STV for BC - Vote Yes!

Monday, February 28, 2005

Good Sign

I'm thinking that it's not a very good sign for STV opponents when a Google search for "Opposing BC-STV" brings up my site as the first hit. Although it may be logical since anyone searching for that term is probably just trying to dig around to see if there actually is anyone opposing BC-STV besides a few nervous party insiders/columnists (and in case you're wondering, so far the answer is no).

See this post over at Double Blind for a seconding opinion.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Public Forum Recap

So I went to the Public Information forum at UBC Robson Square on Thursday night. It was pretty interesting, there were 4 speakers including David Mills and Shoni Field from the assembly (and in favour) and Bill Tieleman (columnist in the Georgia Straight) and Andrea Reimer (local green party politician) opposed, not that Reimer had anything good to say about the old First Past the Post system.

While it was heartening to see so many people interested in learning more about the system and while I think the overall opinion seemed to be that the current system is broken and it's worth giving the new one a try, there were a couple of points which worried me.

One is that some people still seem to be fighting the battle between Single Transferable Vote (STV) and Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) and making arguments to show that STV isn't as good at MMP at, for example, providing perfect proportionality. Hopefully between now and May 17th, MMP supporters can bring themselves to face the fact that we have a choice between STV and the old First Past the Post system and that voting No isn't going to bring us MMP any faster than voting Yes would.

The second is that one of STV's biggest advantages can actually be a bit of a weakness when it comes to a debate. What I'm talking about is that, under STV, voters have a lot more power and a lot more choice than they do under any other electoral system. As a result, how STV works in practice varies quite a bit (since voters vary from place to place). In Ireland, STV elects a lot of independent candidates and creates a lot of coalition governments. But in Malta, under STV, voters vote along very strict party lines resulting in two parties getting all the seats and alternating majority governments. Meanwhile, in Australia, under STV a high percentage of women have been elected, in contrast to Ireland and especially Malta where the parties nominate few female candidates.

So, one week we can have a column in the Sun where a columnist complains that STV will lead to the breakdown of majority governments and rule by two centrist parties (like in Ireland). And the next week we can have a column in the Georgia Straight complaining that STV won't lead to the breakdown of majority governments and rule by two centrist parties (like in Malta).

And we'll get STV opponents bringing up Malta as an example of why STV is bad for women, but somehow failing to mention that all the legislatures in Australia which use STV elect a lot more women than we do here in B.C.

The point is that voters want different things in different places and STV gives them the freedom to make that happen. That's why it's hard to predict how STV will work out here in B.C. But what we can predict, and what yes supporters needs to emphasize is that however it turns out, it will turn out that way because that's what voters want - not because that's what the parties want or because the electoral system forced things to go a certain way.

For example, say you're a voter who wants to vote NDP and also vote for a woman. Under the old First Past the Post system, the NDP will choose a nominee for your riding (and historically they've chosen mostly men) and if you want to vote NDP, you have to vote for that person. In some ridings there won't be a single female candidate form any party.

Under STV, there will be multiple MLA's elected from each riding. Say you're in a riding from which 5 MLA's are going to be elected. Odds are, the NDP will run at least 4 candidates in this riding - and odds are, one of them will be a woman. Thus, under STV there is a much greater chance of being able to vote for both the party you want and the (type of) candidate you want - because you have more choice. Even if the NDP chooses not to run any women in your riding, there is likely to be a woman running for one of the 'fringe' parties. So you could rank the woman running for the fringe party #1, knowing that when she is eliminated because she got too few votes, your vote will be transferred to the NDP candidate you ranked second on your ballot. That way you can send a message that you want more female candidates and still vote for your party.

Voting under STV vs. the old First Past the Post system is bit like being at a buffet vs. being at some stuffy old restaurant with only 3 choices on the menu.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bits and Pieces

The Yes campaign site has incorporated a blog into their site (kind of) - you can't leave comments but it does seem to support rss - kind of neat.

