Thirteen Ways to Lose a Referendum • Reflections on the BC-STV campaign

(note:  Hi, this is my first blog entry.  Sorry it’s so long.  I’ll try and make future posts much, much shorter)

June 12 2009

Exactly one month ago, voters in BC were casting two ballots: one for the regular election and one for a provincial referendum on voting reform.   It was the second time that BC voters had been asked to endorse a new voting system called BC-STV (Single Transferable Vote), a proportional system designed to give voters more choice and increase fairness and representation.  The system was recommended by a non-partisan Citizens’ Assembly and had received the approval of 58% of BC voters in a 2005 referendum.  However, the initiative needed 60% to pass, so the majority view was ignored (what’s new?) and it was decided that a second referendum would be held.  On May 12th that second vote was held and I took my first day off after six weeks of non-stop campaign organizing.  It was in the hands of the voters.

We went into the campaign with the hope that we could push the 58% up, just a little, bumping it over the 60% threshold.  I had been working on the campaign for a few months.  Many others on our team had been working for years while thousands of volunteers had recently joined the grassroots campaign contributing immeasurable hours of their time.  The stakes were high and we were emotionally invested in the cause. When the polls closed, volunteers and staff in the Vancouver area gathered at a bar to watch the results come in.  We knew from recent polls that our chances were low, but many of us were still hoping for a win.  Few of us expected the numbers to be as low as they were: 39%.

I left the party around 2am, and was in a taxi to the airport by 6am.  The driver asked me about my stay in BC.  We had a very short chat about the referendum after which he apologized.  He confessed that he had voted against STV but explained that he didn’t understand what it was and would vote in favour of it after hearing my brief explanation.  Two hours later, I was talking to a woman sitting beside me on the plane. She asked me about my stay in BC.  We had a very short chat about the referendum, after which she also confessed and apologized.

These two experiences were frustrating but also re-assuring.  Frustrating because we had clearly failed to connect with voters, but re-assuring because voter ignorance is much easier to overcome, eventually, than voter disagreement.

Upon returning to Toronto, many people asked me why we lost.  I told them I needed a month to recover (and mourn) after which I would share my thoughts. Here are those thoughts. But first, let me share a fortune cookie’s wisdom.  I received this two weeks after the vote:  “In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”  I liked that.  However, glorious as it may be, failure is also an opportunity to learn from mistakes, re-assess a situation, and move forward.

Why we lost

There is no single answer as to why we lost.  There were many contributing factors.  Here is a short list of reasons, factors and reflection.  I’ll break it down into two categories: circumstance (external factors) and the campaign.

a) Circumstance

Many (and perhaps most) of the factors that shaped the outcome were beyond the control of the campaign.

1) Many years had passed since the heavily distorted BC elections on ’96 & ’01. Therefore, the weaknesses of First Past the Post were not as visible or apparent as they had been in 2005.

2) The proposed boundaries for STV ridings had been recently drawn. STV combines ridings into much larger districts, and can easily be interpreted as a loss of local democracy.  But the ratio of politicians to citizens doesn’t change, and in many ways the results can actually increase the effectiveness of local representation. These proposals did not exist in 2005 and, sadly, were used more effectively by the NO campaign than by ours.

3) The two main parties (Liberals and NDP) were opposed to BC-STV. Voting reform would take power away from the big parties and prevent them from trading false majorities back and fourth rather than having to participate in unpleasant activities like collaboration, consensus-building, listening and sharing power.  The majority of NDP members were in support of reform but the leadership was not.  In fact, the NO campaign was run by two NDP backroom boys. (1 & 2)  In allegiance with the NDP, BC labour was also opposed.  It’s hard to win a grassroots fight for progressive change when the unions are against you.  The only party that stood up for voting reform was the BC Green Party.  I’ve been a card-carrying New Democrat for ten years but if I lived in BC, I’d be a Green.  If you’re going to use the word “Democratic” in your name, you have to earn it.  The BC NDP did not earn it and I didn’t shed a tear over their election loss, to say the least.

