Sunday, 4 July 2010

Municipal Elections Suck

So why do municipal elections suck.

Because the way the system works now all too often the least preferred candidate wins rather than the most preferred candidate.

This results from the fact that there are often a large number of candidates, many of whom may share a similar philosophy and similar policies and who appeal to the same group of voters. For simplicity sake lets divide the candidates (and voters) into alphas and betas, for want of better terms.

Various scenarios can come into play here but for demonstration purposes lets look at a simple one. Let us say there are three alpha candidates that share 60% of the vote roughly and one beta candidate with 40% of the vote. Let us assume, reasonably, that the beta candidate is the last choice of almost all of the alpha voters. And let us assume, also reasonably, that while all the alpha voters may have individual preferences all the alpha candidates are acceptable to almost all of the alpha voters.

Under our present electoral system the beta candidate, the last choice of the majority of voters and the one acceptable to only a minority of voters would get elected. Similar situations can happen with different numbers of candidates and different breakdowns with either beta or alpha candidates benefiting from the flaw in the system.

Another effect of this of course is that people realize this is happening and "strategic voting" comes into play and voters attempt to avoid this by voting for their second or third choices instead of their first, depending on who the media says has the best chance of winning. Such a situation deprives voters of the ability to vote for their first choice and gives the media an inordinate (and undemocratic) amount of power in choosing who gets elected.

There is an alternative - system that allows voters to vote for their first choice amongst acceptable candidates and not vote for unacceptable candidates. Instead of voting for one candidate you would rank the candidates in order of preference, ranking as many candidates as you wish and avoiding ranking unacceptable candidates if you do not wish to. The votes would be tabulated electronically dropping the bottom candidates from the list and redistributing their votes to the voters next choice until a candidate receives over 50% of the vote.

Under this system the least preferred candidate would never be elected and the elected candidate would always be acceptable to the majority of voters.

This would allow voters to vote for their first choice knowing that if their first choice was not amongst the top vote recipients their vote would be transferred to their second choice and not become a de facto vote for the candidate they least liked. Strategic voting would be eliminated and all candidates would know how much real first ballot support they had and candidates would not be penalized because the media tells everyone they do not have a chance.

This type of system, of course, would not just work in municipal elections. Indeed, this is the type of system that the United Kingdom is going to hold a referendum on.

Using such a system in Ontario municipal elections would be an excellent place for us to start. While it is likely too late to introduce in this years election it may very well not be too late to add a question to the ballot in the November election to find out what voters think of the system.


Anonymous said...

I think this is exactly what happened in the last Municipal election, what Larry O'Brien was elected. Hopefully the electorate learned some valuable lessons from that mistake.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your analysis and your solution.
If we could also convince them to run for only two 4-year-terms, and structure the process in such a way that every four years half the councillors would not be able to run again (thus making half the council new every term), while the other half would have run as usual (some of whom might not win), then coupled with proportional representation, we might have an effective council and a more engaged electorate.