Moi Qui Jure

Hey. Before I get started, I’d just like to offer apologies to anyone here looking for the previous post…I’d love to show it to you, but guess what happened? It died, as the result of a box checked in haste and error, and since I composed it right on-screen I had no backup, no way or revisiting it or re-posting it. No do-over capability. No control over it. So instead, we have this post here, and I hope it’ll fit as a replacement.

It’s all about the Single Transferable Vote.

It’s a plebiscite question on the ballot in the upcoming B.C. election — “do you favour an STV electoral system?”

I do not, and I’d like to tell you why.

Some time ago, I was talking with a friend whose first election was coming up. I asked her if she wanted to tell me how she was going to vote. She said she might not vote at all: because she felt insufficiently informed on the issues, and didn’t want to make a bad voting decision.

I told her that everyone makes one of those, sometime or other; because it’s just about impossible to be truly sufficiently informed…because there is probably no such state of being informed as that.

And in a way…that’s exactly how the system’s supposed to run, isn’t it? It’s all kind of sloppy; imperfect. Every asshole gets a vote; not just the paragons.


I don’t think she voted, despite my wise words.

…So I’m against STV because it doesn’t allow for the sloppiness of real people mattering, but instead I think under STV dilatory voting on the part of the young, partisan “boo-yah!” voting on the part of the old — let’s call both of those by the name of asshole voting — and even para-elitist non-voting like that of my friend, is masked and implicitly forgiven, and as a result subtly encouraged, where even in the deeply imperfect first-past-the-post system if you vote wrong then it means, at minimum, that you fucked up…and if you didn’t vote it means you’ve got to defend yourself against accusations of being a jackass, or a cultist. Fact is, the second vote under STV is just as imperfect as the first one, only more fungible and therefore less responsible, less in your hands; and I believe this ameliorates my friend’s concern about “making a mistake” far too efficiently. One can readily imagine a scenario in which nervous or desultory voters hedge their bets by voting their desires first and their consciences second…except it doesn’t have to be their consciences they vote second, actually. They might vote their consciences third, or fourth, or not at all if they have none. And, voters can’t control the options they’re given in terms of the political menu provided to them; and, voters cannot vote to decisively exclude options they don’t like.

Not decisively to exclude them, if you see what I mean. They might allow a half-preference, or a quarter-preference, if we can even quantify such fractional voting this way, to contribute to a candidate’s election…and somewhere down the line there might be some party that they really don’t like…but how far down must things go, to get to that state of electoral rebuke? In the current system, people often find their single positive vote, their SPV, by a teeth-gritting exclusion of other votes they might make, if things were slightly otherwise, and so even if you don’t know what you’re doing, then…even if in twenty years you will come to see your vote as a bad one, because you were insufficiently informed or insufficiently courageous…for any given elector there is somewhat of an acquaintance with the discipline of being an elector. The buck stops here, in other words: if in your own future estimation you made the wrong choice, there’s no appeal you can make about that. It’s a critical break, instead: if you fucked up, you better do better next time. You better determine to what extent you wish to be involved with how you’re governed, and get it right. Be bitterly cynical, or idealistically furious, or smugly triumphant…but knowing that it’ll all be because of how you voted, what mark you finally made on a ballot, and then what happened in terms of somebody interpreting a mandate because of that. You don’t have to be the smartest voter you can be, and in fact you will probably never be the smartest voter you can be…I know I’m not…but at least you will be able to call your vote a piece of shit in later years, if that’s what it turns out to be. You’ll have the privilege of having been at fault for allowing things to turn out poorly in your own estimation.

I think STV takes all that away. It’s not unlike blog-posts, really…”oops, what you’re looking for isn’t here!” Sorry, I made a mistake, but it doesn’t matter…sorry, I wrote the “X” in the wrong place, but y’know…fuck it, what does it matter? I hit the wrong button. But that guy’s probably not going to win anyway, and still somewhere out there floats my second, third, fourth preference, and one of those’ll probably attach to a winner somehow

Just don’t ask me to take the heat for it, if it doesn’t work out.

Here, I’ll just write another post. Happy now?

Fucking dreamland; I hate it. We can’t live that way.

