Friday, January 14, 2005

Numbers games: anti-STV ignorance in the Toronto Globe and Mail

Yes, okay, I am a known shill for Single Transferable Vote (STV), but I acknowledge that there are reasonable arguments against that particular electoral system. The following screed, however, is not one of them, if the first paragraph is any guide. The full article is locked off for paying subscribers only. But if the other parags are as demonstrably ignorant as the teaser, I wouldn't recommend paying the Globe and Mail good money to read analysis of this quality, or lack of it:
The proposal that British Columbia adopt the single transferable vote (STV) in provincial elections is such a dumb idea, one hardly knows where to begin. Have I mentioned that STV supporters are asking us to try on for size the voting system used by only one of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries? Now, it’s possible that 400,000 Maltese know something the other 1.8 billion inheritors of British political traditions haven’t yet grasped, but I wonder... -- Norman Spector, “Single transferable nonsense”, Toronto Globe and Mail (10 January 2005, p A-13).
Let's analyse this argument. Perhaps Malta's small population does make it unworthy of being taken as seriously as a real country, unlike Canada. (Although one should be careful in appealing to the moral authority of head-counts when your two nearest neighbours have five and nine times your own country's population.) But surely Mr Spector has heard of an STV-using place called Ireland, which is on its way to nearly five million people? (All right, strictly speaking Ireland is not “one of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries”, but it does count as one of the “inheritors of British political traditions”, especially given that Irish citizens resident in the UK can vote in British elections). Or Australia, with 20 million citizens, all of whom have a vote for the STV-elected Senate, and most with votes for an STV-elected State or Territory legislative house as well? Or New Zealand, many of whose three million citizens are represented by STV-elected local councils? Scotland, too, will soon be using STV for its local government elections – that’s another five million happy campers in the STV column. In fact, the Mother of Parliaments itself formerly made some limited use of STV – to choose the MPs representing University graduates (including such distinguished candidates as the writer AP Herbert) – but since this involved plural voting, the University seats were abolished in 1949. Do indirect elections count too? India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, is chosen through STV by the State legislatures. There’s one billion people who are represented, albeit indirectly, by STV-elected legislators. Before this, I had thought that Alaska's 2002 referendum debate on Instant Runoff reached new levels of dumbness (“IROV means some people get two votes!” – What, and primary elections or two-poll runoffs don’t? Never heard of “Dated Dean, married Kerry?”) but take heart, my American friends, it looks like the Canadians will demonstrate an even more embarrassing level of ignorance about electoral systems than the League of Women Voters' Alaskan Chapter (among others) did. UPDATE: What is it about opponents of STV that they can't be bothered fact-checking? And what does this say about the weight one should give their anti-STV conclusions?
"... The STV (single transferable vote) electoral system, favoured in the English-speaking world when adopted by the first Dáil, is still retained, even though abandoned across the globe by every other democracy with the exception of Malta..." - Ed Walsh, "Our system of governance assures a deficit of talent: The country is ill-served by the lack of science or business expertise among its politicians," The Irish Times (6 July 2010).
And Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory, and mainland Australia (upper houses), and Scotland (local councils), and New Zealand (local councils), and India (upper house), and The Netherlands (upper house), and... oh, why bother. The only places where STV has been "abandoned" (other than the UK when University seats were abolished) are New York City and New South Wales, both in the 1930s, at the behest of (a) the Tammany Hall Democratic machine and (b) Jack Lang's Labor Party, respectively. Now there's two political factions you'd trust with the car keys when selecting an electoral system based on good governance rather than crude partisan advantage.... Ed Walsh gets better:
"... None of the new democracies of central Europe chose to adopt the Irish electoral system. All decided to introduce some form of list system, which provides a means by which national movers and shakers can be brought into government. Typically half the seats in parliament are reserved for those who are elected, as in our case, from local constituencies and the other half from lists of well-known national figures."
Germany, Hungary, and... where else? Italy? Most European list systems use multi-member electorates without the single-member window-dressing. Electoral illiteracy is not limited to Ireland, alas, or the USA. In Australia, Mungo MacCallum - a brilliantly witty satirist/ reporter back in the Whitlam era - shortly after poo-pooing rumours of a Labor revolt against Rudd as rubbish peddled by the Murdoch press (this column hit the newsstands the very same day that Julia Gillard ousted Kevin - ouch), gave us this gem:

“… preferential voting… is not unique to Australia; some form of the preference system is also used in constituencies as diverse as Latvia, Nepal, Malta and Nauru. But the vast majority of democracies still rely on the more direct method of election known as first past the post…”

- Mungo MacCallum, “May the least loathed win”, Melbourne Age (20 July 2010).

Uh, no, Mungo. India, the UK, the USA, Canada, and... uh... Bangladesh... After that you're getting down to the Caribbean island micro-states, which I'm sure would cause Norman Spector and Ed Walsh no end of mirth ("Malta? Barbados?!! Don't make me laugh!").