Also from the Yes campaign site, the following events will be taking place over the next week:

Thu, Feb 24th, 2005, @7:30pm- 9:00pm
Vancouver: Redesigning Democracy (ala UBC)

Mon, Feb 28th, 2005, @7:00pm- 9:30pm
Mackenzie: Community forum (Active Voice)

Tue, Mar 1st, 2005, @7:30pm- 9:30pm
Prince George: Community Forum's (Active Voice)

more details available at the site itself

For the Vancouver one on Thursday, the details are:

Redesigning Democracy, STV and How We Elect our MLA's
With: David Wills, Shoni Field and Bill Tieleman
Thurs. Feb. 24th 7:30-9 pm
UBC Robson Square (by the UBC bookstore, entrance near the faux-skating rink below ground near the court buildings)
Admission is free but please pre-register at or by phoning 604-822-5675

Wills and Field were members of the Citizen's Assembly while Tieleman is a columnist with the Georgia Straight who has written a number (4 and counting) of critical columns about STV.

Talk of the Town (a series of speakers at UBC Robson Square) prefers if you pre-register but it's no big deal if you don't so don't let that stop you from going if you're interested (last time I was there they told me the pre-registration was just so that they could estimate how many chairs they needed, but their chair estimate was way off anyway so it seemed extra pointless, but I digress).

And I also wanted to mention that Shannon, over at Shenanigans, explains how STV works in a recent post. Nice work.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

On a More Positive Note...

After my last rant, I figure it's time for something more constructive. So on that note, I thought I'd mention some more STV commentary which I dug up with google trawling:

There's some really articulate discussion of the pros and cons of using STV in B.C. at, of all places, (Canada's Mac community) which was triggerred and followed up repeatedly by someone going by the username 'Gratuitous Applesauce'. Reading down through the page you can see his/her evolution from initial wariness towards STV towards a growing belief that it really is a good idea. Well worth a read (IMO).

In addition, I ran across a blog named Double Blind, which besides supporting STV is also just an all around interesting read, especially for people like me who are both math geeks and interested in B.C. politics.

Also, there is an STV-voting yahoo group here with lots of interesting messages although it focusses more on the technical details of vote counting under different electoral systems - still interesting though.

Sometimes, as I wander around the net, I'm struck by the difference in the quality of analysis collectively offerred up by blogs and online forums as compared to what you get on TV and in the newspapers. I don't know what the future holds for media, but a situation where the stuff you pay for is of poorer quality than the stuff which is free doesn't seem too sustainable if you ask me.

In other news, the B.C. government has a site up on the referendum. Nothing too much there as yet which you couldn't also find at the Citizen's Assembly site.

And finally, the Yes Campaign has a new and improved site (same address), which includes a 'demonstration' STV ballot in which you can 'vote' and see how the results work out under a STV vote count. To give credit where it's due, the poll appears to be taken from the demo-choice site.

Update: While I'm being charitable, I should also mention that while I don't think much of his columns (especially the ones on STV), Norman Spector's daily media round-up is most definitely a useful resource, and one that I check most days. Now if only he'd work on setting up decent archiving for his round-up and stop writing columns about STV...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Time to Pack it In

After reading Norman Spector's latest comments on STV in the Vancouver Sun, I have come to the conclusion that it is (past) time for him to depart from the column writing business.

Let's start with the outright lie with which he concludes his column, saying that STV is "a voting system used by only one Commonwealth country"

The Sun should really publish a correction on this one, since clearly Australia and New Zealand are members of the Commonwealth and equally clearly both use STV for some elections (not to mention Scotland and Northern Ireland). I'm not sure why Spector feels that, on top of his pathetically transparent attempt to exclude Ireland (which uses STV) from discussion, he needs to lie outright as well.

But that's far from the only laughable part of this column. Now when you read the following line, "Proponents of STV claim that only politicians and political hacks favour the existing system", what do you expect is coming next?