4) Hockey. Our task was to inform voters about a system that can seem complex at times and requires your full attention to explain.  Unfortunately we had to compete against the NHL playoffs for attention and when hockey and voting reform compete, hockey wins.  Secretly, many of us (ok, only those of us from Toronto) hoped that the Canucks would be eliminated early. With the Canucks out of the way, maybe we could get the voters’ attention back.  Our wish came true on the evening of May 11th.  Unfortunately, the election was on May 12th.  We had the undivided attention of BC voters for about 20 hours.

5) The 2005 ballot was a YES/NO ballot. The 2009 ballot listed the two systems available:  “First Past the Post” and “Single Transferable Vote”.   We seem to do better with the YES/NO format.  It puts a positive spin on reform (“YES for change”) and it also puts reform at the top of the ballot, rather than in second place.

6) Campaign funding. In 2005, the government sent a flyer to every household explaining the Citizens’ Assembly process and the proposed BC-STV system.  In 2009, they took a different approach by funding two external campaigns.  One was supposed to be an STV campaign, and the other was supposed to be a campaign for First Past the Post.  However, since there is nothing (literally…. nothing) good to say about First Past the Post, the opposition ran a NO STV campaign.  This is what we would call “negative campaigning” in an election, or “attack ads”.   We were running against an avalanche of negativity.  This should never have been the case.  It makes no sense to me, for the government to spend millions of dollars to develop and implement a non-partisan, structured and facilitated Citizens’ Assembly process and then fund someone else to shoot down their ideas.  It’s always easier to criticize something, than to promote it.  Government money should never have been spent on a smear campaign that opposed the recommendation of the Citizens’ Assembly.  Furthermore, if the government is going to fund two campaigns, then the funding levels have to be adequate.  The major parties each spent about $5 million on their province-wide campaigns.  We had $500,000.  It’s enough money to spread lies and fear, not enough to educate and inform millions of people.

7) The economy. Supposedly, during times of economic instability people are less likely to support drastic change.  In fact, they are less likely to even care about issues that aren’t directly related to the economy.  It should be noted that voting reform does indeed affect the economy, but it’s all about perception and the perception is that it is unrelated.  Speaking of perception, many people also believe that proportional governments are unstable.  Ironically, coalition governments operating within a proportional framework are actually more stable than minority governments under First Past the Post.  Oh, well….

8) The Name. BC-STV.   It’s a lousy name for many reasons.  It sounds like both SCTV and STD.  More importantly, it focuses on the counting method (single transferable vote) rather than the benefits (more choice, all votes count, fair results, etc).  Better names could have included BC-123 (referencing the ranked ballot) BC-Choice Vote, BC-Fair Vote, BC-Proportional, etc.  It’s hard to sell something if it’s already been given a bad name.

b) The Campaign

The circumstantial obstacles were huge.  To be honest, I’m not sure this referendum was winnable.  Not with a 60% threshold.  Not with the two major parties opposed.  Not with publicly funded attack ads.  Not with all that hockey.   But we could have done much better, maybe even surpassing the 50% mark, which would have been an important moral victory.  So, here a few thoughts on what we could have done better.

(NOTE:  I joined the campaign in the final months, and didn’t arrive in BC until the final 5 weeks.  So I can’t comment on what happened in BC during the prior months and years leading up to the campaign.   I will say this:  I think they did a good job, under the circumstances.  Mistakes were made.  There is no doubt that the campaign was extremely behind schedule and structured poorly.  Many basic elements of project management, communications systems and decision-making processes were in disarray.  But the truth is, this is normal in an election campaign and even more so for a referendum campaign.  The parties run their campaigns every few years, over and over, and even they are terribly disorganised.  A referendum is much harder because you’re starting from scratch.  To build a province wide campaign with a mandate to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and coordinate thousands of volunteers and reach millions of voters is an enormous task.  So, while much has been written about the dysfunctional elements of the campaign, I don’t feel the need to add to that discussion.  Rather, I’d like to congratulate the small group of people who have been at the core of the movement in BC and have kept the ship afloat while broadening the movement and never ceasing to be persistent, committed and positive)