I think the STV system demeans the ethical solitude of the individual elector, standing in the booth with the stub of a pencil in his or her hand. This is not a Province with a hell of a lot of people in it, but we’re far-flung, and therefore we’ve got a lot of weight sitting on top of us, in that booth. That’s a very particular sort of voting dynamic. That’s a lot of responsibility, for a bunch of people we’ve never met, and whose physical and financial situations we don’t understand, because we haven’t visited them. And in a regular one-vote system it feels like it. And it’s frustrating. And it feels frustrating.

But what’s the margin of choice between the third candidate you select, and the fourth? Mix that up, and you might hold the balance of power in a contest you never intended to adjudicate…a contest that you deeply disapprove. But you will not get to say NO to it, once it’s on. They will take your third-place vote and run off with it someplace, and all you’ll be able to say is “but…but it was a joke!”

I’m all for electoral reform. I think a lot about electoral reform. Heck, I wouldn’t mind having some electoral reform! But I strongly disapprove of this system. Are we also voting on the advisories planted at the polling place, telling people that they don’t have to mark a second preference, third preference, fourth preference, if they don’t want to? Can I get a party campaigning on STV, please? Can I get a motherfucking professor of psychology explaining to me what happens when we test out this shit? I’m all for referenda, too…but this, in my opinion, is salami tactics. We already had this vote, and we voted “no” by a ten-percent margin. This is a system where partial votes get thrown to whoever can gobble them up: we voted NO to this before, but back then we had a real debate about it. Province-wide. Highly-publicized. This time, by comparison, it’s just being slipped in. THE SAME GODDAMN THING.

But not treated the same way. I would prefer a reform that includes the ability of the voter to write in what party they think the person they’re voting for ought to belong to, for example. If we are going to talk about changing things, we ought to throw the doors wide open. But this is some evilly overcontrolled shit, right here, this is answering a promise with a dilemma, this is the Lady and the Tiger, except the Lady is a Tiger, and whaddaya want? This is like the “privatization” of liquor stores…just old Government stores charging higher prices, but with less accountability and less selection, and at a higher price. So what’s in it for fucking YOU, you know? Greater choice for investors, which means in practical terms lesser choice for consumers — less powerful choosing! — and on somebody else’s terms, too. Mark the comparison: a chance to vote again, on the same thing you voted against five years ago. Just you know, in case you made a mistake, and want a do-over. A chance to spend more, to buy the same thing.

It’s like we’re counting “no” votes as “kinda yes; ask me again” votes. It’s Magic 8-Ball voting. “Reply Hazy”.

Screw that. If we can afford another referendum, we can afford another debate. But we haven’t had one. VOTE NO.

If you vote yes, they’ll never let you take it back, and they’ll say they consulted you, and that will be that. This is the way of thinking that says why should parties change, if voters want more…fucking voters should change, then. And pick more obscurely between the same choices they’ve been given since forever. Oh, and then we’ll sift it all out, what they want. There will be a numerical formula. So-and-so got in. Why? Hey, pleased to tell ya, just give us a week or two to collate the data…

This post officially invites dissenting commentary from the politically-minded. I want reform. But I want reform that makes things better. And I don’t want reform that’s politically-guided, but under the covers. This thing, in my opinion, is a shuck ‘n’ jive. If you want electoral reform, you oughtta ask for the kind you want…but make sure you don’t ask for the kind that salves your conscience, because that isn’t what voting’s about. This model might work rather well on the municipal level. But isn’t that how Rome got Caesar? By trying to extend the principles of municipal governance to a much bigger territory? Well if they hadn’t’ve got Caesar, they would’ve got famine and blood.

Let’s be smarter than them, about this shit. I’m for electoral reform. After eight months of debate, last time, I sized up my life and voted “no” to this proposition

I’m permanently on record that way, and I see no reason to retract my vote, or apologize. I’m happy with the way things worked out last time.

They would like elections to be less complicated, at the point-of-sale. We would like elections to be less complicated, at the point-of-sale. But what we want, and what we’ve bound ourselves to do, are different things. And we oughtta think about that.

So here endeth the lesson, and begins the prayer.


16 responses to “Moi Qui Jure

  1. I have to disagree. I can see what you’re saying, but for me the big attraction of STV is that it allows people to vote both *for* and *against* parties. For example, in Britain there’s a very real risk of the BNP having some electoral successes, and I would vote for *anyone* other than the Bastard Nazi Party. But say I were in a ward where the choice (in FPTP) was between the BNP and the Tories, with Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens all coming nowhere. In this situation I would feel obliged to vote for the Tories, who I hate, to keep out the BNP, who I hate *more*.
    Under STV I could vote for the Lib Dems, a party I actually *support*, but know that in the likely event they didn’t get in, my vote would still be keeping the BNP out…

  2. …Unless they got in, Andrew, in which case you would have voted for them! In some way, some fashion…no? Unless you chose to leave them off the ballot entirely, which of course you being you, you would have…

    But it isn’t you who creates the problem, with STV. It isn’t you who creates the problem with any voting system! So looking for ways in which it’s you who queers the deal is a mug’s game.