I think you'd expect to be given an example of someone who favours the existing system, but isn't a politician or a political hack. But no, here's what comes next, "As I look at prominent names in the debate, however, I see the Bob Williams faction of the NDP -- represented by former cabinet minister Andrew Petter -- supporting STV. I see Moe Sihota -- representing the less ideological Dave Barrett wing -- opposing it. And I see a similar radical/moderate split on the right."

So you see, it isn't just politicians and political hacks who support the existing system, Moe Sihota, representing the less ideological Dave Barrett wing of the NDP, supports it too. And it's the same on the right!

It gets better. Spector's main point seems to be that, under STV, the Liberals wouldn't have decided to spend more money in the budget in the hopes of getting elected. He posits that, "STV would fragment our two big-tent, centrist parties and force politicians to compete for votes on the ends of the political spectrum." and that, "B.C. politics are not polarized. It's our society that's polarized -- along multiple fault lines. In fact, our political system is one of the few institutions that keep it all together." So you've got the argument right, having more than two parties would cause polarization - I don't agree, but at least it's a coherent point.

But further down, Norman backs his point up by saying that we don't want to become like Malta (which uses STV), since Malta is, "a country that's infamous for polarized politics." The thing is, Malta is also famous as the only jurisdiction which uses STV and which still has a two-party structure. So the infamously polarized Malta has a two party system, just like we do now, and Spector is basically contradicting his argument that a two-party system is the recipe for non-polarization.

There's more. Spector also claims that, "To date, proponents of the new voting system have been unwilling or unable to explain clearly where my vote and your votes would go after we mark our ballots."

Now the unwilling part is absurd. It is the Yes side which has a strong interest in explaining the STV system as well and as clearly as possible and a visit to any Yes-vote supporting site will reveal a strong emphasis on doing exactly that. For Yes supporters, ignorance (like Spector's) is our enemy.

As for the unable part, I doubt that Spector has conducted a poll, so one of two things must be true:

Either a) Spector has failed to understand how the vote counting will work - which makes the fact that he has written a number of columns criticizing the impact of the new system seem a little premature to say the least or

b) Spector understands it himself, but he is concerned for the little people in B.C. who don't have his intelligence to figure out this complicated system (which the Irish have been using since before WWII).

There's other nutty stuff as well, such as insinuating that STV will lead to a ban on abortion in one paragraph and then calling STV supporters an 'unholy alliance' (he seems to miss the irony) only a couple of paragraphs later.

Aside from all this, if Spector is going to comment on electoral reform, shouldn't he at least make a token effort to address all the flaws such as the lack of fairness and lack of power for voters which have driven us to consider dropping our current system? Or does he feel that if he keeps repeating his lie that 'only one country in the Commonwealth uses STV' like a mantra, then that is argument enough?

You put it all together and what you get is one of the most poorly written columns I've ever read, and one which the editors of the Sun should be embarrassed to have printed in their paper.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Electoral Systems and Women

In his most recent rant against STV in the Georgia Straight1, Bill Tieleman is claiming that STV is one of the worst systems in the world for electing women based on experience in Ireland and especially Malta as opposed to higher rates of women elected in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

First of all, the electoral system in Sweden, Denmark and Finland is closer to STV than it is to our current First Past the Post (FPTP) system so, given that we are deciding between STV and First Past the Post, a more sensible comparison would have been to other FPTP systems like ours, such as the ones in the U.K., the U.S. or France (all of which have lower rates of women elected than Ireland does).

But far more importantly, just how laughable is the suggestion that different outcomes for women in Ireland and Malta vs Scandinavia can be explained by the electoral system. The status of women in Scandinavia vs. Malta (or Ireland) is different in pretty much every way imaginable, but we are explaining this particular difference based on the electoral system??

If you really want to understand why the number of women elected in Malta is so low (rather than just trying to score pundit points on it), I recommend reading this study which examined that exact question.

