Thursday, January 10, 2013

Electoral Reform

Because governance of democratic nations begin with the choices the people make during elections, I'm going to start the reform discussions with election issues. Many people view our system as severly outdated or even undemocratic, and I consider myself among those individuals who think there is defintely something wrong.

The Issues

Two main problems I see with the current system are pointed out below.

1) The current First Past the Post electoral system does not equally represent the full spectrum of diverse ideals within Canada. It also ultimately and unfairly has the ability to give a low number of supporting voters a large amount of power (IE: Harper's current majority with less than 39% actually voting for him) which paves the way to strategic voting against a party instead of selecting the party you wish to support, amoung other less than ideal voting situations.

2) An increased amount of apathy in addition to less than ideal access to voting options helps keep voter turnout to low numbers. This in turn only helps the unfair system mentioned above.

Suggested Solutions

The solutions below are nothing new to most. Some political parties in Canada have had these ideas in past platforms even, though none have really pushed for them to be instated. I'm hoping that continued discussion, like this post, and sustained pressure will help push these solutions into place, mainly Proportional Representation, which where I will begin.

Mixed Member Proportional Representation

While there are merits to the thought that we need to move to a totally non party system of government, I tend to lean a little less radical in my views on electoral reform. To me, the best option for Canada would be a Proportional Representation system, whereby the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes they received. This would create a dynamic house of commons which truly represents the diverse country we live in. Increased representation of all parties and people in Canada would only help foster more trust in Government and serve to help reduce apathy. When millions of people are not represented in government due to current First Past the Post system, there is no wonder that people have given up on voting at all.

I personally would prefer a Mixed Member Pro-Rep system which would include multiple votes; one for local representation, one for party representation, and an additional vote on the leader as well. This multiple vote system would free voters to choose a local representative based on who they relate to within their own set of ideals or whever else leads them to vote that way, and also a party which they related closest to overall. This would free people to vote for both candidates and a set of ideals individually, should they wish.

The split in the house would be based on the percentage of party votes, spread equally amongst all parties, combined with locally elected officials.  The leader of the house, the Prime Minister (or Premier if Provincial), can remain elected via a First Past the Post system, based on total votes for a particular leader. The actual number of sitting members of the house would increase or decrease depending on the final details of this make up. I suggest that (like other countries) each party would submit a leadership group which will be elected based on the total number of votes received, minus the number of locally elected individuals who represent each party, again keeping everything absolutly proportional to votes. The numbers in the house may not have have to change that much, and still should be spread around the country based on population.

Fixed Term Elections

Though less common in parliamentary systems of Government, I believe we should instate a fixed term election system whereby elections occur after a specific number of years, like every 4 or 5 years. This is beneficial to a population for keeping track of when elections are, and also helps provide a Government suitable amounts of time to achieve any particular visions they may have. It could also be helpful for managing funds needed for an election, as there would be no surprise elections coming from minority governments and such.

Having said that, coming discussions on the need for 'Representative Recall' will play a part in this. I'll discuss that in the next topic, however.

Increase Voter Turnout

While I truly believe that low voter turnout is due to apathy caused mostly by a lack of faith in the system itself, there are some tangible things we can do to help increase the number of people that get out to vote.

Mandatory Voting vs Encouraging Votes:
It is believed by some that we should instate a mandatory vote, but I personally am not one of those people. I believe it is an infringement on your own personal liberty to be forced to do anything, including voting, and I don't support such tactics. I would personally rather see incentives (besides getting to chose your government) put in place to increase voter turnout, like tax credits or something similar. To me, positive reinforcement works better than negative. Mandatory voting is indeed an option, however. It's just not one I support.

Online Voting:
We could increase the use of technology to our advantage, like begin using secure online voting. Technology is trusted for important matters like banking, so I believe we should be able to implement a trustworthy system for other important matters, such as elections.

Multiple Days:
There is no reason why we cannot increase voter turnout by increasing the number days that people have to vote. Nothing (save the costs associated with it) should stop us from having multiple days of voting to help increase turnout. It is certainly an option.

Those are some of the ways we can help get out the vote, though surely not the only ones.

Further Reading

Fair Vote Canada is perhaps the best location for all things related to electon reform in Canada. This non-profit group has been pushing for election reform for many years and have a lot of information on their website. You could also use the Wikipedia entry for Proportional Representation to see a bevy of examples of other systems used. I'm sure there are plenty of other sites out there as well.

It is certainly my suggestion to inform yourself on the multtitude of other electoral systems in practice all around the world. This will only to help understand how many options we have to make our system all that much better.

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