1) We ran the campaign like an election, not a referendum. In an election campaign, one of the dominant strategies is to stay on a positive message and not get dragged into a defensive situation where you are responding to negativity from your opponent.  This works to some extent – but not when your opponent’s entire campaign is based on negativity.  When you’re running against a NO campaign, I think you have to take your opponent’s message and respond clearly to each accusation, lie and smear.  Perhaps we even should have brought out their arguments before they did – as a pre-emptive rebuttal.  We could have run ads early in the campaign that said “During the upcoming months, the backroom boys will tell you that STV is X,Y & Z.  They are just trying to cling to to an old system that gives them and their friends too much power.  They’re not telling you the truth about STV.  The truth is….”   During the campaign planning, many comparisons were made to the Obama campaign (of course).  The problem is, Obama was running against Clinton, and then McCain.  He wasn’t running in a referendum against a “NO OBAMA” campaign consisting entirely of smears against him.  If he had been, he would have been forced to drop his “Yes We Can” message for a little, and develop a message that responded to the tidal wave of misleading criticism that was being aired on TV, radio and in print.  We weren’t running against a campaign for First Past the Post.  We were running against a campaign based entirely on Swiftboating.  When your credibility is being attacked that hard, you have to respond directly to the accusations and perhaps even actively discredit your opponent.

2) Our signs! Somehow, through some unfortunate lack of communication and/or foresight, our campaign signs had the exact same colour scheme as the BC NDP (blue & orange).  It was important for our campaign to come across as being multi-partisan, and this definitely did not help.

3) Explaining how STV works. The trickiest part of the campaign was being able to adapt to the different needs of voters.  Some people wanted to know a lot of detail about the mechanics of BC-STV: the counting, the vote transfers, the threshold formula, etc.  I would say this group represented less than 5% of the population.  On the other end of the spectrum were those who just needed a soft pitch about fairness and voter choice.  For these folks (20%?), too much exposure to detail would actually turn them off.  The Citizens’ Assembly produced an animated video showing how BC-STV works and the NO side actually put it on their website to convince people to vote NO!    The video could have been effective for us, except that they put the threshold formula on the screen, which may as well just say “Vote NO”.  Most voters simply don’t want to see mathematical formulas representing voting systems.  So we were left with the decision of how much technical information to provide in our TV ads, leaflets, website, etc.  I think in the end we didn’t provide enough information.  It didn’t need to be on the homepage, and it didn’t need to highlight the math, but we could have (and should have) talked more about the basic principles of how STV actually works.  An animated video was designed by the campaign to explain STV but it did a lousy job, and was probably the weakest product of the entire campaign.  In the final days of the campaign, we added more technical information to the website, but it was probably too little too late.  (There has been much debate about the campaign website.  Overall, I think it was pretty good.  It should also be noted that we had 100,000 views on the website while we lost by 350,000 votes.  So in terms of altering the outcome of the referendum, the website could only play a small role.)

4) Celebrity Endorsers. When trying to add legitimacy to a new idea, celebrity endorsements can help a lot.  They can also be helpful to portray a wide base of multi-partisan support.  For a variety of reasons, we never really leveraged our diverse slate of endorsers including Preston Manning, David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Andrew Coyne, Maude Barlow, Deborah Gray, Elizabeth May, Farley Mowat, Hugh Segal & many others. The reasons were: a) We were hesitant to highlight endorsers who weren’t from BC,  b) We had to be careful to keep the left/right balance in harmony when publishing lists, c) We focused too much on traditional styles of endorsements (open letters, photos, quotes) and didn’t try enough creative online exposure (short videos) and d) We were worried that some of the endorsers might not be able to handle difficult (technical) questions in an interview, so we avoided putting them in front of a microphone (again, the solution here is a short edited video produced by the campaign).  There were a few endorsements that were used well.  Krist Novoselic (from Nirvana) has become an advocate for voting reform and we brought him to Vancvouver for a forum and interviews. Former Cabinet Minister Christy Clark told us that she was going to read a prepared statement on her radio talk show so I went to the studio and filmed her endorsement on a cheap DV camera.  I threw the video on YouTube and it became our most popular online video of the entire campaign (33,000 views).  More people watched her video online, than they watched our highly-produced slick promo videos.  This really emphasized for me the power of celebrity as well as the effectiveness of content that comes across as genuine and unrehearsed.

