get some feedback from people that it’s at least a plausible option is very gratifying!

One person observed that the system could be described as SNTV in a two member district, then modified with the “+ Leaders” component. In it’s simplest implementation, that’s correct. However, the Leaders Plus component is an important distinction, and there are proposed design options (such as adding in a ranked ballot) that could differentiate it from SNTV. I believe that “Leaders Plus” is an important component of any PR system that has ridings and/or regions. I don’t consider the Leader Seats an optional component of the system, I see it as an intrinsic part of the system, hence the rebranding from SNTV to EasyPR. EasyPR can further be distinguished by its proposal that it be used for provincial elections in Canada for provinces that have more provincial ridings than federal, and the adoption of the federal ridings to make the boundaries process easier (well, pretty much non-existent really, with Elections Canada essentially taking on that responsibility for the provinces, and all the efficiencies that come from that).

There were questions about the advantages to politicians vs. parties vs. voters, I would observe:

– BC has a history of politicians breaking from parties and running as independents in protest, and they often come second. I voted for one such candidate as an independent in 2001, and he did indeed come second. In this system they’d be a winning second. EasyPR would make the threat of them leaving more powerful, and this could help empower members to be more independent (or threaten to be). This is of course true for a spirited independent candidate who’s not an incumbent, as we recently saw in Delta South (and yes, that independent candidate came second in 2017!). Some other models (such as STV and SNTV) would do this too, whereas some other models wouldn’t offer a similar benefit to independent candidates, so it’s worth noting. Obviously not all models even allow independents to contest every seat.

– I think it’s an advantage to voters that leaders can’t run in ridings or be on party lists, and some have noted that advantage can be added to almost any PR system. Party leaders have an unfair advantage at the polls, but often leave the voters in their ridings disenfranchised as they focus on running the province, or travelling the province/country/whatever building up their party. I think the “+ Leaders” component will lead to better representation, and allow the party leaders to truly represent the whole Province (or country) without having to look over their shoulder at one little chunk of the Province. So much so I’m going to change it from an add-on to this system, but an intrinsic element to this system.

– There was a question as to whether the Gallagher Index might worsen as more parties do better and earn representation under this system over time, but I’m not certain it would, at least not a lot. The 2015 results had a GI of 5.3, and a large number of ridings in that election were three-way races, and some were four way races. And over time parties will get more efficient at targeting ridings and distributing their resources as they understand the new system.

– I think a small party could focus on a small number of seats that it would target with the aim of coming second. So I think smaller parties would do better under this system than this exercise of transposing the FPTP results suggest they would, as parties would approach the election differently. Voters would behave differently too.

– There were questions whether you could make this a ranked ballot system, and there’s no reason you couldn’t if that was the will of the voters. There’s an advantage to doing so (fewer wasted votes) and advantages to not doing so (simplicity) so it’s a trade-off.

– I am in the process of redistributing the 2017 results into the federal ridings to get some kind of sense of how they’d look. I started with the federal results because I could do them much quicker, but do intend to do the provincial results as well, as time allows.

– I see the reduction in candidates as a huge boon for democracy. This allows stronger candidates, who are better spoken, better vetted against scandal, better funded by their parties, and better connected to their communities. Is it easier to come up with 87 good candidates or 42-45 good candidates? The answer is obvious. As an additional plus, it will be easier to recruit good candidates, as the potential to win is understandably a factor in convincing someone to run. Under this system, more ridings will be within the potential reach of each party, and that will make it easier for parties to attract quality candidates. I truly can’t overstate the importance of the potential for victory in candidate recruitment. This is a good thing for the voters, in that more voters will have quality candidates offered to them from the party they like. Under some other systems (MMP’s constituency seats come to mind) voters still suffer under large numbers of “suicide candidates” who run despite knowing they’re almost certain to lose because they’re up against a party leader, or a popular incumbent, or their party is traditionally weak in the riding, so they don’t get the support from their party that they need to run.

– There was a question about whether the leaders are assigned a constituency. No, the leaders under this proposal don’t represent ridings, they represent the entire province. They’re in the legislature, but don’t represent a riding. I can see a scenario where the leader steps down, a new leader is elected for that party, and they’re automatically in the legislature. All without the need for that party to force someone to step down to create a by-election that the leader would hopefully win. Leaders representing ridings is silly, their job isn’t regional, their job is province-wide. It would be like the mayor of a city also representing a small neighbourhood of that city, it makes no sense. Many forms of PR continue this practice, but we have an opportunity in BC to end it.

– There was a question about how this system could be improved in the future, if there was a desire to. EasyPR could be improved by adding a ranked ballot, or by increasing the number of ridings, or by changing the district magnitude (the number of people elected in each riding) from 2 to something higher. One potential variation of this system would be to have rural ridings be somewhat smaller (and elect the top 2) and urban ridings be somewhat larger (and elect the top 3). I’m not proposing that, but the system allows for it. However, the district magnitude is almost certain to increase over time. BC’s population is growing quickly, and in the last redistribution we got 6 new federal seats. So improvement to the district magnitude seems like a sure thing. So that may help keep our Gallagher Index score down over time.

A final point, but this system was built from the ground up around the federal ridings. That was the initial inspiration, and the key motivator to even try. Once PR is passed in a referendum, there’s a chance of the government falling before Elections BC completes everything it needs to do to implement a new system. And what are the most problematic things in that period? Educating the public, and a boundaries commission. So I designed this to require the minimum of education to the public possible, and to avoid a boundaries commission utterly. This system was quite literally designed to be immediately implemented after a referendum win. Not 18 months later. Not 24 months later, it could be done in an exceedingly short period of time. Since this referendum is happening in the context of a minority government, that is no small advantage of this system.

[Please note: an earlier version of this article referred to EasyPR by its original working title of “M3”.]

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