    What about my friend, the “insufficient” voter? Who might go into the polling place and think “oh, they want me to rank these? Guess I’ll rank them”.

    And she VOTES for the BNP. You’d leave them off. She may not.

    She may not know.

    Thank you, by the way, Andrew: you knew I was angling for your response. I’ll get to why in a minute. But first, a bit of rhetoric: I think one of the key differences between Tories and Everybody Else is that when Tories are confronted with a social behaviour they don’t like their first thought is to pass a law against it. Make it illegal. Problem solved, what’s all the fuss about? Nothing to see here, move along. Whereas the Socially-Concerned, when confronted with the same social behaviour, think “if people do this, even if it’s illegal, then how are we going to deal with it?”

    It’s why I’m not a Tory.

    But flip it around to matters electoral: we already know that people sometimes vote against their interests. That’s bad enough. But what if they vote disinterestedly? Treat it as a game; order these five candidates. You know people. Having voted for the one they like best in the top spot, they might put anyone in the second. And certainly it would be democratic; but would it be “good government”, to make a ballot with such raw possibilities in it?

    Given that people are people, it’s easy enough to create a simple voting procedure, that returns a Government nobody wants. But in that case, what principle’s being upheld? Or even, privileged.

  3. Oh, yes, almost forgot: but it isn’t like it’s STV or no electoral reform, is it?

    So what’s the best kind of electoral reform. I actually wouldn’t mind (though I said it jokingly) a system where you vote for candidates and vote for what party you think they ought to belong to. I mean, it’s completely insane, of course…you’d have to have an Act of Parliament to make it that way, and no Parliament on earth would even propose such a law…

    But maybe there’s something to learn from other parliamentary-ish systems. You know I don’t prefer true proportional representation (in Canada) because I like the occasional landslide rebuke…but I’ve give up that alarming totality for a couple different mixed-rep systems…

    I don’t think your country or mine can manage a proportional-rep system, anymore than Canada or the States could tolerate a system with out-and-out inheritance taxes…

    Anyway, just to give us another reference point…do you have a favoured mixed-rep system, Andrew?

  4. “We already had this vote, and we voted “no” by a ten-percent margin.”

    Ten percent? Where’s that number from? From what I can recall, last time the thing failed to pass by what was felt to be such a slim margin that the question was basically declared not fully closed. It would have to have been smaller than ten percent for it to be considered that slim.
    (Granted, the impression I got was that the result reflected a desire for some electoral reform, but no particular enthusiasm for STV specifically, so there was an implied promise that they’d go back to the drawing board and maybe present us with some more alternatives, or another more general “should we look into more alternative systems” question, rather than just asking us the exact same thing again.)

  5. If I recall right, it needed sixty percent to be binding, and got around fifty.

    Also recall a little box to check allowing them to ask the question again at some later time — Good God, what a mistake I made checking that box! And yet it seemed so harmless a thing, even open-minded…”sure, bring it up again, maybe other people will like it better”. But then if we voted it down, why would we want a re-do? I don’t actually recall if it was a full-on Referendum, rather than just a plebiscite, but there was so much coverage of it it might as well have been one…but this time around it really needed to be a referendum. Stupid cost-cutting measure: but if we’re voting to change our electoral system, why the hell wouldn’t we be willing to spend the real capital-R referendum money on it? We ought to have to.

    Whole thing pisses me off.

  6. I just looked it up, and it lost by 2.4% last time.

    It was attached to the general provincial election, and the closeness of the vote left the impression that they should keep looking into it, pretty much as I remembered it.

    At the risk of opening the tedious old “should anyone cite Wikipedia ever?” argument, here’s the relevant info (which I suppose I’ll slog around to find a source for elsewhere if you really insist) from there:

    “While a simple majority of voters in 97% of the electoral districts (77 of 79) voted to support the adoption of the BC-STV system, in the province-wide popular vote 57.7% of the population voted to support BC-STV, falling just 2.3% short of the government-set requirement for the result to be binding.

