Monday, October 22, 2007

Stephane Dion reportedly muses about voting reform referendum's headline this morning 'DION WOULD CHANGE THE WAY WE VOTE' links to an interesting blog posting by writer Curtis Brown on his Manitoba-based site, 'Endless Spin Cycle, Episode III'.

These comments from Liberal leader Stephane Dion seem to be in line with previous statements on the need to explore voting reform at the federal level.

Here's an excerpt from today's posting by Curtis Brown:

"During a 90-minute question and answer session with the audience at the Gas Station Theatre, Dion was asked to give his thoughts on electoral reform...The Liberal leader mused out loud about how a preferential ballot would be better...

"...Dion finished by saying this would lead to more respectful debate between parties and leaders since "if you're a Green or NDP voter, I don't want to insult you so you'll consider me as your second choice." Then, he said he wouldn't want to make this part of an election campaign promise, but would rather put it to a national referendum after taking office."

The fact that Stephane Dion continues to be open to discussing voting reform, as well as suggesting a possible referendum on the question, is good news for Liberals and all Canadians who support electoral reform. A move to a preferential ballot or an Instant-Runoff voting system would bring needed change to our antiquated winner-take-all Single Member Plurality system, which has actually exacerbated regional tensions at the federal level. While Instant-Runoff voting is not necessarily proportional representation, preferential ballots are used in PR-STV (Proportional Representation - Single Transferable Vote) which will be voted on again in a referendum in British Columbia in 2009.


Greg said...

While Instant-Runoff voting is not necessarily proportional representation,

This is going to be the new fault line in the movement for electoral reform. Liberals love IR because they stand to be the big winners. It is in no way PR. It is a Liberals forever system.

Matt Guerin said...

I disagree completely that only Liberals would benefit from IR. As we know, the Greens seem to be the new second choice for many New Democrats and Tories alike, with the Liberals far down the list. This notion that Instant Runoff only benefits the Liberals doesn't hold water with me. Politics is changing. If voters don't want to vote for Liberals, they won't.

cdlu said...

I also disagree that IRV would necessarily be any better for the Liberal party than, say, MMP. Both benefit the Liberal party in the very short term, but voting patterns evolve.

The party that has the most to gain from IRV is the Green party which, as you say, has a way out of the everyone's-second-choice conundrum they currently find themselves in, and all parties stand to benefit by having more honest representation. People who have 1/3 of the vote because the other like-minded candidates are splitting the opposing vote will cease to win, and people who could never win because their support is split will begin to.

I was (and continue to be) a strong opponent of MMP but would jump at the chance to make IRV the norm in Canada. It retains the advantages of SMP without either its disadvantages, or the disadvantages of PR.

cdlu said...

I should add that Chretien's 3 back-to-back majorities would have been a lot more difficult under IRV with there being a remedy to the split right vote. Similarly, with IRV we could avert an extended period of minority-support tory governments over the next few years while the left is split.

Wayneon said...

Whether IRV is good for Greens or Liberals is not the point. The point is, it wouldn't be any help to VOTERS. IRV, or what they call the Alternative Vote in Australia, is a phony reform. It creates the illusion that the voter has choice and that each candidate has majority support, but it is really just institutionalized strategic voting. By and large, the same people get elected as under FPTP, except IRV stifles diversity even more than FPTP.

Matt Guerin said...

Wayne, I disagree IRV wouldn't be good for voters. IRV would help eliminate the problem of strategic voting. It would give voters more choice. It would ensure all elected people had over 50% support in their riding. Voters in Ontario and PEI have clearly stated they don't want to move at this point to a more proportional system, even though many don't like the current system. If voting reform activists ignore this fact and continue to insist that we only move to proportional systems and nothing else, we'll be stuck with First Past The Post forever. As I've argued before, preferential balloting would help get voters used to ranking candidates on their ballots rather than simply marking an 'X'. This would eliminate one major difference between our current system and the better PR system being considered in BC called STV or Single Transferable Vote. If voters become used to ranking their ballots, moving in the future to PR-STV would be much, much easier.

