Friday, May 06, 2005

BC-STV better than your average STD.

The following is a re-posting of a message I left on a BC-STV discussion board. It covers most of my thoughts thus far.

New to the forum, and relatively new to the issue and debate...
I count myself as 'undecided' but leaning towards being a 'yes' vote.
I feel as though there are a lot of elements of the issue I still need answered for myself.
I am concerned by the huge numbers of people who know very little about it. I have been vaguely aware of the referendum for... I don't know how long - ages. But the specifics have not been well distributed - despite the CA report being delievered to every household. In the three days it has been since I took it upon myself to figure out what the details are I have also taken it upon myself to talk to as many of my friends and peers as I can to discuss the merits and problems with the proposed system.
I have yet to have a single person be able to talk about it straight up. Most have needed to be directed to information explaining the proposed system and in a few cases the response has been the equivalent of "There's a referendum?" At this point I am more concerned by the lack of awareness (let alone understanding) than I am by any declared weaknesses in the STV voting system.
So... on to other concerns...
Playing devil's advocate here.
All possible weaknesses aside, it seems to me that the detractors are regularly leaving out a significant piece of information that makes all forseeable and unforseeable consequences less dire.
If the referendum passes favourably then we are committing to three elections under the STV system. 12-16 years maximum, depending on how you count it. By which time, the advantages and disadvantages of STV politics will have been given a good opportunity to show themselves in practice. Yes, there are several examples of how the system works in other democracies. It is fair to assume that the results will be similar. But similar is not the same. We will really only know exactly how the system works for British Columbia by putting it to the test. Having said that, I must admit that I would like to be reasonably assured that we're onto an idea that has SOME merit.
Now, am I misunderstanding circumstances?
If STV is a dismal failure, are we really stuck with it? The way I read the circumstances, we are at the very least going to have an opportunity to ammend the system.
The report by the CA paints STV as such a positive point of change that it comes across as a no-brainer... which ought to be a red-flag for any cynic.
Certainly my inital response was that it sounded too good to be true - I figured that Senator Palpatine had to be waiting somewhere in the wings.
I can't deny that the report's various broad claims such as that it will improve local accountability and deter partisan obediance are specious, but so far I have yet to find an argument against it that amounts to more than an equally specious 'Oh no it won't!'
The system is rather confusing on the surface. The complexity of the formulae is rather exaggerated. There is no way that the public as a whole is going to wrap their heads around the mechanics of it until it is in use. That is unfortunate, but I doubt that a system could be proposed which wouldn't ultimately suffer the same problem. This has more to do with the intellectual laziness of humanity as a greater whole than the 'X times Y plus ones' of it. Hate it all you like, it's a problem that will only be avoided by sticking with the current system, or by adopting an even more basic solution, both of which have myriad problems of their own.
Another major argument against STV that I'm having trouble buying is that it fails to provide effective proportional representation. Actually, let me rephrase that. I believe I see exactly how it can fail to provide effective proportional representation, but I look at the representation currently in the Legislature and have to wonder how staying with the FPTP system does a better job? The claims in the report that show the Marijuana Party managing to procure a seat are dubious - particularly considering that the sampling votes that it was based upon (the last election) didn't include second voting preferences, let alone third and further. But it seems to me that a greater balance between the established parties would be all but inevitable, and while that may not be the ultimately desired outcome, it is better that what is in place.
I could give creedence to the argument that STV should be voted down because passing it would give value to the process of the CA and simply encourage further usage of it as a political process and further wasting tax-payer's money. But I don't hear anyone making that claim.
I still feel unconvinced in either direction, but if I were voting tomorrow, I would be voting 'yes' as it seems to me that while the proposed system does leave something to be desired, staying put is likely to solve less. We can not make improvements if we don't make changes, and we will NEVER make a change that solves all the problems at once, our best bet is to make an educated guess and take a leap of faith, see how it sizes up, and make further tweaks from there. I currently believe that the educated guess that has been tabled is relatively sound, but I'm feeling tentative. David Schreck's claim that if we're feeling uncertain we should vote 'no' falls apart for me in the face of the term for review after three elections.
Am I missing something? Please, I'd rather feel confident in my choice and the in the arguments I will be making in the next ten days with my friends and peers.

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