STV system explained

  • May. 8, 2009 9:00 a.m.

The Single Transferable Vote system could make voting slightly more complicated and will definitely make counting the ballots convoluted. But it will also reflect citizens’ choices more accurately, lessen the power of political parties, and lead to better debate and fewer political attacks. That’s what retired professor and self-described “democracy junkie” Andre Carrel told a small group in Masset Monday night (May 4). Mr. Carrel gave a presentation on the benefits of the Single Transferable Vote system, or STV, which British Columbians will be voting on in a referendum May 12. “The system we have now is a system imposed on us when we were a colony,” Mr. Carrel said. It’s also a system that leads to governments that don’t truly reflect the intentions of the voters. For example, he said, in the last election a minority of British Columbians voted for the Liberals – yet that party formed a majority and has governed for the past four years. The same thing has happened with the NDP. The STV system would allow people to vote for more than one candidate by ranking candidates according to their preference. Voters would rank candidates with a number 1, number 2, number 3 and so on. Ridings would be changed so there are less of them and each riding would have from two to seven MLAs representing it. (Our new riding would be called “northwest” and would elect three representatives.) The actual mechanism of STV vote counting is complex and after a brief discussion of it, Mr. Carrel said people should focus on what an STV system will achieve rather than the technicalities. Mr. Carrel said our current way of electing governments – the “first past the post” system – makes it easy to count the votes and determine the winner, and is the system most likely to produce a majority government. But, “the majority elected under FPTP rarely represents the majority of the electorate – more often than not it represents only the plurality, in other words, the largest minority,” he said. “Such an assembly falls short of democracy’s principles because it tempts governments to serve the interests of a minority.” Under the STV system, if 40 percent of the electorate voted Liberal, 40 percent voted NDP, and 20 percent voted NDP, the makeup of the MLAs in the Legislature would reflect that 40-40-20 split. After the election is over, those parties will have to work together in order to govern. And that’s a good thing, Mr. Carrel said. “Every party will eventually have to listen to what the other parties are saying,” he said. “Every party will have to look at its own policies and determine what aspects of its policies it may be willing to amend, expand, modify, or drop to make its policies acceptable to at least one other political party.” Mr. Carrel also told voters not to worry about the size of the ridings under STV. Northern ridings are already relatively large, and some people are concerned because STV would make them even bigger. “I urge those who are concerned about enlarged constituencies to keep in mind that we have more than geographic divisions in this province,” he said. “We have an urban/rural divide, a youth-senior divide, a labour/management divide, an employee/self-employed divide, and many more social, economic and cultural divides in this province,” he said. “Those voters in the northwest who support comprehensive day care programs and affordable housing have more in common with people in the Fraser Valley who support these same policy objectives than they do with other voters in the northwest who would rather see the role of government reduced, taxes cut and public services privatized.” British Columbians have voted on the STV question before. In 2005, a majority of voters said yes, but it was just less than the 60 percent which the government had decided would be needed to change. During this provincial election, voters will have the chance once again, but Mr. Carrel warned that this will probably be the last time. “If we don’t make 60 this time, put it in the history books, it’s not going to happen,” he said. More information about STV and how it works is available at

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