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Two Elections, Two Reminders Why Preferential Is Better

The presidential elections in France were on April 23 and the BC provincial elections were on May 10.  Both were close races with strong newcomers.

France elects its president directly, with a two-round system.  In the first round four candidates got between 20% and 24% of the vote.  All but the top two were eliminated, including the candidates of both major parties.  The second round was between newcomer Emmanuel Macron, whose party is barely 8 months old, and Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National.

Imagine what would have happened if instead, the choice of president had been by proportional parliamentary elections like in many European countries.  The Front National and Debout la France would have campaigned under a joint list.  That is what they are planning to do for the parliamentary elections, and with DLF just under 5% it would be the logical thing to do.  This joint list would have received more votes and more seats than other likely joint lists.  Under European tradition, this would have meant Le Pen can form the government.  With France’s current system, the far right is virtually shut out, very rarely do they get a 50% consensus of a riding.

The BC election’s results, before recounts, is 43 to 41 to 3, a minority.  The campaign was dominated by talk of vote splitting and strategic voting.  The party that won 3 seats has three conditions for voting confidence in a government.  Two are about eliminating types of donations that the other two get and they don’t, and the third is a change to Proportional Representation with no referendum.

This illustrates what a lot of people fear about electoral change: that small parties will dominate and change the rules to their benefit, and that policies that a large majority did not support might become enshrined because it would be backroom deals between politicians after the election, and not the voters themselves, that determine what political compromises are made.  We don’t know how the election would have turned out under Preferential or Two-round voting, since without strategic voting and if 50% was required to win, the results could have been different, but we prefer that each candidate present prior to the election which compromise they will make to earn 50% support, and then let voters decide.

Otherwise you can end up with a situation like Italy.  Italy had two referenda in the 90s to replace their PR system with a single-member district system.  These referenda showed a massive majority, 91% and 97% wanted to get rid of PR.  The legislature never acted.  Small parties, required to form a coalition, made it a condition that PR stay.  The ruling party, named “Abolish PR” on ballots, merely tweaked the system.

1 comment for “Two Elections, Two Reminders Why Preferential Is Better

  1. Michael Ufford
    November 30, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I am no expert on the extremely complex Italian politics but this is what I understand. PR was introduced after WWII to deliberately fragment politics so that no strong man like Mussolini could be successful. The result was that Italian politics were so crippled that governments fell on a regular basis. To deal with this, the Italians recently changed the voting system to award extra, non-proportional seats to the plurality winning party. (The Canadian electoral reformers would call this a ‘false majority.”) The new system will be used in the next election expected in May 2018.

    I agree that Italy is not a good comparison for us, but it does illustrate a key point. There is a natural conflict between representative proportional values and effective majority values. The more proportional, the less effective and vice versa.

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