The most important thing to note is that historically only about 4% of the candidates have been female. So clearly, if STV is acting to prevent women from getting elected in some way, it must be by preventing them from getting nominated. But it's not at all clear to me why, if a party is going to nominate say 5 people for a single riding instead of 1 person each for 5 smaller ridings, this would work against them nominating women. In fact, if it makes any difference at all, most people would argue that the multi-member ridings work more to women's advantage.

The conclusion from the study is that the history and culture of Malta leads to a situation where women are less likely to be in a position (such as a suitable profession such as a lawyer or doctor) to run for office, and are less likely to seek to become a candidate even if conditions were suitable. Whether there are barriers which prevent women from winning candidacy at nomination metings isn't clear. What does seem clear is that STV isn't the cause of the low number of women elected. After reading the study, one imagines that if Malta used our First Past the Post system, they might never have elected any women!

While we're doing international comparisons of electoral success for women under STV, it may be worthwhile to consider a jurisdiction where social conditions are more similar to B.C. than Ireland or Malta - the Australian province of Tasmania.

In this research note on the 1998 Tasmanian election, Dr. Jennifer Curtin again shows that the number of women elected is closely dependent on how many are nominated which in turn is dependent on social conditions - not the electoral system,

"While the representation of women in Tasmania's House of Assembly stood at a record 31.4 per cent prior to the 1998 election, this strong showing is a recent phenomenon. While Hare-Clark(4) has been in place from 1909, it was not until 1955 that the first two women were elected and there remained only two women in the Assembly until 1964. No women were present again until 1976, and by 1986 there were four women. By 1992 the number had increased to seven (twenty per cent), and in 1996 there were 11 women."

Curtin concludes,
"What is evident from this brief analysis of the Tasmanian election is that while the size of electorates does matter [in that multi-member districts with more members are better than districts with fewer members], it is not the only factor important to increasing women's representation. ... Rather, the onus is also on the major parties to enlist and support high profile female candidates."

I guess we'll see how many women are running for the various parties in the next election.

The best way to measure the effect of the electoral system on women is to remove the impact of different cultures by comparing results from different systems used within the same country.

Some insight into this can be found in a couple of quotes from an article by Marian Sawer of the University of Canberra,

"The late Enid Lakeman compared the results for women in France under different systems of PR in multi-member districts from 1945-1958 and subsequently under single-member constituencies. The greater part of the fall in women candidates and members of parliament dated from the reversion to single-member constituencies [that is, after switching from a system like STV to a system like our current one in B.C.]. By 1973 women constituted only 1.7 per cent of members of parliament (Lakeman 1976: 160)."


"In Australia voters receive separate ballot papers for the House of Representatives (single-member constituencies) and for the Senate (STV), but similarly twice as many women are elected off the Senate ballot papers."

It's odd that Tieleman forgot to mention any of these cases in his article (much like he forgot to mention that Ireland had STV a few columns ago when that information didn't suit his purposes2), especially given his oft-expressed concern that people are getting biased information about STV.


But let's forget about international comparisons for a second and think about how the two systems, First Past the Post and Single Transferrable Vote actually work.

Let's take a hypothetical voter named Bill who is a strong NDP supporter but also wants to elect a female candidate.

Under FPTP Bill will have one NDP candidate running in his riding. So if that candidate is a women, it's all good. But if there is a man running for the NDP (most NDP candidates have historically been men) then Bill is in a bit of a spot. Does he vote NDP and forego his preference for women, or does he vote for a woman from one of the other parties in his riding (if any of them even have a female candidate). Our old system doesn't give Bill a lot of choice. If he wants to support the NDP he has to vote for whoever they tell him to vote for, whether that is for a man or a woman. If he wants to vote for a woman he may end up voting for any kind of platform, or he may not even have that choice at all.

