Do We Need Electoral Reform

Is our system of representative government broken. Does it require fixing.

Some will argue that, because the representation of parties in our legislatures does not represent their percentage of support overall within the country or the province, all people and ideas are not being represented. They may have a point, but if we accept that how do we fix it and retain a representative system. Do we want to retain a representative system.

The value of representative government is that our representatives are more than just legislators, they are representatives of communities. We do not just vote for party leaders or parties but for someone to represent our community. Our elected representatives act as our link to government, not just as legislators but as information conduits in both directions, from and to government. Much of a representative’s time is spent in an ombudsman role in what is referred to as “constituency work” and this work involves dealing with the elected government, Cabinet Ministers, as well as with the Public Service.

Most of the proposals for proportional representation involve party lists and two classes of representatives, some representing local communities (constituencies), and some selected overall from the party lists.

Do we want to have two classes of representatives. Do we want to have a system that puts even more emphasis on voting for the party and party leader than the local representative.

Or should we expect someone wanting to get elected to have to convince a majority in their local community to vote for them.

We do have a problem. The problem is what most call “strategic voting”, but what is really “negative voting” - choosing who to vote for based on who you do not want to get elected rather than who you want to get elected. It involves people not voting for their first choice but for the least worse of those they think have the best chance to win. Fear that the “wrong” person will be elected appears to be stronger than the desire that the “right” person be elected.

This practice does more to prevent independents or representatives of newer or “minor” parties from getting elected than the structure of the system itself.

There is a solution. It involves allowing people to vote for their first choice without “losing” their vote and it means all representatives will be elected by over fifty percent of voters in their community.

Voters will vote preferentially for as many candidates as they like. If they only want to vote for one candidate they only indicate a first choice, otherwise they will indicate their choices in order of preference for as many candidates as they choose. Votes will be transferred from candidates receiving the least number of votes to the voters next preference until one candidate receives over fifty percent of the votes.

I predict that such a system would result in a reduction in the imbalance between parties overall popular vote and percentage of elected representatives and will also see an increase in the number of independents elected, something that proportional representation proposals do not address.

In this age of electronic voting it is an idea whose time has come.

As for proportional representation, if we are not prepared to abolish the Senate, it might be an interesting experiment to try with the Senate.

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