5) The Citizen’s Assembly. Some people have expressed disappointment that our campaign didn’t highlight the Citizen’s Assembly as much as we could have.  I would have to agree.  The CA was carefully created and facilitated to ensure that the group would be multi-partisan, diverse, balanced and effective.  It represented ‘the people’ and collectively they developed a voting model that put more power in the hands of voters.  In a culture of deep mistrust of politicians, it could have been helpful to remind voters that BC-STV wasn’t developed by elected officials, but by their own neighbours.

In the end, the loss was tragic.  For BC and for the electoral reform movement across  Canada.  However, there are a few positive reflections I can take with me.  The first, is that we had a real growing movement of dedicated volunteers in every part of the province.  These people were truly amazing.  Outside of our centralized ground campaign, volunteers took initiative and made their own leaflets, signs, t-shirts and even hung a banner on a mountain!!

Another optimistic angle is the fact that voters chose democracy in both Ontario and BC.  At least, they thought they were choosing democracy.  In Ontario, voters thought they were voting against a system (MMP) that would give too much power to the parties through the proportional ‘list’ system.  And in BC, voters opposed STV because they thought it would erode their local democracy.  In both cases they were misinformed, but they point is that their motivations for voting NO are aligned with our motivations for achieving voting reform.  I think we’d be in a much worse situation if we lost those two referendems due to public support for First Past the Post, a desire for false majorities (in the name of stability) or of a widespread fear of smaller parties.  I don’t think any of those factors played a major role so we have a strong foundation to build on, in terms of public opinion.

While the referendum is a significant setback for the movement there remains a lot of optimism and sense that it’s a matter of when not if.  Both Fair Vote Canada (click here to join!) and Fair Voting BC are embarking on a process of reflection and evaluation of strategies, tactics and organisational structure.   For me, I’ll be shifting my focus away from provincial/federal reform and working with others to look at ways we can improve our municipal voting system here in Toronto.

On a personal note, I had a really great time in BC  and I miss working with the team at head office.  They were a really dedicated and talented group and kept things light and fun even when stress levels were internally rising.

If you took the time to read this whole thing, you’re as crazy as I am.

Rob, Susan, John, Maggie, Me(z), Larry, David, James, Tony, Dan, Kael & Paul.


19 responses to “Thirteen Ways to Lose a Referendum • Reflections on the BC-STV campaign

  1. “When it comes to restoring democracy there is only one direction to go: forward”

  2. Thanks for this Mez, very interesting and helpful. Goodness you’re thoughtful.

  3. great writeup Mez, it was great working with you in the little bits of contact we had. Onward everyone, onward.

  4. I love that check mark shirt in the picture!

    I also strongly agree with your first 3 points:

    1.) The weaknesses of First Past the Post were not as visible or apparent

    2) The proposed boundaries for STV ridings.

    3) The two main parties (Liberals and NDP) did not support BC-STV.

    Thanks for your help though Mez, it was great working with you.


  5. I would add that the Power Up Your Vote campaign line, together with the goofy and juvenile superman/woman outfits was, well, juvenile.

  6. Shaun Merritt

    The next referendum should not include the type of PR. It should only ask if we want PR or FPTP, just like the referendum in New Zealand. The referendum should also have a threshold of 50% +1, not 60%. It’s not going to work any other way.

  7. Hey Shaun,

    I’ve had the same thought, but I’m not so sure anymore.