Under STV however, Bill will likely have a few NDP candidates to choose from, one of whom is almost certain to be a woman. So Bill can express his preference to vote for someone from the NDP and vote for a woman. And even if the NDP decided not to run any women, Bill could vote for a woman who he knows won't get enough votes to be elected as his first choice and then put the NDP candidate as his second choice. That way he gets to vote for the NDP, but his preference for a female candidate will still show up in the voting results - and if the parties observe a trend whereby female candidates are getting more votes than male ones, you can be sure they'll find a way to get more female candidates. This is what I'm talking about when I say that STV puts the power and the choice in the hands of the voters.

Personally, I feel that people should vote for whoever is the best candidate, not based on gender. But that's just my opinion, other people may feel differently. And that's the whole point, the electoral system should allow, as much as possible, for us all to express our preferences, whatever they may be. If people want to elect more women, they should have that option. If they don't want to, they should have that option as well. It's called democracy.

And that's why, if you do want to have the choice of voting for a female candidate, you should vote yes on May 17.

1 Here's what you get if you search for STV on the Straight's website (as at Feb 13, 2005). I count 4 anti-STV columns and a mixed collection of letters. And to think I was mocking the National Post earlier today for it's one-sided take on issues. Who knew the Straight would be so opposed to moving towards a more fair, progressive, electoral system?

Update: the link doesn't seem to work directly, but if you go to the Straight and search for STV you'll get there. Since I wrote my post, they've added some more letters critical of Tieleman.

2 From Tieleman's Nov 10 column, "For starters, why would B.C. change its way of electing members of the legislature to one favoured in just a few places like Tasmania, Malta, the Australian senate, and Northern Ireland?"

Sunday, February 06, 2005

STV and B.C. on the web

So I wanted to fill out my link section for this site, which of course meant doing a google search on 'STV B.C. (or BC)' and I figured while I was at it, I might as well briefly summarize everything I found (in order of search rank).

#1,#2: The Citizens' Assembly

Tons of information on the Assembly itself and how it came to it's decision, downloadable copies of their final report as well as lots of info on how STV works including a great list of resources and a number of animations which demonstrate how STV and the old system work.

#3: The Yes campaign website, Not as comprehensive as the Citizens Website but still pretty good. The most interesting part of the site is probably the forum which has commentary on media articles on STV, Questions and Answers and more.

#4,#5: The Citizens' Assembly Alumni site. This site is dedicated (I think) to explaining the system and has information on how to get one of the assembly members to come for public speaking events to help explain how STV will work.

(Note #6 is a link for Stop the Violence [against women], a group which must be annoyed that the assembly's recommendation is destroying their search rank. (any other numbers I skip will also be non-relevant links (or duplicates), I'm not going to exclude anything relevant).

#7,#8: Essays on why to Vote No to STV from David Schreck's 'Strategic Thoughts' Blog. Mainly he seems annoyed that MMP wasn't chosen because it is more purely proportional than STV and he is also worried about the complexity of STV. A pretty good reply to one of his essays can be found here.

#9: Deep Cove BC has a pretty good collection of all the Vote No voices out there so far. Their general point seems to be that although STV is better than the status quo, by rejecting STV we are more likely to eventually get to a point where we can have MMP as our electoral system which is what they want.

#10: The Thompson Greens are supporting STV, and the page which comes up in Google is one which has some links to explanations of how STV works, and includes a flow chart of how people are elected under STV.

#11: The B.C. Green Party has managed to swallow a few of their sour grapes over the Assembly not recommending MMP and in this early November letter, their leader Adrienne Carr explains that on second thought she won't recommend that the Green Party campaign against STV, an electoral system which could be the best thing that's ever happened to the Green Party in Canada.

#12: A link to the Assembly's animation on STV, from a Blog promoting Instant Runoff elections in Austin.

#13: A list of links from the Kootenay Cuts mailing list archives.

#14: A thread at Babble.Ca (left-leaning discussion forums) linking to other discussion forums on STV. Note: there are lots of long threads on STV at including this one and this one.

