Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If every vote counted, what would the Alberta Legislature look like?

The Wildrose Party used to support proportional representation. Many Alberta provincial Liberals favoured PR too. The party's website used to say "An Alberta Liberal government would organize a Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform, to determine if other voting systems — including proportional representation — could improve participation and representation in our democracy."

They were right. On April 23, "strategic voting" defeated Wildrose, at the cost of narrowing Alberta's political options, and letting 43.9% of the voters elect a one-party government. We've seen this movie before. 

In Alberta’s 2008 provincial election, the majority of voters stayed home. And in the 2011 federal election, while BC had a 60.4% turnout and Saskatchewan had a 63.1% turnout, Alberta had only 55.8%. Why? Because, outside of two or three ridings in Edmonton, the Conservatives had safe seats. Why bother voting? This time the turnout jumped to 57%. But since last May's federal election had a 61% turnout, the 2006 election had a 65% turnout, and elections in the 1980s had a 75% turnout, 57% is hardly healthy.

So what would the Alberta Legislature look like under a PR model?

On the votes cast April 23, PC voters would have elected 40 of the 87 MLAs, Wildrose 30. Liberal voters would have elected eight MLAs, NDP voters eight, and Alberta Party voters one. A PC-Liberal Coalition Government?

And voters in every region would have a voice in the Government, in the Official Opposition, and in the third and fourth party.

If voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted, and some would have voted differently. Alberta would have had different candidates - likely more women, and more diversity of all kinds. However, all I can do is project the votes cast in 2012 into a reformed voting system.

I used a Mixed Member Proportional model with regional open lists. You still have 87 MLAs. The 53 local MLAs are elected from districts larger than today's (about five of today's districts become three larger districts.) The 34 regional top-up MLAs are elected from five regions.

You, the voter, have two votes: one for your local MLA, the other for the party you want in government and for your favourite regional MLA candidate of your party (like the right-hand part of this ballot.) So you are free to vote for the best candidate locally; only your regional ballot counts for your party. The regional MLAs top up the local results, so the total result matches the vote shares in the region. Every vote counts equally. And the regional seats are filled by the party's regional candidates who get the most votes on the regional ballot (unless that person was already elected to a local seat.)

See MMP Made Easy.

Wildrose voters would have elected five of Edmonton’s regional MLAs instead of being shut out. Assuming that is the five best runners-up, it would be Paul Nemetchek, Garnett Genuis, Travis Hughes, Peter Rodd and Jackie Lovely. They would have elected seven of Calgary’s regional MLAs, not just two. Assuming that is the seven best runners-up, it would be Bill Jarvis, Richard Jones, Jeevan Mangat, Paul Hinman, Happy Mann, Tim Dyck, and Jasbir (Jesse) Minhas. From the 13 ridings of Northern Alberta, not just one MLA, but four regional MLAs: incumbent Guy Boutilier, Maryann Chichak from Whitecourt, Kelly Hudson from Spirit River, and Link Byfield. From Central Alberta’s 13 ridings, a regional MLA: Dave Nelson from Metiskow.

Liberal voters would have elected MLAs across Alberta, not just in Calgary and Edmonton. In Central Alberta, a regional MLA: Michael Dawe of Red Deer. In the 13 ridings of Southern Alberta, a regional MLA: Rob Miyashiro of Lethbridge. In the 23 Edmonton ridings, another MLA: Mo Elsalhy.
New Democrat voters would have elected MLAs across Alberta,not just in Edmonton. A regional MLA from Northern Alberta: Mandy Melnyk from Redwater. In Central Alberta, a regional MLA: Bruce Hinkley from Wetaskiwin. In Calgary, a regional MLA: Marc Power. In southern Alberta, a regional MLA: Shannon Phillips from Lethbridge.

Alberta Party voters in Edmonton would have elected one of its founders, Michael Walters.

All MLAs would have faced the voters, and all votes would have counted. Democracy, eh?

Voters for all parties would be represented in all regions, except where they had too few voters to elect even one regional MLA: Liberal Party voters in Northern Alberta, and Alberta Party voters in most of Alberta. (Note: The Liberals would have elected an MLA in Northern Alberta except that 40% top-up MLAs was not quite enough when the PCs swept 12 of those 13 seats, although 40% was enough in the other four regions.)

Fair voting systems usually boost turnout by an average of about six percent. Funny thing: if there's no point voting, lots of people don't. Or as Elections Alberta stated "In an election where there appears to be a clear front runner, electors may be less motivated to vote since the outcome is perceived to be predetermined and their vote may not be needed or may not make a difference." So add a whole lot more votes to the picture, and who knows what would have happened?

This projection is based on five regions: Calgary with 25 MLAs (15 local, 10 regional); Edmonton with 23 MLAs (14 local, 9 regional); Central Alberta with 13 MLAs (8 local, 5 regional); Southern Alberta with 13 MLAs (8 local, 5 regional); and Northern Alberta with 13 MLAs (8 local, 5 regional).

Compared with the province-wide calculation, the PCs get a one-seat bonus from the Liberals in Northern Alberta, and get a one-seat bonus from the NDP by rounding (the NDP was close to a fifth seat in Edmonton.)

The same kind of model works well federally too. Alberta's provincial Liberal party is quite separate from their federal cousins, and more popular, so federal Liberals need proportional representation even more than provincial Liberals.
This model is based on the recommendation of the Law Commission of Canada. An STV model like BC-STV would likely have had much the same result.