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I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what motivates people to cast or waste their vote. Certainly if voting is perceived as futile, that would be a big disincentive. Proponents of Single Transferable Vote (STV) suggest that change will improve voter turnout, but changing the voting system is like changing the colour of consumer product packaging, then calling the product itself "New and Improved!".
But consumers buy into superficial change dressed up with cosmetic appeal all the time. Although voters here in Kamloops, the province, and elsewhere in Canada have said "No" to electoral reform in the past, change is a popular theme these days, and so it is no doubt just a matter of time until it electoral reform is adopted somewhere.
But before you opt for STV, allow me to suggest an alternative (and do-it-yourself) approach to electoral change that will cost less and individual engage voters more.
I call the system Best Ballot Format (BBF - with apologies to golfers everywhere). It's essentially a scavenger hunt designed to expose voters to every possible method of voting. Voters in BC can vote a number of different ways, including:
- General Voting Day
- Advance Voting
- Absentee Voting
- Special Voting
- Alternative Absentee Voting
- Voting by package (vote by mail)
- Vote now in the district electoral office
Each voter must utilize a different method each election, until they have voted each of the six different ways. Because one can only legally vote via a single method during each election, it will no doubt take some time to achieve a personal straight (votes via all different methods). For that reason, several variations allow voters to achieve positive outcomes over either compressed or extended time lines, such as:
- Personal Flush: Individual voters compete against each other to compile the most votes via a single method.
- Shotgun: Voters form teams to collectively vote via all methods in a single election
- Modified Best Ballot:Like-minded voters form teams to collectively vote for a single outcome (candidate, party, etc.) via a single method in a single election. The winning team may then be determined based upon a combination of factors, including the number of pledged votes within the team, the number of actual votes within the team, and the actual outcome of the election.
- Modified Alternate Ballot: Opposing teams of voters select the methods via which members of the other teams will vote. Winning teams may be determined via criteria including the number of pledged votes within the team, the number of actual votes within the team, and the actual outcome of the election.
- Rotten Ballot: Expected to be used only by those voters who have already compiled personal straights and then look to extend, the Rotten Ballot requires the voter to vote via all the different methods in a single election. The voter will potentially then waste both one and many ballots at the same time. Warning: if Elections BC discovers the prank, legal complications may follow.
This year for example, I worked myself one step closer to my own personal straight by casting an Advance ballot (to go along with the ballots I've cast in previous provincial elections via the General and Absentee methods) at St. Paul's Cathedral. I also re-discovered with some embarrassment that St. Paul's Cathedral is the white church on Nicola St., not the majestic red-brick church (Sacred Heart Cathedral) on Nicola, upon which the sign at left was posted.
While the above list of possible gaming voting variations is by no means exhaustive, the spectrum of possibilities and the massive number of current participants across the province could surely help raise interest in the mechanics - if not the substance - of our personal voting choices.
But it gets better! On election night, rather than listening to media talking heads feeding us micro-updates all night long, we could instead tune in to oddsmakers speculating whether the Norkam Shotgun Marriages can continue their streak of voting diversity to finally overcome the magnificent maleficence of the Summerland Vote Spoilers. And why waste your time waving placards at politicians, when we could instead be defiling opposing voters' Modified Best Ballot trading cards at rallies instead?
Listen, the last thing I would ever want to do is trivialize the Single Transferable Vote, especially when you consider all the taxpayer dollars we'd get to spend on the marketing and lawyers and consultants and bureaucrats required to put that system into place. No, when you consider all the money we've already spent on all those things, despite having already said "No" once to an alternative model, $TV is far from trivial.
It amazes me to witness the lengths people will go to get the government to legislate something we should be doing ourselves. As individuals we can make voting interesting, even if the characters and issues bore, frustrate, or even evade us.
In 1990, Robert J. Jackson and Doreen Jackson published the 2nd edition of Politics in Canada (Prentice-Hall Canada Ltd.), in which they wrote:
Electoral systems do not determine the nature of party systems, nor the type of government, majority or minority, single-party or coalition, in any country. Governmental outcomes are largely a function of the balance of party forces: the party system, in turn, is largely shaped by a country's political culture and social structure and by the electoral behaviour of its citizens.
The Green Party says that, "... no other party in British Columbia will benefit more from STV than the Green party," because it will put them in position to, "... hold the balance of power." That's what this is really about, power. Not change. Not progress. Power!
But if politicians want power, shouldn't we ask them to first earn their stripes? With some notable exceptions, the party system is already largely effective at weeding out the personalities and ideas that can't earn power or promote change. Politicians who want to short-circuit that grueling party process should consider another occupation before they ask us voters to do their work for them.
If a given issue can't earn the attention and support of a party then it doesn't deserve to be heard in the legislature. Likewise with parties and their candidates.
If one's chosen party is so marginal that it can't affect immediate change, then you've got a choice; either build the party from the ground up like Preston Manning and the Reform Party, or like Gordon Wilson and the BC Liberal Party, or work to build a bigger tent within a well-established party. Either choice will likely require the essential political skills which the STV seems to: patience and compromise.
As suggested in this space back in September of 2007 (Elector, Heal Thyself!), politicians should work within their parties to build coalitions on their own damn time before they hit the polls, rather than deferring the task and then assembling the coalition after the election at taxpayer expense.
Which is why this advance voter indicated a preference for the crummy system we already have (and for which we have already paid), rather than some other crummy system for which we will continue to pay in the years to come.
To share your thoughts about STV, First Past The Post (FPTP), Modified Best Ballot, spoiled votes, gaming, personal responsibility, or anything else with readers of Right Up Your Alley: Kamloops, just click on "Comments" (below)