Why are voting systems important?
The voting system is the foundation for representative democracy, because it translates votes into seats. Citizens use the voting system to delegate power to political parties and politicians.
What’s so bad about the present Ontario electoral system?
“In a democratic government,” wrote Swiss philosopher Ernest Naville in 1865, “the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all.”
FPTP undercuts both of these core principles – equal representation for voters and true majority rule. That and other shortcomings are addressed in more detail below.
- Denies representation for all voters
- Distorts the will of the voters
- Produces phony majority governments
- Fails to produce accountable governments
- Gives us stagnation or wild swings but not responsive government
- Results in low percentages of women and visible minority MPPs
- Promotes apathy, cynicism and negativity among voters
FPTP provides political representation only for those voters who support the most popular party in their riding. Most voters in Ontario elections (two million plus) cast votes that elect no one. In many cases, the winning candidate does not even receive a majority of votes cast in the riding.
Because many voters, often the majority, do not win representation, overall election results are distorted. A party winning only 40% of the votes may gain 1 60% or more of the seats and 100% of the power. A party winning 30% of the votes could find itself with only 10% of the seats. Smaller parties that may attract 5% or 10% of the vote will almost never be represented.
Because of these distortions, Ontario is generally ruled by phony majority governments – i.e., by parties that captured a majority of seats without winning a majority of votes cast. In fact, the last time an Ontario election produced a legitimate majority government was 1937. Consider these more recent examples:
– The current Liberal government won 70% of the seats with only 46% of the popular vote.
– In 1995, the Tory government won 63% of the seats with only 45% of the vote.
– In 1990, the Ontario NDP received less than 38% of the popular vote but won 57% of the seats.
Governments that win with less than majority support nonetheless claim a “mandate from the people”. Once any party controls a majority of seats, nothing can stop a premier from enacting unpopular laws that are not supported by a majority of voters.
Ontario often has periods where one party is entrenched in power for an extended period. Then, even with a relatively small shift in voter attitudes, the composition of the legislature can swing wildly from one side of the ideological spectrum to the other. This can produce what is sometimes called “policy lurch”. Neither trend is responsive to the evolving political will of citizens.
Every voting system produces incentives for parties to bring forward certain types of candidates. In a FPTP system based on electing only one candidate per riding, parties have little incentive to field a diverse range of candidates. Other voting systems in which parties must bring forward lists of candidates for larger regions have the opposite incentive. A more diverse array of candidates is often the winning strategy.
When voters believe their votes do not make a difference, they have little motivation to cast their votes. In Ontario, nearly 40% of eligible voters do not bother casting ballots. Countries using proportional voting systems generally have higher voter turnouts.
How will the MMP system help with the election of more women and minorities?
The proposed MMP system will improve women’s representation because parties will be forced – for practical reasons – to adopt new strategies for nominating their candidates. Most parties will quickly learn they will win the most votes if they have nearly equal portions of women and men appearing on their lists, and an appropriate portion of visible minorities. Any party that presents a list that is largely male and without minority candidates will very likely lose votes.
In many European countries, parties “zipper” their lists, alternating male and female names on their lists so equal numbers are elected. Parties are very competitive in seeking votes and will apply whatever strategy wins the most seats under the voting system being used. The evidence is clear. Proportional voting systems help produce what most Canadians want: more diversity in our legislatures.
What voting systems are newer democracies choosing?
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (http://www.idea.int/esd/world.cfm), not one of the 26 countries that were part of the old Soviet bloc picked first-past-the-post.
Two countries adopted MMP, 13 chose other forms of proportional representation and seven picked semi-proportional votng systems, while four countries moved to two-round systems.
What is the Vote for MMP campaign?
Vote for MMP is a multi-partisan campaign initiated by Fair Vote Canada to support adoption of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system in the Ontario referendum on October 10. Fair Vote Canada is a national citizens’ campaign for electoral reform.
Through the Vote for MMP campaign, Ontarians from all backgrounds, regions and political views are uniting to support a new voting system that will give all of us more choice, fairer results and stronger representation.
For more information on MMP, go to http://www.voteformmp.ca