    While it would eliminate the possibility of opponents saying “we want reform, but not THIS type of reform”, it would open the door to them saying “If you vote for PR, you don’t know what you’re voting for!”. They could focus on the flaws of both MMP & STV and scare people even more.

    This is especially true because it would be following four referendum losses (2xMMP + 2xSTV). New Zealand didn’t have that situation.

    Opponents could point out that BOTH systems have been rejected, so this is really a ‘trick’ to get voters to adopt something they don’t want.


  8. Possible way around this problem…

    Question 1: Do you want to change the voting system?

    Question 2: Which system do you want to change to? (Options of MMP, STV, AV, etc)

    Question 2 would be a ranked ballot automatic runoff (yeah yeah, I know, now we’re debating what kind of voting system to use to change the voting system, but I think auto runoff is innocent enough). Would need 50% of question 1 to be “yes,” then we’d change to whatever system won the runoff.

  9. Shaun Merritt

    I also think the referendum needs to be held separately from a regular election (like in New Zealand). Preferably on the weekend and not in conflict with any other major events.


  10. I agree with Shaun, don’t hold it with a regular provincial election. Hold it with a municipal vote which is also province-wide and under provincial law. This will improve turnout in the municipal election, keep the parties more subdued at least in provinces where parties don’t endorse municipally, and the party insiders and cronies will hopefully be busy planning for the provincial election instead of scheming to sabotage reforms.

    I don’t think MMP should ever be put to a vote again in Canada, given our poor record of total inability to control or regulate political parties – the “party list” can never be made acceptable in this country. What might work however is a mostly-STV a-little-MMP system where the number of MMP seats is very small and only a leader and maybe one simultaneously elected deputy could get in, but no more than that. Since party leadership races are generally at least covered in the media and more democratic than other races inside parties, allowing leader and deputy in, perhaps only if the candidates who got the most votes agree and the party’s own constitution requires it, could be possibly acceptable to the public, while a long list isn’t.

    A hybrid would also be acceptable to both MMP and STV advocates, making it harder to divide and conquer.

    It would also help to make the electoral borders match municipal and (over time) bioregional borders so they are simply not amenable to gerrymandering. Again it’s a worse problem in our current system but offering to solve it very completely and finally has a certain appeal.

    I think for now Canadian electoral reformers should focus on getting ranked ballots used in municipal elections, especially for major city Mayors. Some council races have dozens of candidates. Mayors like David Miller will never get “strong mayor” powers if they can’t show a majority supports them, these powers can’t be given to people who get elected with 30% of the vote in a six-way split, you’d need those second and third rankings to justify your use of power.

    The strongest argument against false majority is that it breeds secrecy and lies – knowing for sure that the majority is against them, how can any government or leader do anything but hide what they are doing, lie, cover up and rely on those few Wormtongues inside every political party ?

    Harper has promised that Senate elections will use a ranked ballot. He was also himself elected Conservative leader on one, and I think the federal Liberals will use one now too so that all members can vote.

    “Instant runoff” (a bad name for it, real runoff has a totally different dynamic, Single Non-Transferable Vote is technically better) does not elect small parties but at least, by solving vote-splitting, it stops suppressing their vote so its true strength can be seen and their influence (especially campaigning for second place votes from those who support the small parties) would become evident in the elections.

    Also as it requires no change to electoral borders it could just be implemented without a referendum. Harper didn’t call one to use them for Senate elections. Provinces didn’t respect referenda when they merged municipalities, so they don’t have to ask the public what ballot to use either, in our present constitutional regime.

    Given a ranked ballot for Mayor and Senator and maybe MLA/MPP in some provinces, it becomes relatively easy to convince the public that the referendum should be multi-option too. That makes it harder to run a simple “NO” campaign because you have to attack all of the alternatives to FPTP and will start to look reactionary after the third or fourth attack ad.

    Going for IRV/SNTV first may be the hard way but it’s now the only way. I don’t think anyone is well advised to campaign for an Assembly and referendum in the provinces that haven’t held one. That approach has failed very completely.