This referendum in Ontario was instructive because it showed what voters are willing to accept and what they're not. Many are uncomfortable moving to PR at this time. Many expressed attachment to our single member riding system. Many expressed no desire for major change, just tinkering. Others said they'd consider going to PR if the proposal seemed like an improvement. Obviously MMP didn't seem like an improvement to 63% of voters. I do believe that STV would be an improvement, but would face huge hurdles to get approval in Ontario. Obviously if BC approves STV in 2009, it'll be a huge step forward for fair voting in Canada. I see moving to Instant Runoff voting as an interim measure, an incremental improvement to our voting system that moves the issue forward and lays the groundwork for moving to STV in the future, when voters are ready for that kind of change.

Greg said...

STV in the future, when voters are ready for that kind of change.

I suspect if we go to IRV that future will keep receding into the distance. If the establishment has its way, the people will never be ready. Thanks but no thanks.

Matt Guerin said...

So, Greg, what is your alternative? Hold a referendum now on PR-STV in Ontario and watch it go down in flames too? How do you propose we move this issue along?

If voters don't want PR-STV now, we won't get it. Alternatively, when they want PR-STV, we will get it. If voters want IRV in the mean time, that's fine by me. And I do see moving now to preferential ballots as laying the groundwork for change to PR-STV in the future because it would allow voters to get used to ranking their ballots now. So the transition to multi-member ridings and PR would be less traumatic.

Voters clearly indicated in Ontario no desire for major change. Moving to IRV won't negate the need to change to PR in the future. I'm afraid your attitude ensures we keep FPTP forever.

Abdul-Rahim said...

STV works, it works, it works. It's shocking that in a country so suited to it like Canada that it has not already adopted this.


Instant Runoff Voting is one of the worst voting methods ever seriously proposed for public elections. The truth is that better and simpler methods than IRV exist - and IRV is lethal to third parties, because voting for a non-major-party candidate is statistically more likely to hurt you than help you. The world needs Range Voting or its simplified form of Approval Voting. Here's why.

Consider this hypothetical election using IRV.

#voters - their vote
10 G > C > P > M
3 C > G > P > M
5 C > P > M > G
6 M > P > C > G
4 P > M > C > G

C is the clear Condorcet (condor-SAY) winner, meaning he is preferred by a landslide majority over all his individual rivals. C is preferred over G, P, and M all by an 18-10 margin.

But... M wins, even though he also has fewer first-place votes (6 voters) than C with 8.


1. P is preferred to M by 22 of the 28 voters, yet he's the first candidate eliminated.
2. G also has more first-place votes (10) than M's 6.
3. So M either loses pairwise to, or has fewer first-place votes than (or both) every rival, but still IRV elects M.

The example above was intended to be "realistic," perhaps somewhat resembling the situation in the (now evolving) 2008 US presidential race with G="Green", M=McCain, C=Edwards, and P=Paul. But if you are willing to drop realism and construct artificial election scenarios, then this demonstrates how to construct arbitrarily-severe election examples of this kind:

IRV sounds initially appealing, because people picture a weak third party candidate who loses in the first round. The myth is that this takes away the fear of voting for your sincere favorite candidate, and gives third parties a fair chance to grow; but if that candidate or his party ever grows to be a contender, he is statistically more likely to hurt the party closest to his own than to win. It doesn't matter how unlikely you imagine the above scenario to be - it's still _more_ likely than the odds "Green" will win. And so third party voters will learn to strategically vote for their favorite major-party candidate, because it will more often be a good strategy than a bad one. You don't have to buy my math; you can look at decades of IRV usage in Australia's house, and Ireland's presidency. Both use IRV, and have been two-party dominated. So much for the myths that IRV allows you to "vote your hopes, not your fears", and eliminates spoilers. Now you can see why the Libertarian Reform Caucus calls IRV a "bullet in the foot" for third parties, and why Australian political analysts at say that IRV "promotes a two-party system to the detriment of minor parties and independents." Ironically, most of the many countries in the world who use a genuine _delayed_ runoff have broken free of duopoly. Yet third parties just worked to help replace that system with IRV in Oakland, CA. This can be chalked up to a result of massive public ignorance, largely perpetuated by groups such as FairVote and the League of Women Voters (

Electoral reform advocates (especially third parties!) should be demanding Range Voting - score all the candidates and elect the one with the highest average. Its simplified form, Approval Voting, is probably the most feasible to implement. It simply uses ordinary ballots, but allows us to vote for as many candidates as we like. Consider the benefits:

