The Ranked Ballot

It has many names: ranked ballot, preferential voting, instant-runoff, alternative vote, etc.  It’s a small, simple change that makes voting more fair.  In addition to voting for your favourite candidate, it allows you to indicate who your second, third, (and more) choices are.

If, after the first choice votes are counted, no candidate receives a majority (more than 50%) of all the votes cast, the candidate with the least first choice votes is eliminated, and those votes are redistributed to the other candidates according to their indicated second choices.  This process continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of the total votes.

A non-optional preferential ballot is the system already used in voting for the Australian federal House of Representatives.  The video below explains how the ballots are counted in that jurisdiction and how it ensures that the “most-favourable” candidate ends up winning the seat.

Note that, in Australia, the voter must rank every single candidate on the ballot.  Making it mandatory to rank every candidate is not necessary for the system to work.  As a rule, the election results should attempt to include as many votes as possible.  For that reason, I suggest an optional preferential ballot for the Canadian House of Commons, as one part of the Manougian model.  If a voter stops ranking the candidates and all their choices have already been eliminated, it simply drops off the tally of total votes in the next round.  (Note that I think it is essential to include a Declined option to differentiate between indifference and opposition to the remaining voters but that is a topic for another post.)

With this system, if a person marks just one “X” next to just one name, the same way they do now and have for many years, the ballot should not be rejected but count as having voted for a first choice only.

The main issue that this solves is known as the “Spoiler Effect”.  You can probably guess what it is but CGP Grey does a great job of explaining it in this video:

So a ranked ballot (alternative vote, etc.) is a great idea and only helps ensure an outcome that the most people would be happy with.  In fact, the First Past the Post system it would replace is so inadequate that Canadian political parties themselves do not trust it when they are deciding on a new party leader or voting to nominate a party candidate in a given riding.  These political parties themselves use either a ranked ballot or require all the voters to return round after round until one candidate does obtain an absolute majoriy.  (Separate runoff elections are expensive and annoying to conduct and that is why an instant runoff is so superior.)

Much groundwork has already been done to ensure that a ranked ballot is the system the City of Toronto will use to elect its mayor in the 2018 municipal election.  A group called the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT: http://www.123toronto.ca/) has led the charge to get City Council to ask the Queen’s Park to amend the Municipal Elections Act to allow its use by municipalities who would like to opt in.  You can see their 11 minute explanation of the change at the following video:

What are your thoughts about the ranked ballot?

Franchise Expansion: Minors are persons, too

Who should get to vote?  That question has been answered differently throughout history.  When Athens invented democracy in the fifth century BC, it looked very different.  Many posts were filled “by lot” (yes, as in lottery) and the participants included only free adult male citizens who had completed military training.  Notably, women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded.  Citizenship, which was based on lineage instead of birthplace, could also be revoked for failing to pay debts.

In British colonies, representatives were chosen (without a secret ballot) by the propertied class.  It was during the ratification of the United States Constitution that property requirements were reduced or eliminated as an acknowledgment that the Revolutionary War was fought by all.  It was after the US civil war that slavery was abolished in North America and the franchise was extended to African-Americans in recognition of the role they played in the Union Army.

Fortunately, post-confederation Canada did not need any conflicts to understand that “All men are created equal.”  It did take a World War, however, to acknowledge that women were also equal and deserved the right to vote.  As late as 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that women could not be appointed to the Senate because they were not “persons”.  On October 18 every year, we celebrate Persons Days to mark the overturning of that ruling in 1929 by our British masters.

The 1960s ushered in cultural shifts and opened new debates.  The voting age at the time was 21 even though younger Canadians could get married, serve in the military, and earn a living.  The UK and Canada lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1970, the US followed in 1971, and it is now the most common age requirement for voting rights across the world.