#15: Over at his blog: Jason Morris has some good thoughts on how STV will make government more accountable.

#16: A subset of the higher ranked (#9) Deep Cove page.

#17,#18: An article from Canadian Democratic Movement setting up the Assembly's vote (on October 24) to recommend STV. Note: Canadian Democratic Movement has lots of articles on electoral reform in general.

#20: This Magazine has an article with a pro-STV point of view based on a conversation with someone from Ireland (where they've used STV since before WWII). Interesting comments as well.

#21: STV opposing columnist Bill Tieleman posts one of his anti-STV columns to the Kootenay Cuts mailing list (archive). His main points seem to be that STV is bad because people in Ontario will make fun of us if we vote for it and because people in Malta (which uses STV) still just vote for the two main parties rather than voting for independents and smaller parties.

#22: Fair voting BC has a list of links related to STV. As an organization dedicating to making the voting results fairer (more representative of the actual vote), they are unsurprisingly strongly in favour of STV as can be seen by visiting their homepage, here. Lots of good stuff on the site including a pretty thorough discussion of the changes we can expect to see if STV is adopted and a good FAQ as well.

#23: The NAV reprints a news release from the Citizens' Assembly.

#24: Norman Spector has a copy of his anti-STV globe article on STV from Jan 10, 2005 on his website. I responded to his article at length here.

#25: The Civic Education Society has a decent list of links on STV.

#26: This site reprints the Law Commission of Canada's somewhat pro-MMP biased chart comparing different electoral systems.

#27: Indo-Canadian Voice reprints a feature provided by the Citizens' Assembly which asserts that the referendum is about values.

#28: Ryan, at his Practical Metaphors blog has a number of posts on STV, including this one providing general information, and this one responding to one of Bill Tieleman's columns.

#29: Vive le Canada, a generally pro proportional representation group blog, has a couple of brief posts on STV, including this one which came up in the search.

#30: At his blog, Doug's Dynamic Drivel, Doug has a brief pro-STV post with some interesting comments.

#34: Ian King at his self-titled Blog, has a pretty good non-partisan but pro-STV leaning post.

#35: A column by Bill Tieleman in the Georgia Straight which suggests reasons why the Assembly voted for STV and not MMP.

#38: A pro-STV column by Assembly chair Jack Blaney on the SFU site. (Jack Blaney is an SFU president emeritus, which although I don't really know what it means, suggests he's affiliated with the University in some way.)

#41: Another column against STV by Bill Tieleman in the Georgia Straight.

#47: A pro-STV column from

#48: An informative article on the Assembly process from what looks like a Blog generated by Northern Blue publishing (but it's not really clear).

#51: An old (Nov, 2001) letter written by Andrew Petter Acting Dean (at the time) at the UVic faculty of law in which he explains why, although he agrees that STV is better than the old FPTP system, he prefers MMP to STV.

#52: A poll on electoral reforms needed in B.C. with a bit of a low response rate.

#54: Alcoyne news has a long list of articles on the Assembly process. Including this one which comes up highest in the search.

#57: An article from CTV on the wrap-up of the Assembly.

#58: This is a reprint of the Citizen Assembly's fact sheet on STV, posted at the UBC election stock market site.

From here on, it's mostly repeats and marginally relevant stuff, so I'll just highlight a few links I found that were worthwhile:

#64: A presentation from the Green Party to the Assembly on electoral reform.

#75: Andrew Coyne may not post to his blog anymore but it still exists and contains a number of good articles on electoral reform including this one on the Citizen's Assembly, not to mention here, here, here, here

#80: The Western Standard group blog has a couple of fairly neutral posts on STV, here and here

#83: Proud to be Canadian has a forum and a poll on STV vs. FPTP.

#130: Dave Pollard at How to Save the World has an excellent pro-STV post which is worth reading.

Some stuff which didn't come up in the search but is worth a look:

Maple Leaf web has a good summary of the issues.