    Consequently, the results of the referendum were not binding on the government, and indeed the government did not take any steps to adopt the preferred system. However, a decision was taken to hold the referendum a second time.”


  7. Will be replying more to this soon. Very tired now, and have been very busy last few days, with stuff I can’t talk about yet and a Doctor Who convention. Not ignoring you…

  8. Well, you’re probably right about my numbers being off…but damn it, I remember that “can we bring this up again” thing, and if it wasn’t there, I’m not seeing a whole lot of justification for bringing it up again now…even if it was “close”.

    But, maybe that’s just me.

    Two things, though. One, obviously Wikipedia would be at its very least trustworthy around election time, especially crazy old B.C.’s election time, so I think you’ve got to factor that in…though I won’t bother to dispute the idea that my memory is faulty, since it so often is…and two, MAN I wish it were not the fashion to use “referendum” as though it were perfectly synonymous with “plebiscite”. The news channels all do it, too, I notice…and it makes it difficult to know how the government is treating these sorts of questions, without actually going to the Elections B.C. website or something, if that would even help. So…

    Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind slogging around for more reliable sources, Ed. Was it a true referendum we had last time, and is it a true referendum we’re having this time, and did we vote to bring it up again or was it just decided.

    It won’t change me being against it, natch! But if I have to get the details right, then I figure everybody else ought to have to do that, too.

    And Andrew: but of course, and also I sounded perhaps a little more dismissive of STV in my reply than perhaps I ought to’ve. I am dismissive of it, but there’s more to my dismissiveness than sheer principle: since in addition to just plain not liking it, I think it isn’t a good idea for B.C.’s geopolitics specifically, and I doubt my government’s ability to institute it in such a way that it lives up to its own promises. It’s the same sort of reason that accounts for my abstention in the last municipal vote on whether or not to adopt a ward system…on balance, I thought a ward system would disadvantage as many minority groups as it benefited, also figuring that Vancouver’s still a small enough city that an at-large system does my electoral will with reasonable frequency…especially considering that sometimes my electoral will is for the swinging of the pendulum to humble a party in power. However, so many people I knew were so convincing in their idealistic enthusiasm about wards, I decided I’d bow out and not cancel any of their votes.

    But I think proponents of STV are a lot less convincing: to me it sounds like an opportunity to not eat your cake, and not have it either. However reasonable people can disagree.

  9. “obviously Wikipedia would be at its very least trustworthy around election time, especially crazy old B.C.’s election time, so I think you’ve got to factor that in”

    Sure, about whether a candidate is a communist or a fascist or a sheep-fucker, but I’d have to pretty much poo-poo the notion that anyone would bother with putting up faked numbers for such a non-sexy issue as this.

    Nevertheless, I checked the provincial government’s Referendum Information Office “why are we doing this?” page at:

    More specifically, the pdf on that page that you probably won’t want to open shows that for “threshold 1” the results were:
    “57.69% of the total valid votes cast voted ‘yes’”
    and for “threshold 2” the results were:
    “77 electoral districts voted ‘yes’ by more than 50%”

    The thresholds mentioned above are given as:
    “Two thresholds were set by the Electoral Reform Referendum Act for the referendum results to be binding on government: at least 60% of the valid votes cast in support of the question stated on the referendum ballot, and in at least 48 of the 79 electoral districts, more than 50% of the valid votes cast in support of that question. Based on the final results, only one of the two thresholds was met.”

    So it looks like the business of the second threshold being passed but not the first was what resulted in the question being asked again. No mention of that “can we ask again?” box.

    I definitely do remember, though, a lot of speculation by press & pundits that this just showed interest in a new, more proportional system rather than much enthusiasm for STV.
    There were definitely things in the news about independent opinion polls and interviews with voters that showed a hefty amount of “I just wanted ANY change, this was hardly my ideal choice” attitude on the “yes” side and “I would have voted for a proportional system that wasn’t this one” on the “no” side, and I remember speculation that this would result in further investigation, and maybe giving us some choices among different alternatives rather than just the same thing again.

  10. The matter of that “can we ask again” box still bugs me, though…

    But anyway, sigh, maybe I will go hunting a little more diligently, after all. However, poo-poo notwithstanding, come on: there are pro- and con- ads on TV about this that run during playoff games. That isn’t cheap airtime. So, I’ve just got a rule about that: if somebody cares enough to try and convince me one way, I won’t rule out them trying to pull a fast one in another way, to help themselves out. Don’t you think there are all kinds of people at the Fraser Institute who would consider this “sexy”?

