Thursday, April 16, 2009

Slow Road To Expensive Elections

The BC-STV folks are celebrating because one poll shows a large enough majority in support of STV. I'd like to point out that these were the same people who dismissed almost every single poll in the run up to the vote on MMP in Ontario. Amazing what a result you like does for the credibility of referendum polling. However, I still find it hard to believe that British Columbians would want to condemn themselves to this system.

Just a couple of quick arguments against it today. One of the problems with having an electoral system where a person's ballot is counted differently depending on how his or her peers vote, is tht every single ballot has to be counted before STV can start the bulk of the counting process. This is a much longer process than Canadians are used to. I concede that most British Columbians wouldn't mind waiting a little longer for election results. How long is the question. One of the challenges to running an election in a province like British Columbia is providing local polling places for remote communities be it a small island in the south or a tiny hamlet in the northern wilderness. This is a minor problem when it comes to counting ballots under FPTP. First, because the results can be counted on site and then communicated to the elections office and the media. Second, even if there is a challenge in getting results out of a small community the odds of those few ballots tilting the result of an election is slim because of the large number of total ballots. Under STV, however, you can do little in the way of declaring winners and losers until every single ballot is available for counting and recounting and recounting and recounting and recounting. Inclement weather could delay the results of the provincial election for days under STV.

The other challenge here is having a tamper-proof system that is easily and quickly countable. This is going to be more of a challenge in BC than it is in Ireland, for instance. Ireland has roughly double the number of electoral districts than are proposed in British Columbia for roughly the same number of people. In other words, each electoral district is going to have to count twice as many ballots. Past the first count, it is extremely unadvisable to count the system without the aid of a computer or at least a few calculators. Transfer values require a greater degree of accuracy than most people are willing to calculate without help. Given the challenges stated above, it would make a lot of sense for British Columbians ot move to an electronic voting machine like we see in the United States. Of course, these machines have a long list of detracting features. I just don't see how you count 350,000 votes six times without a machine.

Whether BC opts to buy new voting equipment or simply pay their electoral workers to work longer. An election under STV will cost more than an election under FPTP. British Columbians will spend more to get their results later.


Anonymous said...

Your first argument seems to come down to saying that in FPTP most votes don't count anways so we can tell results quickly without counting all of them. Well that's encouraging! Surely, its worth some extra effort to squeeze every last drop of meaning about people's votes. If that means we don't know who the winner is by 10pm then who cares.

As for using computers to count, I'm sure there will be systems in place to assist the ballot counters in weighting the ballots properly. Switching to an electronic voting system is one approach but it isn't necessary.

I would like to clarify something else from your post, you make it sound like all votes in the province need to be counted before any make sense. I don't think this was your intent but to clarify, there will still be ridings, so all the votes for Prince George are all that is needed to understand the winners of the Prince George seats. And each ballot can be counted and transferred independently until the candidate it is currently assigned to either wins or is eliminated.

ADHR said...

Speed is better than a more representative system? Come on. This isn't a remotely serious argument. You're just trolling, right?

Ian said...

No wonder Albertans stopped caring about the Liberal party, these arguments make as much sense as when Chretien was crowned before the western polls had even closed.

Let me take your argument further: Why even hold elections? They already cost money and take time, let's just flip a coin between Kang and Kodos (or if you prefer, Ignatieff and Harper, about as indistinguishable in their lusts for personal power).

Why are you even on prog blogs?

Aaron Ginsberg said...

This isn't my first argument against STV. It wouldn't be my first criticism. It's important to understand the whole package when deciding on whether or not to reverse 138 years of history.

Ian, last time I checked the electoral reform question wasn't a left-right issue. After all, the CA was set up by a Liberal premier who is on the right of the political spectrum.

Mark Greenan said...

Great idea Aaron. Think of all the money we can save if we get rid of those wasteful elections. Think of the productivity increases on Election Day. You Liberals should definitely push for that kind of electoral reform.

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