Certainly, some sort of age requirement is reasonable.  A two-month old infant cannot be expected to cast a ballot.  However, is the citizen whose 18th birthday is the week after the election not mentally capable of making an informed choice?  Under what pretense are they denied a say in their country’s future?  (Full Disclosure: Although a university student at the time, I could not vote in the 2004 federal election.)

In 2007, Austria lowered its voting age to 16 for all elections.  Scotland moved to give 16 and 17 year olds a vote in its 2014 referendum on independence.  Here in Canada, MP Mark Holland introduced Bill C-261 in 2004 to reduce the voting age to 16, arguing that it would turn the tide of youth voter disengagement.  It was defeated… by MPs who governed on behalf of Canada’s youth but were not elected by it.

What is the official policy of the ruling Liberal Party on the matter?  It straddles pages 27 and 28 of their “Real Change” platform available here.  In case they remove the file, it says:

LiberalPlatformYoungCanadians

Obviously, I don’t think that goes far enough but I’m also not in favour of a straight reduction in the voting age, either.  In the third pillar of the Manougian model for Canadian electoral reform, I spell out an alternative system to ensure that young Canadians are appropriately represented in the halls of government.  It is a concept borrowed from Ontario school boards, where student trustees, elected annually by secondary students, sit alongside trustees elected, once every four years, by citizens over 18.  They have full participation rights in Board meetings and committees (except during staff appointment decisions) and even get to cast their vote on final Board decisions.  Their vote is recorded but does not count toward deciding a motion’s passage or defeat.

My suggestion is to add Student Parliamentarians to the House of Commons, elected by 14-17 year-old citizens and permanent residents, from among candidates aged 14-17 who are Canadian citizens.  New, separate constituencies should be created for them, which span several regular ridings, such that the youth demographic is represented in equal proportion to the general population in the average electoral district.

Elections should take place annually, where one Student Parliamentarian is elected for a two year term.  Thus, each constituency would be represented by two Student Parliamentarians, who would learn from their senior partner in the first year, and mentor their junior partner in the second.  Just like student trustees in Ontario school boards, they would have the right to speak and vote in the House of Commons but their votes would not be counted towards the passing or defeat of a bill or motion.

In this way, youth are given a seat at the table while acknowledging that their education in how countries should be run is not yet complete.  The annual election exercise would give them all a wealth of experience in the voting process and facilitate their registration to the general election list of voters when they turn 18.

You may have noticed that I included permanent residents as eligible to vote in this process.  Most immigrants to Canada apply for citizenship shortly after meeting the three-year residence requirement.  At least in Toronto, there is a movement to extend voting rights for municipal elections to permanent residents even before they obtain citizenship.  Personally, I think it is reasonable to ask a newcomer to spend one election observing the process before getting to cast a ballot of their own.  I am not recommending that the citizenship requirement for voting rights be abolished.  However, in the scenario of a Student Parliamentarian, who is there as a barometer of future public opinion, and an annual election that plays an educational role, I believe it would be fair to include permanent residents as voters but not candidates.  It is as inclusive as possible without creating potential complications if a non-citizen Student Parliamentarian were to lose their residency status.  (Full Disclosure: I was a Canadian citizen at birth.)

To those who would say that a 14 year old is not mature enough to have any say in the democratic process, I want it to be clear that they are already eligible to become members of the major political parties, within which they are already eligible to vote for riding association executives, local candidate nominations, and even during leadership races.  In those scenarios, their vote is equal to a 44 year-old’s.  Also, you do not need to be a citizen to join the major Canadian political parties.

This reform is just the first of many that I will write about on this blog.  Check back often and let me know what you think.  Remember, you are the one who gets to decide if it becomes a reality.

 

The Manougian Model for Canadian Electoral Reform

During the recently-completed Canadian federal election season, the Liberal, NDP, and Green parties all suggested that major reforms were required to the way in which Canada elects its Members of Parliament.  The ruling Conservatives had refused to appoint new Senators to fill vacant seats out of frustration with the status quo system for the Upper House.  Everyone agrees the federal parliament can be improved.

