For the second time, we in BC are being asked to vote for a fundamentally flawed change to the way we elect members to the provincial legislature.
I went to the BC-STV website to "get the facts" so I could prepare a typical computer-geek detailed rebuttal to the single transferable vote system. I got that, but I also realized something more important: They're completely ignoring the social dynamics of what makes our current voting system, or any voting system, bad or good.
Before I go further, I should mention that I think the first past the post system of electing a single member for a geographic region based on who gets the most votes really sucks in many ways. However, I was able to describe it in a single sentence, and anyone can understand it.
More importantly, it's easy to implement a very transparent system to count the votes and ensure that the correct result is recorded. Immediately after the polls close in a Canadian provincial or federal election, a group of people representing different political views sit down together to look at and count every vote. Without widespread, serious physical intimidation, there's no way the votes will be recorded wrong in a significant way. The confidence we have in our voting system is like air, it's so all pervasive that we take it for granted, until we lose it and suffocate.
The BC-STV website doesn't even explain how the votes would be counted, or in fact what the exact rules for counting the votes are. They talk about "change back from your loonie" and "spending your vote", but they can't (or are afraid to) articulate how the counting would actually happen. That's not transparent.
In order to maintain transparency, the STV system would have to publish every single ballot (anonymously, of course) so that others could verify the election outcome. There's no other way to ensure transparency. Transparency is about people's perceptions. It doesn't really matter whether someone tries to steal the election somehow, it matters whether people think someone could steal the election somehow.
There are simpler systems that maintain transparency: straight proportional representation where you vote for a party and they get a percentage of the seats, or mixed, where your vote counts once for your electoral district and once for a proportional representation. All systems have advantages and disadvantages, but at least these approaches maintain the transparency of voting.
As someone who's voted all my life for parties that get fewer seats than their popular vote said they should get, I want a different voting system. But as someone who's seen in other countries how hard it is to build a society that can settle differences through voting rather than violence, I know that faith in the voting system is extremely important. And that faith will only come through transparency.
What's sorely missing from the debate here is a discussion of the social dynamics that distort any voting system. Big money advertising, toeing the line on internal party politics, attack ads, lying during campaigns, lobbyists, powerful special interest groups (for example, white males) and others, are issues that need to be looked at in this context.