Our Electoral System
Looking at the state of the world, we’re certainly fortunate to live in a society with a robust democracy. Yet as our provincial elections get underway, it’s a good opportunity to look at how we can improve our democratic process even further.
During a campaign it often seems that the primary focus of political parties is to put up signs throughout our neighbourhoods. It’s important to become familiar with the candidates vying to represent us, but the posters have reduced messaging to its basest form, with substantive content completely absent. Listing a single campaign proposal unique to their platform would give us an idea of whether a particular candidate shares our values.
Also, the resources necessary to produce and recycle these posters is immense. Would it be possible for candidates to simply send their messages directly to our telephones, complete with the images they want voters to see? These messages could be limited in frequency to, say, one per week, and restricted to being sent only during campaigns. At first this may seem to some like an invasion of privacy, but given that the posters are omnipresent on roads wherever we go, we’d be getting about the same exposure on our phones as we do now when we move around our neighbourhoods. Plus, it would be cheaper for the candidates and much more environmentally friendly.
And what of our voting system itself? Current surveys predict that with a bit more than 40% of the vote the CAQ will get 80% of seats. There has been talk for many years about changing the first-past-the-post electoral system, but parties that are in favour of such changes are usually those that struggle under the current system. Those that do well, and hence get to govern, are less likely to be motivated to make changes to a system in which they’ve been succeeding. In terms of putting the question to a referendum, it’s also unlikely to win the majority’s support. This is again because those who identify with the largest parties, and who together are a majority of the population, are usually satisfied with the system as is. Smaller parties are disadvantaged, along with their voters. But they’re unlikely to form governments any time soon. And if they do, it will be because they’ve begun to do well in the current system, and changing how we vote will become less of a priority for them. However, there are examples of change that show it is in fact possible. Both Alaska and Maine have recently started using a ranked voting system for all of their federal and state elections, where voters order the candidates by how much they support them. This eliminates the need to vote strategically, as in the end your support will automatically go to the candidate who has the best chance of defeating whichever you like least. This system recently led to Sarah Palin losing her bid for a congressional seat in her native Alaska, a very pro-Republican state. If Alaska can give better representation to its people, we could certainly do the same.