roland@equalpartners.ca
http://EqualPartners.ca/

Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

Proportional Representation (PR) Elections

An election has been called; if you live in Canada or the U.S., you will vote following the single- member riding (or district in the U.S.; I’ll use both terms and nations interchangeably, thereafter).  This type of election is also known as winner-take-all, or first-past-the-post.

This style of electing our representatives is based on two premises:

1) The winner is the nominee with the most votes; and

2) The district is small, and this person will represent you in the legislature whether you voted for him (or her), 0r not.

It is simple, elegant, and heavily criticized!

In such an election, other parties are left behind; their votes are “lost.” If you voted for one of those parties, your vote was “wasted.”  A small party has virtually no chance of making it to Congress, even though, say, 5% of Americans have voted for it.

Many voters and politicians are clamoring for a fairer system.  In the process, they are forgetting that democracy is based on compromise.  While not ideal (there is no such thing), we are blessed to have such a system in Canada, and the States.  The alternative is proportional representation (PR); and where it is used, it has introduced a certain measure of fairness along with many disadvantages, or proved to be a living nightmare depending upon the type of PR used.

By now you have concluded that I am against PR; that said, I’ll provide you with examples of Proportional Representation so that you can make up your own mind.

Mixed-Member Proportional Voting

Proponents of this system have claimed it is the best of both worlds:  As a citizen, you are represented in the legislature; as a political party with enough support, you have a voice in the affairs of the nation.

As a favorite son, it has benefited from many names:  “The additional member system;” “Compensatory PR;” “The two vote system;” and “The German system.”

It was born in West Germany right after WWII; and, it has now been adopted in several other countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, New Zealand, and Hungary.

So how does it work?

Your ballot is divided into two parts:  The left side list the potential contenders; you’ll mark it according to your preference; the person getting the most votes will represent you in Parliament.  The system will generally allows for half of the seats to be filled this way.

The right side will list the parties (and the names of the politicians that may potentially sit in the house); and here again you will choose a party.  Keep in mind that you have 2 votes only, one for the right side and one for the left side.  Once the parties results are known, allocation takes place according to the following example:  If 100 seats are dedicated to the parties, and party A get 30% of the parties vote, then party A will have 30 seats.  If party Z get 1% of the parties vote, then this party will get 1 seat. and on it goes.  You can see the fairness in the system, however it remains a mixed blessing.

1) By halving the number of direct representatives, we’re creating larger districts;  thus, you the voter will receive less attention if you require assistance.

2) The direct representatives will have to fight tooth and nail to get elected; the parties representatives will have an easier time entering parliament.

3) The parties representatives are not directly answerable to you, they answer to a political party.  In truth, even in our system, politicians are answerable to their party, nevertheless, the direct relationship so precious in a democracy is partially lost.

4) The leaders and top members in a party will be in parliament whether you feel they deserve it or not.

5) Many small parties will be able to engage in politics; this complicates the democratic process.

6) PR is supposed to be a weapon against voters apathy (since they cannot claim that their votes will be wasted).  But does it work this way?  Let’s take Germany as an example since they invented the system, and the German people is known for its discipline.  In 1972, 91.1% of voters voted; in 2005 that number went down to 77.7%; in 2009 turnout was even lower, only 70.8% of eligible voters voted.  Canada and the U.S. see such rate of participation in their dreams only!  But remember that we are talking of Germany here;  the Germans may very well be the most disciplined people on the planet!

Single Transferable Vote Or Choice Voting

This system has additional names, for example, “The single transferable vote;” and its Australian name the “Hare-Clark system.”

This system is used to elect Parliaments in Ireland and Malta. In Australia it is used to elect the Federal Senate, as well as the Legislatures in several States.

It is an overly complex system. I will describe it to you and provide you with an example; hopefully, you will then manage to understand it.

The candidates for a given district are listed on one ballot, and next to each name are the numbers 1 to 9.  You’re not voting for one nominee, rather you’re ranking them; the one you like the most you will rate as 1, your second choice you will mark as 2, and so on.  You may fill as many choices as you like provided you fill no more than one box per candidate, and no more than one box per column. This ranking is similar to standardized tests taken in school, and it allows for computerized vote counting and ballot transfer.

Next comes the so called “single transferable vote.”  The first step is to establish a threshold; the formula follows:

Threshold = (valid votes/1 + total seats) + 1 vote

The candidate that reaches the threshold first is declared elected, but needs to transfer the excess votes (over the threshold) to the second choice on the ballot, she in turn will transfer her excess votes to the third choice.  And on it goes until we fill the required seats.

