Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Brief Commercial for "STV-Lite"---and for a More Deliberative Democracy

A recent posting by Rafe Mair at The Tyee on Parliamentary Reform reminds me of some of my own recommendations in light of the failed referendum on electoral reform in British Columbia.  If you believe that British Columbia suffers from excessive polarization, and are frustrated by the fact that outcomes are determined more by how one's opponent's votes are "wasted" or"split" than by the will of the people, then there is still something to be said for preferential voting.

I see the problem of the Citizens Assembly as one of deliberation in isolation, without a broader deliberative context. The track record of citizens' juries getting validated by the wider electorate is dismal because the wider electorate is not engaged in much deliberation at all.

Imagine if BC-STV had had the status of a legislative intiative that would have to be voted upon by the Legislative Assembly. Then each MLA would have to defend their position to the public. IF the Legislature could agree to an amendment to propose to the Citizens Assembly , the Citizens Assembly could then either accept the amendment or go to the people with the referendum. (For example, if I had been an MLA I would have proposed the "STV -lite" that I described above; if I were a member of the Citizens' Assembly, I would have accepted that as a "step in the right direction" with respect to the 3 criteria of proportionality, effective local representation, and voter equality.)

A process of this kind was totally missing in BC when virtually every member of the political elite avoided discussion of the referendum, killing it with silence. A better process would have been one which --like the Oregon health care reforms--would have kept legislators in the deliberative hotseat.
The result of STV-lite would not be highly proportional, but it would be majoritarian in the northern ridings without having to create monster ridings; and it would be mildly more proportional in the southern ridings without having to create monster ballots. There would be a more level playing field, with the elimination of most "safe seats" and the creation of constituencies that more closely resemble real communities like Richmond, Surrey, and Cariboo. While it is possible that few Greens and Independents would actually get elected, they would nonetheless be certain to become more influential as the candidates of the larger parties battled for the second preferences of voters. Something close to a true majority of voters would be reflected in the calculations of the government--even if it remained a two-party legislature! And the artificial exacerbation of political polarization by the electoral system would usually be greatly diminished.

While few educated people would regard this as an ideal system, few would deny that it would be an improvement over the status quo.

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