    I say, gimme a 1-2-3 ballot now with no asking…

  11. I think ranked ballots might be the way to go municipally, but I’m not sure about provincial or fed.

    One good argument I heard recently, is that it could actually produce even more distorted results than we currently have. This is because the moderate party (liberals) would gain the most seats due to pulling second and third choices from both left and right.

    My buddy Dan Grice just launched a website promoting ranked ballots:

  12. I guess that was confusing. What I advocate is:

    1. Get IRV/SNTV ranked ballots for Mayor first, eventually all Council elections in any city that will do it. Sell it on the basis that strong mayor powers can’t be handed to anyone without at least majority of slid-over votes. If necessary get laws passed to prevent handing strong mayor powers to anyone without 50% of the FPTP votes or having been elected by IRV.

    2. Simultaneously push for IRV in provincial and federal elections, again without referenda. Use Harper’s precedent re Senate elections and the fact that it requires no boundary changes to sell that idea. Somewhere someone will go for it, maybe in the terroritories or small provinces.

    3. Once the public has used a ranked ballot more than once, they will not be afraid of it. Renew the electoral reform campaign with the goal of getting a three-choice ballot with FPTP, IRV as they already understand from say municipal or Senate elections, and a hybrid bioregionalized much-STV-little-MMP that is complex but very party-proportional and matches the real world.

    4. Do not accept any referendum with a 60% threshold, demand that all three systems have the same threshold, even if it has to be 55% of first plus second place votes. Boycott anything with a higher threshold than 55%. If any referendum is held that results in the proposed electoral reform having more support than the false majority government (as in BC in 2005), riot and keep rioting. It was fear that forced BC to agree to hold the 2009 makeup referendum.

    5. Push *hard* for the referendum to be held in conjunction with municipal elections and not a provincial election, and for parties to stay out of it.

    6. Push even harder for strict laws regulating the campaigns so that ads containing plain lies can be pulled instantly with a big loss of funds; Canada doesn’t have as good laws for this as the US where media regularly refuses ads that go too far, because they’re afraid of being sued. It’s also fair to have some funds held by an arbitrator who awards them to the side that is being lied about – the fact of the award itself is a good reason not to tell lies in ads.

    7. Be ready for the change to happen federally before provincially – we have way worse issues with five parties federally, one of them being a separatist party, than we have in any province. And it’s not just me saying that, it was Andrew Coyne on The National last night. He is correct.

  13. Well Dave on the issue of moderates winning under IRV, I guess I should say that I consider both “left” and “right” to be pathologies. At least in the way they are expressed in our parties: the left is captive to public sector unions and thinks they can hire and supervise fulltime staff to do everything, even creative and entpreneurial and contrarian work the right is captive to entrenched commercial interests and serves them even when it’s absurd to do so and totally undermines able competitors and emerging industries. I like the “hard left” for its rigor and the “soft right” for its practical view of capitalism as a sort of engine that we need to keep isolated from the cushy cab of services we ride in and be pulled along by it, but the “soft left” of moderate leftists who think the public should be subsidized in its wasteful lifestyle or the “hard right” who think property rights are absolute even when we know where they came from, I have no use for.

    Gimme a Red Green Tory party full of grass roots pragmatists any day over the ideologists. I have a great book here from the 70s called “Canada: A Guide to the Peaceable Kingdom” with essays from every major Canadian intellect of the 60s. All of them pretty much say that we thrive because Canada is a place… not an idea.

  14. Of course, all experiments with ranked voting in Canada. (BC->1952-52, Alberta and Manitoba _> 1920s-1950s) ended up with voters rejecting both the Liberals and Conservatives and going with populist parties such as the social credit, progressive party, independent farmers, and independents… so the centrist argument does not seem to be so valid.