Confused?  This example will (I hope) clarify matters.

Green Valley district held a municipal election to fill 3 seats on council; 6 contestants are running:

J. Beal; B. Moore; N. Nardy ; A. Rose; M. Cohen; L. Torinesi.

The number of valid  votes was 1,000.  Therefore, using the above formula we can calculate the threshold:

1,000 / (1 +3) + 1  or 1,000 divided by 4 = 250 + 1 = 251

Let us suppose that Torinesi got 280 first-choice votes, but he only needs 251 to win; the excess (280 – 251 = 29) is wasted if it stays with Torinesi, therefore they are transferred to the second choice.

The second-choice candidate turns out to be Nardy with 265 votes, therefore, the above excess of 29 is transferred to her; she now have 265 + 29 = 294,  and an excess of 294 – 251 = 43.  This excess is wasted and is now transferred to the third-choice candidate Rose.

And on it goes; the end result is a list that will eliminate the candidate that is least likely to win with the vote(and transfers)  obtained; next, these votes are redistributed to candidates that have yet not reached the threshold.  And the process goes on.

How these transfers are effected is not explained.  In real life it’s a complex process requiring, no doubt, dedicated software, or at least a special application.

For poor mortals like you and me, it is sufficient to understand the above example and stop after Torinesi and Nardy.

Why  was such a process invented?  To avoid wasted votes. The system followed in Canada and the U.S. is apparently wasteful (many votes have no impact on the election); resulting in party misrepresentation; and the underrepresentation of minorities.

I agree with the advantages; and some of you may indeed feel that this a fair system; however; it has many disadvantages.

1) It is complex and is sure not to be fully understood by most voters.

2) To some voters, it may look like a game!  I place a 2 next to this contender, a 4 next to that one, and so on!  How serious are the end results going to be?

3) If you’ve filled a survey asking you to grade your satisfaction for a product, how often have you hesitated before deciding  whether it is good, very good, or  perhaps excellent?  There is a guessing game going on here.  As well, some voters have difficulty making up their minds, this system will not make their choice easy and may even discourage them from voting.

4) We will have larger districts with many candidates, and seats, for each district.  Who of the winners is answerable to you and will help you if you have a problem?

5) The field is wide open for quid pro quo (you give me something and I’ll return the favor to you). Candidates that have no chance of winning will join the fray and bargain shamelessly (all behind the scene, of course!)  If you don’t believe that is possible, then you also believe that political dealings are clean and above board!

6) More parties will have a chance of winning; in turn this will call for more compromises and less stable government.

7) Will it address the issue of voter apathy? More voters will be encouraged to vote since they’ll feel that their vote will  not be wasted.  On the other hand, the sheer complexity of the system will discourage many voters.

Party List Voting

Party list voting systems are by far the most common form of proportional representation (PR).  Over 80% of PR adherents use some form of party list voting.

There are two broad types of  list systems: closed list and open list. The system applies to large multi-members districts.  Let us first look at the closed list in a five-seat district.

You have one vote and the ballot is divided into 5 sections.  Party A followed by a list of its candidates; party B followed by a list of its candidates; and so on.  Independent candidates may also run. You vote for a party, and the candidates will obtain a seat according to the order presented on the ballot.  If party A obtain enough votes for two seats, the first two persons will seat in the legislature.

Under this system, you have no say as to who you will send to your parliament.  The open list redress this inequity.

Voters are presented with the contenders, but they are in no particular order. The parties for each nominee are also shown.  You still have one vote, and you will place your X next to the candidate you like.  Your vote will count both for your candidate and your party.

Different formulas exist to allocate the seats to the parties. Basically the number of valid votes are divided by the seats available to determine a quota.  A party that has the equivalent of two quotas get two seats; if there is a remainder it will be allocated later on.  The following example will clarify the concept.

The district will send 5 representatives to Parliament; if we have 50,000 valid votes, the quota will then be: 50,000/5 = 10,000.  If party A get 28,000 votes, it now has 2 quotas (and 2 seats) and a remainder of 8,000.  Same for the other parties.  At the end, the remainder are compared and the party with the largest remainder get the remaining seat (it may be more than one party and seat).

Ultimately, all the parties obtain the number of seats that will closely approximates their percentage of the votes.