The Blogs Canada e-group had an interesting discussion on the topic.

The Law Commission of Canada did a report on electoral system options for Canada.

Update: (March 25):

Here are some 'No' sites:

Know STV
Single Transferable Vote in B.C.

Update (May 12): Understanding STV is great site for learning about how BC-STV works.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Why Vote Yes? - Short Version

2 reasons:


It is only fair that the number of seats a party wins in an election should be reasonably similar to the number of votes it received. It is not fair for a party to get all but two of the seats when 42% of the people in the province didn't vote for them. It's not fair for a party to get 12% of the vote and not elect a single member. It is not fair for one party to form a majority government when the other party got more votes than they did. All these examples of unfairness are drawn from just the last 2 provincial elections. Our election results will never be fair as long as we stick with the old system.


As much as possible, power should reside with voters. Switching to STV will give voters more power in two key ways:

1) Voters can choose between different candidates from the same party. Instead of having to vote for the one person the NDP or Liberals decided to run in your riding, you can choose which NDP or Liberal candidate to vote for. This gives you the power to reward a candidate who represents your riding well and punish them if they don't.

2) If you want to vote for a smaller party, you don't have to worry that you are wasting your vote because if your first choice is eliminated, your vote will go to your second choice. This gives you the power to vote for who you really want and still express a preference among the other parties.

Opponents of STV will tell you that the votes shouldn't be counted fairly because people can't be trusted to vote properly so as to elect a majority government. Or because too many people won't vote properly and will elect candidates from parties other than the NDP or the Liberals. Or they'll say that the system is too complicated and you'll never be able to understand it - even though people in Ireland have been using it for almost 100 years.

Basically they're saying that the new system (STV) is a bad idea because the voters (you) are not smart enough to figure it out and can't be trusted to vote for the 'right' people. I disagree.

Not convinced / want more details? Read the long version.

What the heck is STV, anyway?

STV stands for Single Transferrable Vote and it is an electoral system which attempts to retain geographical representation (i.e. you vote for people from your area), while making the system more proportional (i.e. parties get a number of seats which corresponds to how many votes they got), eliminate the need for strategic voting (e.g. voting Green won't help a Liberal beat the NDP candidate) and give voters more choice among who they want to vote for (even among candidates from the same party).

As for how it works, maybe I'm lazy or maybe they just did a good job, but I can't really improve much on how the Assembly described it in their final report:

  • Electoral districts have more than just one MLA.

  • Voters rank the candidates in the order of their preference: 1,2,3,4 etc.

  • The number of votes needed for election (called the quota)is calculated.

  • Everyone's first preference vote is counted.

  • Any candidates that reach the quota are elected.

  • If a candidate has more votes than necessary those votes are not wasted but transferred to the voter's second choice.

  • If no one is elected the person with the fewest votes is dropped and their votes transferred to the voter's next preference.

  • The process continues until a district has elected all its MLAs.

One thing I would add is that the expectation is that the most urban areas would have 7 MLA's and as areas became more rural the number of MLA's per riding would drop until reaching 2 in the most remote regions (this is to keep the physical size of the ridings from becoming too enormous).

For a graphic representation of how this works, I recommend viewing some of the flash animations at the Assembly site.

If you're more a theory kind of person, one way to think of STV is as a compromise between lots of ridings with 1 person elected per riding (the existing First-Past-the-Post system) and 1 riding with lots of people elected from it (pure Proportional Representation).

I explored this idea at greater length in the long version of my post on why to vote yes to STV:

"...Before explaining what STV is, it's worth considering what the opposite of First Past the Post would be. First Past the Post breaks the territory down into a number of regions (ridings) such that there are as many ridings as representatives and then chooses one representative from each riding. The opposite would be to only have one riding (equal in size to the whole territory) and then choose all your representatives from that one riding.

This opposite system is known as [Pure] Proportional Representation or Party List Proportional Representation (since it is normally implemented in such a way that who gets elected from each party is based on a list that each party puts together - although there's theoretically no necessity to implement it that way).

