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Preferential vs Proportional, why can’t we all get along?

As an organization, 123 Canada tries its best not to criticize those who support proportional representation, and we don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with wanting more proportional election results.  It’s simply not high on our list of priorities.

However, mathematics is unforgiving, and there are few electoral systems that guarantee more proportionality without going in the wrong direction on the democratic values that we hold.

We care about getting consensus from voters, and we don’t care much about consensus from politicians.  We care about fairness to voters, not about fairness to parties.  We don’t care, and don’t even know, which party will most benefit from preferential voting, nor what type of party, nor whether parties in general benefit or independents, we only care that voters be tasked with choosing who represents them.  We care that minority views of voters be heard, but not necessarily minority parties.  When it comes to who represents us in Parliament, we definitely think that those being represented need to consent – that there is a difference between extremists that the majority of voters wants to block and those who are not the first choice of many but where there is no strong feeling to keep them out.  We don’t want to task other politicians with keeping extremists away from power, trusting that they will do so even if it goes against their self-interest.  We want major decisions to be made by voters, not by mathematical flukes or by politicians having a weak mandate. And oddly enough we want people who have different values from us to also be able to vote according to their political values, as long as we are not prevented from voting according to ours with equal legitimacy.

We are often distressed, in other countries, when elections held according to whatever system are held and a clear consensus from the voters does not appear, especially when the decision about who will govern and according to what policies gets made not by the voters but by the leader of a small party looking out for their own self-interest.  There are countries where after every election, it is consistently up to the leader of the third or fourth party, sometimes having obtained little consensus from constituencies, that makes that determination after the election.

It is often that last criterion about letting others vote according to different values that make us reject most classic proportional systems.  We do not want someone to be forced to vote for a party if their primary motivation is the individual MP.  If they are given one vote for the candidate and one for the party, we find it unfair that the party-minded get to cast two votes according to their values while the candidate-minded get only one, particularly if that one plays no role in determining who will govern.  We want those who value voting against someone rather than for something to have that opportunity.  We think that obtaining a 50% consensus is important for all MPs, not just the PM.  Most proportional systems let MPs get in with an even smaller percentage of the vote than they typically get now, but we want to increase it to 50%.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s difficult to find a system that increases the legitimacy of elections in the eyes of some without decreasing it in the eyes of others.  We have only found one.  It starts with changing to preferential voting while keeping single-member districts.  It means that you do not get through vote-splitting an accidental winner that most voters did not want.  Right now that possibility is already reduced thanks to the many voters who vote strategically to prevent this outcome when given the opportunity, but with preferential voting that result would be guaranteed.

Those voters who value proportional results would then be free to organize strategic voting designed to increase the proportionality of the outcomes.  Those who don’t value proportionality are free not to participate in this strategic voting.  This would require more accurate riding-by-riding polls than what is typically released by polling firms, and therefore steps would need to be taken to make sure that this information becomes available to voters.  We would not be offended if the results turned out to be perfectly proportional since this would be achieved without forcing anyone to vote according to values that are not theirs.

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