This system can apply on a larger scale, namely goes beyond a district.  I can provide you with no examples, for I have not researched it beyond the district level.  I can provide you, though, with the example of a nation that applies it across the whole country! I am referring to the state of Israel, and I’ll discuss their system later on.

I am not looking for a system that will be satisfactory to most of the population of a country; that said, I’ve found the “Party List Voting,” to be deficient in many respects.

1) We have a large district that will be represented by many candidates.  Who is representing you and who will help you if you have a problem?

2) If the closed list system is followed, the order of the nominees, and who has a better chance of getting elected is fixed by the party; thus, some of the choice is taken away from the voters.

3) There doesn’t seem to be any kind of primaries (nomination meetings in Canada) for the parties to select its candidates.  In both Canada and the U.S., nominees need to fight tooth and nail just to be nominated for a given party, and then expend more efforts to win the election.  Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that we are sending the best representatives to our legislatures; just that they are fighters and can survive the harsh world of politics.

4) While simpler than the “Single Transferable Vote or Choice Voting,” it is still complex enough to confuse some voters, especially the open list system.

5) It provides an opportunity for more parties to be elected; this in turn will call for compromise and a less stable government.

6) Less votes are wasted, this in turn should encourage voters’ participation; but is that what is happening?  I do not have any figures in front of me to answer this question; nevertheless, I’ll express the hope that it does.  For, of all the “Proportional Representation” systems, this one is the most approachable and fairer system provided the open list system is used.

Israel   

Since Israel came into being over 60 years ago, rare is the time where it has not found itself in the eye of the storm. Therefore, the question as to how it is governed takes added importance.

No country is easy to govern; Israel, however, is barely governable.  Its people are fiercely independent and opinionated; it is surrounded by enemies; it is almost always in the news; it sits in the Middle-East, a region that has never known stability going back to Biblical times!  And as if all that wasn’t enough, it uses a “Country-Wide Proportional Representation” system.

To fill the 120 seats in the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), the voter vote for a party.  Israel has no districts, and an Israeli does not have a representative in the Knesset; there is nobody to turn to if help is needed; that said, you can turn to the party you actively (i.e. not merely  by voting for it) support.

Each party prepares a list with 120 names (an assumption that they can win all the seats!)  The individuals at the top of the list are of course the leader, followed by the top brass.

When you vote, you’re handed an official envelope; in the booth, you’ll find a tray with slips, and on the slips are the symbol of the parties, usually 1 to 3 letters.  You take a slip for the party you wish to vote for, put in the envelope and seal it.  For example, if you wish to vote for Yisrael Beitenou, you’ll select a slip with the Lamed (equivalent to our L) which is the symbol for this party and place it in the envelope.  Voila! It’s that simple.  New immigrants (who at times came from primitive societies) can easily vote; a voter can also bring an approved helper (example an old man can bring his grandson) who can go in the booth with him.  Every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has an equivalent in Arabic, thus Arab voters will also have no difficulties.

At this point in time, a party needs to obtain about 2% of the votes to secure a seat in the Knesset. For example, in the 2009 election, the Kadima party secured 56% of the votes, and has now 28 seats.

I do not have enough space to list the consequences of such a system; but the most obvious follow.

1) To my knowledge, no party in the history of Israel has secured an absolute majority.  The parties need to come together after every election to put together a coalition for a majority government (i.e. at least 61 seats).  You cannot imagine the negotiations and compromises that need to take place before there is a government in place; and such a government is fragile, it can, and does, easily fall.

2) The voters have no say as to who will seat in the Knesset.

3) Under such a system, parties can proliferate like mushrooms after the rain! In the 2009 election, 33 parties were in the run, and 13 were elected!

4) The party with the most votes does not necessarily form the government.  In the 2009 election, the Kadima party had 28 seats, and yet, the Likud with 27 seats forged a coalition and today governs the country with like-minded partners.

5) Israel is stuck with such a system for all eternity!  The smaller parties will never vote for a change; they’ll be signing their (political) death warrant!  Under a more flexible system, they’ll disappear!

Sources

1) How Proportional Representation Elections Work

Douglas J. Amy

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/Beginning Reading/howprwor.htm

2) Voter apathy was one of the big winners in Germany’s election

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4729420,00.html

3) List of political parties in Israel – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_Israel

4) Political Parties in Israel

http://www.science.co.il/Parties.asp

 

 

 

 

 

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