Friday, February 27, 2009

Williams Lake Tribune
Citizen’s Assembly members discuss STV

* Citizen’s Assembly regroup for electoral reform

By Gaeil Farrar - Williams Lake Tribune

Published: February 26, 2009 8:00 AM

About 50 people turned out for a public meeting at City Hall Saturday to learn more about how the proposed BC Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV) system works.

In addition to voting for MLAs on May 12, British Columbians will also be asked whether they support replacing our current “first past the post” voting system with the proposed BC-STV voting system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice.

The BC-STV was recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, a randomly selected group of 160 individuals selected in 2004 to review B.C.’s provincial voting system.

After a year of research and public consultation the assembly recommended the BC-STV system that has been used successfully in Ireland (since 1922), Australia, and Malta.

The BC-STV narrowly missed being approved by B.C. residents in the 2005 election. A total of 58 per cent of the voters approved the change, just two per cent short of the 60 per cent required to pass.

Members of the original assembly on electoral reform are now hosting forums throughout the province to explain the BC-STV for the 2009 referendum.

The forum at City Hall Saturday was sponsored by the Williams Lake Chapter of the Council of Canadians and moderated by Barry Sale. Five members of the original citizens’ assembly on electoral reform were given a few minutes each to talk about how and why the BC-STV was chosen by the assembly to replace the current system.

Presentations were made by Bruce Mack, Anna Rankin, Bob Monk, and Arjun Singh.

Under the system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. A candidate who meets the quota to be elected — determined by the number of voters and the number of candidates — has his or her extra votes transferred to voters’ second choice. The process continues until all MLAs in a riding are elected. Voters can choose among several candidates from the same party, and independents. The assembly feels that will force MLAs to offer better representation at home, and voters the chance to put the person before his or her party if they choose.

Proposed BC-STV ridings would be bigger, but local representation and the number of seats in the legislature would not change.

Come time for the question period it became clear that many people in the audience had problems understanding exactly how their votes would be counted. Several of the audience members also said that if they had problems figuring out the counting system after studying it in-depth it would be unlikely the average voter would understand and support it.

The panel encouraged the audience to check out, a pro-STV site to learn exactly how the votes are transferred and counted.

Individuals pointed out that many people don’t have Internet service and what is really needed is a written information sheet that will show people exactly how transferrable voting works.

Singh said they are working on such an information sheet that should be available soon. He added the BC-STV is a very reputable counting system that is used around the world.

Mack, who tried to explain the counting system using a flip chart, concurred that the principle of the system is the critical point to consider, not the mechanics of how the votes are counted.

Among other things the panel members said the BC-STV gives voters a more direct say in how MLAs are chosen and would result in a more cooperative, less confrontational form of government.

One section of the hand-out addressed the “Why Change?” question:

“We currently use a “first-past-the post” system where only the candidate representing the largest block of voters wins. Candidates from one party can sweep a whole region even if a majority of voters choose other parties. Smaller parties and independents are shut out entirely.

“Parties often win 60 per cent of the seats with 40 per cent of the votes. At best only half of voters get representation and because parties run head to head for each seat, elections are often negative and politics is centralized.”

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