Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Electoral Reform that I Would Like To See: A Brief Exchange with Dr. Henry Milner

At issue is how to design an open-list MMP that is less complicated than STV and which would be relatively neutral in terms of its effects on party-building and party discipline--i.e. that still protects voter choice and would make MLAS/MPS at least as responsive to ordinary voters as they are now. The following is an e-mail exchange I had with Dr. Henry Milner, Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies at Laval University. (I am inclined to agree with Dr. Milner's preference for a Swedish style flexible ballot, with one small difference: I would have 4-6 regional lists rather than one large provincial list--that would moderate both proportionality and the hold of central party organization).

MC: Dr. Milner: I am a Professor at Athabasca University and a veteran of electoral reform debates in my home province of British Columbia. I remember having a brief discussion with you at the BCPSA a few years back
(2004), before the Citizens Assembly came out with its BC-STV proposal. At
that time you mentioned that there was a difficulty with flexible open
lists--which gave voters the option of ratifying the party's ordering in
lieu of ranking party candidates themselves. As you pointed out at that time, this gave an insurmountable advantage to the candidates who are higher on the party list.

I was wondering whether an alternative approach--of simply allowing voters
to plump for the party and acquiesce in the rank orderings of the voters
who do rank the candidates--is a practice that is used anywhere, and
whether that would be a system that you would endorse or advocate as a
superior method to the flexible list endorsed, for example, by the Law
Reform Commission in its Report.


HM: The solution I favour is that of Sweden (also endorsed by the Law Commission), i.e. voters can place X next to 1 list candidate, and those
that recive a minimum of these "personal votes" (8 percent in Sweden) are
moved to the top of the list.

Henry Milner

MC: Dr. Milner: Thanks for that information. But the initial list that voters are confronted with before they cast their "personal votes"--is that
randomized, alphabetical or chosen by party organizations--and to what
extent does that initial ordering have an impact on electoral outcomes?


HM: The Swedish order is by the party. It seems to me that if you are choosing a list based on the party's program, you should also be aware of and influenced by its priority as to candidates. Since you can cast only one personal vote, where that person is on the list should not have an effect.

Henry Milner


The Doctor said...

have you looked at the way the Australian Senate is elected.
There are two ways to vote on an Australian Senate ticket :
Above the Line, which allows you to place 1 in the box of the party of your choice; or
Below the Line, which requires you to numbers all boxes on the paper i.e you dictate the preference distribution.

Mark Crawford said...

Doctor: I have heard of it but have not studied the data closely. I believe that the Australian Senate system is nice but it runs into the same problem that 'flexible' lists do--as i alluded to in my first comment to Henry Milner above. That is, enough people vote above the line to give those in the initial (party) distribution an insurmountable advantage. Or do they? You could have the preference ordering determined entirely by those who vote below the line...which is what I was suggesting to Dr. Milner in my first letter above. That appeals to those who distrust central party organizations, and would ensure that politiciaans are pandering to the public, and not just to the party.

The Doctor said...

You are actually talking about two different problems here.
One : the dominance of the party list, which you little you can do about if enough people accept the party line;
Second : there is problem of what is known in Australian politics as the 'donkey' vote, which is voting 1,2,3 etc. down the party lists and across the page.
In both the ACT and Tasmania, the full description of voting is Hare-Clarke with Robson rotation. Robson rotation just means that the order of the candidate is just by one place on each ballot, evening out any donkey vote effects (which are around about 1-2 % usually).
There are plenty of good Australian political sites such as and which should be to answer all your quetsions on STV's.

Mark Crawford said...

Well, I was worried about both, but Dr. Milner is comfortable enough with party preferences to settle for the Swedish system--which does away with the donkey's tail altogether, and simply gives the voter one additional 'x' with which to alter the party list. But Hare's list with Robson rotation sounds fine to me, if you are going to have a long preferential ballot.