Pure Proportional Representation achieves (surprise, surprise) perfect proportionality, but does it by sacrificing geographic representation (and in the case of party lists, people are only really assured that they are represented by the party they voted for, not the individual). It is generally used in geographically compact places where geography isn't a big issue.

So, given that First Past the Post and Pure PR represent two extremes (One person elected per riding & perfect geographic representation vs. one riding from which everyone is elected & perfect proportionality) how do we compromise between them?

There are two ways. The first is to elect half (or some percentage) of the members from First Past the Post and half (or some percentage) from Pure PR. This approach leads to what is typically known as the Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP), the system which was recommended by the Law Commission of Canada and the one which is going to referendum in P.E.I. in November. MMP is a pretty good system and, if you ask me, it's about equally as good as STV in general and probably better for large territories with many regional parties (like the federal government in Canada).

In B.C. however, the Citizen's Assembly rejected MMP and chose the second way to compromise: fewer ridings with more than one person elected from each one - STV.

Under STV you could have, for example, a riding from which 5 people would be elected (this riding would be 5 times the size of the old ridings if you wanted to keep the number of representatives the same). Voters would rank candidates starting with #1 and continuing up to #5. After that, anyone who gets enough first place votes (more than 1/6th of the total, since only 5 people can get more than 1/6 of the votes) is elected (if someone has more votes than they need, then their 'extra' votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates) and if nobody has enough votes to get elected than the person with the fewest first place votes is knocked out and the second place votes on their ballots are redistributed. This process repeats until 5 people are left standing."

So that's my take on explaining STV, feel free to contact me if you have questions and I'll do my best to answer keeping in mind that I'm no expert, just an interested citizen.

Want more info on STV?

A good place to start is 'Understanding STV'.

I also recommend reading in full the assembly's final report (it has more explanation than just the bullet points I posted), skimming the technical report(especially pages 9 - 20) or checking out the Wikipedia site on STV.

Next up, Why Vote Yes? (short version)

How did we get here? (Backgrounder)

In the 1996 B.C. provincial election the Liberal party received roughly 662,000 votes, or 42% of the total. Meanwhile, the NDP received roughly 624,000 votes, 39% of the total. But thanks to the unfairness of B.C.'s current electoral system, the NDP ended up forming a majority government with 39 seats to the Liberals 33 seats.

Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the Liberals included electoral reform as part of their platform in the subsequent 2001 election. In that election, the Liberals were on the receiving end of the system's unfairness as they ended up winning 77 of 79 seats in the legislature, despite getting 'only' 58% of the vote. Meanwhile the NDP got almost a quarter of all the votes (22%) but only got 2 seats and the Green Party got over 12% of the votes and didn't receive any seats at all.

To their credit, the Liberals didn't let the fact that the system had favoured them this time around dissuade them from carrying through on their promise to look at electoral reform.

What they did is create a 'Citizens' Assembly' which included two randomly selected members from each riding in the province (+2 First Nations members), and a chair appointed by the Assembly members. The Assembly members then spent the better part of the next 2 years learning about electoral systems and holding public hearings at which people could give their opinion about what they should recommend.

The Assembly finished its work with 3 votes:

October 23, 2004: Which of the two alternatives would best serve British Columbia?
MMP - 31, STV - 123.

October 24, 2004: Do we recommend retaining the current First-Past-the-Post electoral system in British Columbia?
YES - 11, NO 142.

October 24, 2004: Do we recommend the STV (BC-STV) system to the people in a referendum on May 17, 2005
YES 146, NO 7.

So that's how we got here. More details on the Assembly process can be found in the Assembly's final report

And if you're really a glutton for punishment, you can dive into the Assembly's 280 page technical report.

If you'd rather read someone else's background on how we got here, this one was pretty good (in my opinion).

Next up: What the heck is STV anyway?