  15. So, Dan, that suggests that the critical feature is the lack of suppression of the vote for the newer parties. Once everyone can see how popular their populist ideas are, they gain rapidly in only one or two elections. Whereas the 25% that would like to vote Green first and foremost, 15% that would like to vote Marijuana, 5% that would like to vote Christian Heritage etc., 6% Communist, etc., all get to express their 51% majority honestly on a ranked ballot. Sounds fine to me. Our politics suffers from lack of ideas.

  16. Hi Craig,

    That is absolutely the case and on localized basic.

    It allows voters to be honest with their votes, even if they do no necessarily earn representation from it.

    It is my hypothesis, that once people get familiar with the idea of choice, they will be more open to further changes. More so, it encourages a healthier relationship between parties with similar viewpoints.

  17. While it is always difficult to project how political life would unfold in the future under various voting systems, it’s useful to look at past experience.

    I agree IRV (sometimes called Alternative Vote or AV) would be good for one-person positions (electing mayors, presidents, party leaders). But when using it to elect representative bodies (parliaments, legislatures), the limited track record is not impressive. You have the same general problem as FPTP – results that bear little resemblance to the representation that voters want and “majority” governments that don’t really represent the majority.

    Both Manitoba and Alberta used IRV for an extended period (1920-1950s), totaling 15 elections, and BC for two in the early 50s. According to political scientist Harold Jansen who studied those election: “on balance, it differed little from the single member plurality sysetm”.

    Reform requires injecting an element – gaining a foothold – for proportionality, or giving fair representation to all voters. One interesting approach is the UK’s Jenkins Commission model, called AV+, which is really a lite form of MMP, but using AV for the constituency elections, while still electing some at-large MPs to give a modest amount of proportionality.

  18. Calling IRV/SNTV “AV” is a very bad idea because it confuses it with approval voting, which is actually used in the UK for local councils. *Please* don’t propagate that AV=IRV terminology! I refer to the “ranked ballot” systems and that seems to be well understood by literally everyone I talk to on the topic.

    Larry, you’re making my point about getting the reform advocates all in one camp by having some make-up round and small number of proportional seats. The objectionable feature is not the party proportionality, it’s the “party list”. So the number of such seats is so small that there’s no need for lists, and the elected members can be say those that got the most votes from the public or the already-elected-by-their-party leader and deputy, having at most 10-15% of seats allocated this way is fine.

    It doesn’t really matter whether the first round was SNTV/IRV/single-member-district or STV/ multi-member district or even FPTP – the makeup seats would be allocated very similarly.

    As for the party “toehold” issue, there’s a balance here between not wanting fanatical ideologues holding the balance of power (as in Israel often) with a slim margin of seats and wanting parties to have legislative experience and coalition opportunities so that they mature into useful political forces that get their members on board for difficult compromises.

    The Green Parties in Canada, for instance, have spent a lot of time off the rails and pursuing their own inner purges and turmoil, in part because they can’t get into the legislatures to wreak their wrath on the parties they oppose more than each other. (Though the number of lawsuits generated by recent GPC internal faction fights exceeds those caused by all other politics in this country, federal and provincial).

    While I would never want any person selected by a Green Party internal process to sit in the legislature without direct public approval, I’d hold my nose and tolerate a leader and deputy that were simultaneously elected in a very well publicized internal election taking the first two seats the Greens got. But not more than that, on the third “list” seat I am opposed to that system and will campaign hard against it.

    The Ontario non-proposal which didn’t make clear whether party lists would exist at all or if so how they would be created, was an absurd non-starter that deserved 0% not 38% support. The whole thing was a sabotage of the process, probably instituted by opponents of reform(s).

  19. I was quite disappointed as well that the system wasn’t adopted. Thank you for an honest and interesting reflection as to why it didn’t work – I think a lot can be learned about social marketing, and “project” management.

    I hope that in the future, complexity won’t scare people off. I personally found the video/animation quite good at explaining the system, and I forwarded it to all my friends to convince them to vote for it. But perhaps I’m one of those people fond of math, and not a good representative of the larger population :P

    PS I’d love to find out how the animation was produced – I think engaging visuals are the best way to convey information

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