    Not saying that Wikipedia has been screwed with…just saying I think it’s perfectly plausible that someone would screw with it, and so it’s gotta be at its least trustworthy right now.

  11. Sure, but numbers like that, on an article about a vote from five years ago? How would messing with that even affect anyone’s vote?
    And sure, the Fraser Institute righties might consider all sorts of dry political issues sexy, but there are just as many lefties as righties on both sides, so this isn’t really an issue that maps onto those classifications.

  12. Hey, that’s an Australian electoral invention you’re picking on! We tend to just call it “proportional representation” down here, and we generally use it for our parliamentary upper houses and our municipalities. I’d like us to eliminate ticket voting (i.e. I choose this party, and they choose where my vote goes), and add optional preferences (i.e. you don’t have to preference people you don’t like), but I find the system works fairly well.

    I’m not sure exactly what your complaint about STV is… that someone might preference Big Safe Left Party 1, then preference Extreme Loony Right Wing Party 2, then Minority Left Party 3, etc? And Extreme Loony Right Wing Party might somehow then get in, ahead of both Big Safe Left Party and Big Safe Right Party? That sounds very unlikely.

    On the other hand, after years of hanging out with political hacks and psephologists, and working for my state’s electoral commission, I’ve also come to the opinion that electoral systems (e.g. STV, plurality, runoff) don’t matter so much as the character of the electorate. Australians will mostly get the government they want regardless of electoral system, Brits will mostly get the government they want regardless of electoral system, etc.

  13. I don’t know, David. It’s hard to compose a reply, here: the question is obviously “how many systems are there, and what are they good for”. Your “ticket voting” sounds like it’d be extraordinarily lousy between elections, but extremely satisfying on Election Day…when voting for a national Commons or a provincial government. And then would proceed the strip-mining, no doubt. Municipally, I really think I’d favour STV in our at-large system — exciting stuff! But we don’t elect our upper house or our judges, they’re all appointed…and I think I’d probably vote to keep it that way.

    Provincially, though…STV scares me because I absolutely DO think members of Loony Party X would be elected. Not to Government, okay. But to a position where they could be used by the government, yes, that makes me nervous as hell and I find it quite thinkable. We have a very strong populist/regionalist/anti-intellectual faction here, that never wins a seat because people restrain themselves slightly as they pick up the voting pencil, knowing they don’t get another kick at the can…if they were given license to write down second choice, third choice, fourth choice, I’m not sure they’d evaluate those other choices as seriously as the first — I’m not even convinced they’d evaluate the first as seriously — and I think that’s something big party machines could turn to their advantage. I can also certainly imagine big parties gaming the system to split opposition parties with spillover votes…I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here it’d spawn a hundred would-be Karl Roves urging people to vote strategically against their interests, and likely succeeding well enough to turn what I’d think is a bad outcome into what I’d think is a dire one.

    Any system we pick is going to be a system whatever it does, which means it’s going to privilege somebody over somebody else. I guess I’d prefer it not to privilege those I think would try to bamboozle voters.

    And, I should probably try to respond more comprehensively than that, but I just cut my finger…damn…

  14. Man, I remember my days spent talking about this ad nauseum. I keep getting the different kinds of proportional representation mixed up so I apologize in advance if I’m talking about something else entirely.

    My problem with the proposed options we’ve seen in Canada so far is that they give too much power to political parties via the list MPs (or whatever they get called). Not a big deal to some people, but when only 3% of Canadians belong to political parties, anything involving list representatives is essentially handing however much power those seats make up in a legislature to 3% of the population – they decide who gets on the list after all.

    That’s my very short version. My longer version includes more conspiracy ideas such as how do you organize a by-election for a proportional seat? And involves running some great names on the list who all resign very soon after the election – do those seats go to other members on the list who the party owes/really likes? Just food for thought but without an answer I like it keeps me wary of these proposals. There is an answer out there, but I burned out on this discussion a while ago before I could come up with something I liked.

  15. Ticket voting is like party lists. And ticket voting does result in loonies being elected. The big parties can’t help themselves trying to be clever and game the system, and have several times recently directed preferences in such a way that unexpected candidates got elected. In our state election 2006, the incumbent party accidentally resurrected a crazy splinter group that hadn’t been active since the 70s!

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