Tuesday, November 8, 2011

If Saskatchewan had a democratic voting system . . .

After the 2011 election, communities in all of Saskatchewan outside Regina, Saskatoon and the two northern ridings have no voice in the opposition. They have no local voice to question any government action or inaction. Their regions face one-party rule.

The 16 MLAs from the southwest (Moose Jaw - Swift Current - Estevan – Rosetown) are all from the Saskatchewan Party. Although 22% of those voters voted NDP, they have no voice in the opposition.

With a regional open-list Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system such as the Law Commission of Canada recommended, if Saskatchewan voters voted as they did in 2011 they would have elected 38 Saskatchewan Party MLAs and 20 New Democrats.

With MMP, we still elect the majority of MLAs locally. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MLAs. The total MLAs match the vote share. With the regional "Open list" version, voters can vote for whomever they like out of the regional candidates nominated by the party's regional nomination process. Like the right-hand part of this ballot.

See MMP Made Easy.

That's using a model with at least one-third of the MLAs elected regionally, in four regions. Three local ridings would generally become two larger ones. You might have 37 local MLAs and 21 elected regionally.

Problems with your Health Region in Prairie North, Prince Albert Parkland, Kelsey Trail, Sunrise, Sun Country, Five Hills, Cypress, or Heartland? Who're ya gonna call?

One interesting difference would be those 16 MLAs from Moose Jaw-Swift Current-Estevan-Rosetown: instead of a SP sweep, my spreadsheet projects four New Democrats, once NDP votes count equally with SP voters. That would be the four regional NDP candidates who got the most votes across the region. Maybe NDP voters would have elected Deb Higgins, Glenn Wright, Carol Morin, and Ken Kessler or Derek Hassen or Donald Jeworski.

The 16 MLAs in that region would be ten local, six regional. The SP would no doubt have won all ten local seats, so those SP voters would even elect two of the regional MLAs. Green Party voters just missed getting enough votes here to elect an MLA like William Caton or Norbert Kratchmer.

Another change would be the 18 MLAs from Prince Albert-Battlefords-Yorkton-Tisdale: instead of the SP winning all but two, we'd see six New Democrats. That would be the four regional NDP candidates who got the most votes across the region (maybe Darcy Furber, Len Taylor, Helen Ben and Bernadette Gopher or Ted Zurakowski or Jeanette Wicinski-Dunn). The 18 MLAs in that region would be 12 local, six regional.

Of course, this projection simplistically assumes voters would have cast the same ballots they did in 2011. The reality would be different. When every vote counts, we typically see around 8% higher turnout. And one recent study suggested 18% of voters might vote differently. No more strategic voting. We would likely have had different candidates -- more women, and more diversity of all kinds. Who knows who might have won real democratic elections?

Different candidates: when the SP members from Moose Jaw-Swift Current-Estevan-Rosetown met in a regional nominating convention, they would have not only voted to put the ten local nominees on the regional ballot, but would have added several regional candidates. With only one woman from the ten local ridings, when they nominated several additional regional candidates, they would have naturally wanted to nominate a diverse group: more women. This year Saskatchewan elected ten women and 48 men. But 90% of Canadian voters say that, if parties would nominate more women, they'd vote for them.

Voters in the 11 Regina ridings would have elected five NDP MLAs, not just three. Perhaps Jaime Garcia and Yens Pedersen or Sandra Morin?

The 13 ridings of Saskatoon plus Martensville were less skewed. Instead of four NDP and nine SP we'd see five NDP: perhaps Andy Iwanchuk or Judy Junor?

The exact numbers might be different if Saskatchewan had five regions rather than four. But this is only an exercise in projection: the real results would have been different when more voters turned out to vote in what are now "safe seats."

Open list

Voters would have a real choice among a manageable number of competing candidates from the party they support. And they could also choose to vote just for their party, leaving the candidates ranked as their party’s nomination process had done. That's the variation of "open-list" recommended by the Law Commission of Canada, known as "flexible list."

The flexible open list method was also recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”

You would have two votes, and more choice. "Open list" means that voters can vote for whoever they like out of the regional candidates nominated by the party's regional nomination process. The party would win enough regional "top-up" seats to compensate for the disproportional local results we know all too well. Those regional seats would be filled by the party's regional candidates who got the highest vote on the regional ballot. Canadian voters have twice rejected models with closed province-wide lists. The open-regional-list mixed-member model is used in the German province of Bavaria, and was recommended by Canada's Law Commission and by Scotland's Arbuthnott Commission.