You have probably already heard about why the First Past the Post system is flawed.  Instead of having me repeat it all, let’s review by watching this video by CGP Grey:

The winner of the 2015 Canadian federal election was the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau.  They made their stance on electoral reform very clear.  You can read it on Page 27 of their platform at: https://www.liberal.ca/files/2015/10/A-new-plan-for-a-strong-middle-class.pdf.  In case they remove the file, it says

LiberalPlatformElectoralReformThey were sworn in on November 4, 2015.  Unless they break their promise, a bill with proposed changes will be introduced by May 4, 2017.

I started this blog to have my say on how I think the country should choose its legislators.  Ultimately, you, as a Canadian citizen, are the final decision-maker.  I plan on posting weekly to go into depth into various aspects of electoral design, defending the different pieces of my proposal, which I’ll call the Manougian Model.

For now, with no accompanying explanation or defense, here it is:

  1. Make the Senate an elected assembly using the fully proportional method of closed party lists.
    • Senate elections to be held concurrently with the House of Commons.
    • Senators to have no geographically-subdivided constituency.  They would be elected from the entire country-wide vote tally.  (Constitutional amendments required.)
    • Allocate seats not from the usual method of vote share percentage, but by absolute number of total votes.  That is, a lower voter turnout would result in less total Senators.
  2. Elect MPs to the House of Commons using an optional preferential ballot.
    • Maintain the current 338 electoral districts and their boundaries (until the next census).
    • Include a “Declined” option on the ballot, which does not drop off the final count.
    • Allow for a seat to remain vacant for 12 months if the “Declined” option obtains a majority.  (By-election to follow.)
  3. Add Student Parliamentarians to the House of Commons
    • Elected by 14-17 year-old citizens and permanent residents.
    • Candidates must be aged 14-17 at the time of the election and be a Canadian citizen.
    • Two representatives per constituency, elected for two year terms on a staggered basis, separately from the regular general elections.
    • Constituencies would be much bigger than the regular 338 electoral districts to reflect a similar number of eligible voters.
    • Student Parliamentarians would have the right to speak and vote in the House of Commons.  Their votes would be recorded but not counted towards the passing or defeat of a bill or motion.
  4. Introduce a term limit of two consecutive general elections within the same House.
    • Allow MPs to run for the Senate immediately after two terms in the Lower House and vice versa.
    • Allow returning to a House after a one term absence.
  5. Maintain the freedom to not vote without penalty.
  6. Maintain the requirement to cast a paper ballot.
    • No on-line voting option.
    • Machine-assisted voting available for accessibility needs only.

Check back often to get more details of what I mean, and why I think this way.

You are the Government

In a democracy, the people are the decision-makers.  If you live in Canada and are a Canadian citizen, you are a decision-maker.  Sometimes, though, we may not quite feel that way.  We may vote once every election cycle but leave the act of governing to those representatives that end up getting elected.  Often, we don’t keep on top of everything they are doing.  We’re busy.  Sometimes we hear they are doing something we don’t agree with.  In that case, we might be motivated to give our representative a piece of our mind, maybe even attend a protest.  Most of the time, though, we keep our opinion to ourself and take a fatalistic view that nothing we do will change the outcome.

The truth is that the average Canadian is very powerful.  Voting is important, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  You have the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly.  You have over 30 million compatriots that care about living under the rule of law and will listen to reasonable arguments.  Whereas in other countries, citizens need to arm themselves and risk their lives to influence their country’s direction, all you really need to do is show that you care.

This blog is about building an even better democracy.  If you think it’s useful, come back often.  If you don’t agree with it, I’d love to exchange ideas.  The philosopher Joseph de Maistre first said “Toute nation a le gouvernment qu’elle mérite.” (Every nation gets the government it deserves.)  I started this blog today because I think we deserve the best.