* More resistant to strategy: As we see above, IRV strategically "forces" voters not to top-rank their sincere favorite; the general strategy with IRV is to top-rank your favorite of the front-runners (typically the major party candidates). But with Range Voting and Approval Voting, this _never_ happens. The worst a voter may do is exaggerate his sincere scores to the max and min scores allowed. But with Range Voting, a vote for your favorite candidate can never hurt you, or the candidate, whereas with IRV it can hurt both. --

* The previous fact helps to explain why IRV results in two-party duopoly, just like plurality voting. --

* Spoiler free: Whereas IRV merely _reduces_ spoilers. --

* Decreases spoiled ballots: Since voting for more than one candidate is permissible, the number of invalid ballots experimentally goes down with Range and Approval Voting. But IRV typically results in a seven fold increase in spoiled ballots when we started using IRV. --

* Simpler to use: In 2006, the Center for Range Voting conducted an exit poll experiment in Beaumont, TX. There were 5 gubernatorial candidates, and voters were allowed to rate them 0-10 (or "abstain"). They all seemed to find the process as simple and intuitive. There were no complaints of complexity, or any questions for clarification. And the fact that spoilage rates go down with Range Voting, but up with IRV, shows that there is some objective sense in which RV is simpler. Voters literally make fewer mistakes.

* Simpler to implement/tabulate: A simple one-round summation tells us the results, whereas IRV's potential for multiple rounds can cause long delays before the final results are determined. A positive side-effect of Range Voting's simplicity is that it makes the necessary transition to manual counting, and away from voting machines, more feasible. And Range Voting can be conducted on all standard voting machines in the interim. Whereas IRV's complexity leads most communities implementing it to purchase expensive and fraud-conducive (electronic!) voting machines, the fraudster's best friend. --

* Greater voter satisfaction: Using extensive computer modeling of elections, a Princeton math Ph.D. named Warren D. Smith has shown that these methods lead to better average satisfaction with election results, surpassing the alternatives by a good margin. But IRV turns out to be the second _worst_ of the commonly proposed alternatives. This mean that all voters will benefit from the adoption of either of these superior voting methods, regardless of political stripe. --

* Reduces the probability of ties: While they are not extremely common, they do happen. IRV statistically increases them, but Range Voting decreases them. --

* In case you're going to say, "But IRV has more _momentum_ than Range Voting", you should consider this. --

* In case you wonder why groups like FairVote and the League of Women Voters support IRV, maybe you should consider all the misleading and even patently false claims they've made about it. --

Get the facts at and

And if you're in the market for a better system of proportional representation ( than the antiquated STV system, check out Reweighted Range Voting and Asset Voting.

Clay Shentrup
San Francisco, CA

cdlu said...

Condorcet, to me, is the be-all and end-all of preferential balloting from the voter's perspective, while range voting has the same strategic liabilities as Borda. That is, if I give everyone I like 99 and everyone I don't like 0, and no opinion on the others, in an evenly divided riding between major candidates the likely winner is one of the ones noone has ever heard of but a small number of people expressed a strong opinion about.

IRV is not perfect but is the best compromise of simplicity (in counting as well as in voting) and fairness to the voter. Condorcet is no more complicated than IRV to vote in, but will require Elections (Jurisdiction) to spend a great deal on aspirin for its ballot counters, or to use computerised counting which is somewhat suboptimal as demonstrated in the last couple of US elections.

Greg said...

So, Greg, what is your alternative? Hold a referendum now on PR-STV in Ontario and watch it go down in flames too? How do you propose we move this issue along?

I propose we hold off for a while yes. Participation rates will keep falling. People will be willing to consider alternatives when the legitimacy of the government is seriously in question. Given the low rates we have now, within 2 or three elections we will be well below 50% participation. Then we will come back and propose STV. If, as I hope, BC adopts it in two years, it will be well established by then a serve as a Canadian model, not easily prone to the fear-mongering of the establishment.

Wilf Day said...

"How do you propose we move this issue along?" IRV moves the issue of a fair voting system backwards. It is worse than FPTP. It kills any interest in real eletoral reform, because electoral reformers will have to campaign against it.

This was all researched and demonstrated in the United Kingdom by the Independent Commission on the Voting System: