Image Source: REUTERS/Brian Snyder
What's the problem?
As Americans recently voted on 'the most important election ever' for what seems to be the thousandth time, we often only notice celebrities' calls to action and incessant reminders to vote, when in reality, democracy has some barriers to entry we forget about. Democracy is described to us as a pinnacle of human achievement, surpassing many global health milestones and international peace treaties, because democracy is the foundation upon which these accomplishments are possible. We are told this fairy tale of equal representation and the 'power of voting', yet every election, we see the same thing. Large droves of people disappointed in representation, politicians defending the status quo system of voting, and everything goes back to normal. Maybe it's time to dive into how voting systems really work.
There are multiple aspects of elections that can be named as the biggest failure of a democracy. However, the "unfair voting systems" argument is substantiated by a long history of impartial elections, and noted as the root cause of a successful or unsuccessful democracy. To truly understand the concept of these, let's explore the three most popular options.
Voting Systems, Simplified
First Past the Post
Everyone's favourite: First Past the Post/Winner Take All. In the visualization you'll see the default position is First Past the Post. Why, you may ask. Well, FPTP, as it's so adorably abbreviated, is simple, cost-effective, and less bureaucratic. Conservatives love it because it's traditional and gives them actual seats/power, and Liberals adore it because 'woke' cities basically hand them the popular vote. Then again, these two often celebrate the voting system only when it favours them.
The issue here? Click through the different scenarios below. You'll notice three big issues:
- Minority Rule: Yellow Party wins the election, but has only 30% of the total electorate. (Example: 2019 Federal Canadian Election)
- Strategic Voting: We will always end up with two parties: Yellow and Purple Party, because some parties lean closer to one over the other. So, in fear of the worst case scenario, they choose the better of two options. (Example: 2020 United States Presidential Election)
- Gerrymandering (Not Shown): This is a huge and complex issue, but if the lines are drawn to favour one party by 'packing' voters or 'cracking' the opposition group, one party can ensure a rigged election is always in their favour unless a voting bloc suddenly has a change of heart. (Example: North Carolina Voting District 1993-1995)
Mixed Member Proportional
Here, we come to a voting system above the messy clutter of Winner-Take-All. One of higher status and equality. Spoiler: It's still not ideal, but it's miles better than the current system. In Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), the change is that each voter will choose their desired candidate, but instead of one candidate party winning all the seats in a region because of a small and simple majority of around 51% to 49%, each voter is given a second vote, where their preferred party is chosen. In this system, the number of seats are doubled or increased proportionally by region, and each party can decide internally who to elect to government based on the number of seats they are given by the electorate.
Added bonuses include:
- It does not have spoiler candidates/parties, and people's votes really have a chance to increase political diversity and representation!
- Gerrymandering and minority rule is limited because fewer votes are 'wasted', and even if minority rule exists like the example below, rule #1 ensures that they are forced to make coalitions and compromises that represent all people's opinions.
It's a bit confusing and administratively difficult, but in practice it works like a charm! Click through the scenarios below, and see how the now 200 seat council is divided based on MMP.
Single Transferrable Vote - Hare Quota
Finally, the gold standard (kind of). An absolute favourite of mathematicians and statisticians, because it is one of the voting systems that is reliant on a metric that, while imperfect, is far more accurate and precise than our monkey brains... math.
There are two big problems with our beloved MMP from before:
- It sometimes undermines the value of the local representative because the regional representative or 'party preference' candidate gets a free ride into government without really representing the people.
- Even if minority rule is helpful for a nation as a whole, MMP results in minority rule within specific regions with multiple candidates running, which leaves many voters underrepresented or not represented at all.
So, Single Transferable Votes (STV) works to solve this. Here are the steps:
How do we fix it?
We are fed this myth that majority and winner-take-all is the right way to go.
We could go round and round on the dozens of different voting systems, but at the end of the day, there is no such thing as a perfect system, because systems are meant to break, mend, and improve.
So, what can you do? Show up to the voting booth and if you can't, encourage others to. Protest, sign petitions, and force the government to fix the old and broken systems in our country.
If there's one thing we cannot forget...
The people are the soul of democracy, and to preserve it, we must fight for it. Day in and day out.
If you'd like to help, check out these links