Wednesday, October 9, 2013

If Nova Scotia had a fair voting system that counted every vote equally, what would this year's results have been?

In this year's Nova Scotia provincial election, Liberal voters cast 45.5% of the ballots, but elected 64 per cent of the MLAs: a manufactured majority for a one-party government.

If Nova Scotia had a fair voting system that counted every vote equally for the voter's first choice, what would this year's results have been?

The Boundaries Commission Recommendation

This is not a new idea. The 2012 Report of the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended "that the Nova Scotia Legislature initiate a process involving both extensive critical examination and public consultation on the current electoral system as well as possible alternatives to it." (More on this below.) All across Canada, we voters desperately need Proportional Representation so that a diversity of values and perspectives may be elected.

I'm assuming a mixed member proportional system, with results proportional to the vote in each of four regions: Halifax, South Nova Scotia, North Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton. Much like Scotland's system.

If voters voted as they did this year, let's see what would have happened.

Overall, Liberal voters would have elected 24 of the 51 MLAs, NDP voters 14, and PC voters 13. A Liberal minority government, reflecting how voters voted. The NDP came second in the popular vote, so NDP voters should have elected more MLAs than the PCs, rather than appearing to come third.

Four regions

In Cape Breton, Liberal voters were short-changed. With 46.9% of the votes, they elected three of the eight MLAs, while PC voters cast only 27.7% of the votes but also elected three MLAs. A decent proportional system would have elected four Liberal MLAs -- likely two local and two regional -- while NDP voters would still have elected two, and PC voters would have elected only two.

In Halifax, Liberal voters would have elected 10 MLAs, NDP voters six, and PC voters four. Likely that would mean 10 local Liberal MLAs, two local NDP MLAs and four regional NDP MLAs, and four regional PC MLAs.

In South Nova Scotia, Liberal voters would have elected six MLAs -- likely five local and one regional. NDP voters would have elected three - likely one local and two regional. PC voters would have elected three - likely two local and one regional.

In North Nova Scotia, Liberal voters would have elected four MLAs - likely three local and one regional.  PC voters would also have elected four MLAs -- again, likely three local and one regional.  NDP voters would have elected three MLAs - one local and two regional.

As Fair Vote Canada says "We must give rural and urban voters in every province, territory and regional community effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition."

Local and regional MLAs

This assumes a system like the one recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in 2004. Voters would still elect 32 local MLAs, in larger ridings than today's ridings. Voters unrepresented by the local results would also elect 19 regional MLAs to top-up the local results: eight in Halifax, four in South Nova, four in North Nova, and three in Cape Breton. Each region would still have the same number of MLAs it does today.

Who would those regional MLAs be? First, each party would hold regional nomination meetings to nominate their regional candidates (who would often be the same people nominated locally, plus a few additional regional candidates) and decide what rank order each would have on the regional ballot.

All MLAs have faced the voters

But the order would not be the end of the story, because voters have two votes: a local ballot for local MLA, and a regional ballot where they can vote for the candidate they like best on their party's regional ballot. So all MLAs have faced the voters.

This would very likely elect more women. Polls show that 90% of Canadian voters would like to see more women elected. If they can choose from five or ten of their party's regional candidates, they'll almost certainly elect more women. (Examples below.)

There's more. With two votes, you can vote for the party you want in government. And you can also vote for the local candidate you like best regardless of party, without hurting your party, since it's the second ballot that determines the party make-up of the legislature. About 35% of New Zealand voters split their ballots this way.

No longer would Liberals in Sydney, Sydney Mines, New Waterford, Truro, New Glasgow, Kentville, Windsor and Springhill be stuck in an "opposition riding" with no government MLA they helped elect, since there would be at least one Liberal regional MLA in every region but Halifax. No longer would PC voters in Halifax have no representation in the legislature.

Would voters vote the same?

This projection assumes voters vote as they did this year. But that's not actually true.

In Nova Scotia, a miserable 58.9% of voters turned out to vote. Green voters might have elected an MLA as well, if more voters turned out. Typically, turnout is 6% or 8% higher once every vote counts.

The Boundaries Commission noted this as well. The Commission said "Reforming the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system was suggested as a means of improving Nova Scotia’s representative democracy, by more accurately translating voter preferences into seats in the legislature. The distortions introduced by the current system, whereby only one member can be elected per constituency, with no allowance made for popular vote totals, can be a disincentive to political participation. This happens because all votes for losing candidates are, in effect, “thrown out,” and only those cast for the winning candidate in each riding count in terms of electing a representative. Some element of proportional representation is recommended as a means to “make every vote count.”

"Comparative literature on this topic clearly shows that political systems using some form of proportional representation perform better than FPTP systems in terms of minority and female representation in elected legislatures. . . As well, the dynamics of the system, which tend toward coalition building, would promote more co-operation and accommodation among parties in terms of the legislative agenda.

"There appear to be significant democratic benefits to be gained from incorporating some measure of proportional representation into the current FPTP electoral system. This no doubt explains why this option has been recommended by commissions and assemblies in a number of provinces over the past decade. The most popular recommendation in Canada has been to replace the FPTP electoral system with some form of mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, which combines some of the advantages of the existing single-member constituencies with greater proportionality."

Would more women have been elected?

Whether more women would have been elected is up to the voters. But they would have been able to, if they wished.

Liberal voters in Cape Breton could have elected Josephine Kennedy. NDP voters in Halifax could have re-elected Becky Kent and new stars like Mary Vingoe and Tanis Crosby. NDP voters in South Nova Scotia could have re-elected Ramona Jennex and Pam Birdsall. And so on.