FPTP – Our Political Soap Box Derby

1948 Soap box derby – Wikipedia

I have been reading up on a voting process called Local PR, one of the stakeholder submissions to BC’s electoral referendum process.

As a proponent of electoral reform, I have to confess it’s not easy to understand how the counting works under this model, and further, that I’m not sure how it works in any of the other models that have been considered since B.C. first started looking into PR in 2005.

But this time round, I am determined to work through the math, so I read the written Local PR submission. Result: It hasn’t been easy, but with due-diligence and a smidgen of determination, you can understand these systems, and even appreciate the elegance they would bring, when it comes to nuanced, fair representation in the B.C. Legislature.

I can feel the hair on PR opponents’ necks rising. “How many people are going to slog through the technical details of a complex voting system to gain an understanding of how their votes count?” they demand – which is another way of saying, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

A couple of things in response. One, voting simplistically isn’t the way to go in a world where democracies are confronted with complex issues – there are many of us voters out here, who want more flexible options when it comes to casting our ballots. Two, as citizens, if we want to understand the implications of any electoral system, we must take resonsibility, and study it thoroughly – and there’s nothing simple about the adverse implications of First Past The Post.

The argument used by those opposed to PR (and it’s used in the most perjorative sense of the word by some political hardheads) is that people will not understand or trust a voting system that has a more complex front end in the voters booth than FPTP. We have to stay locked in an electoral stone age because voter confidence, and perhaps even fair elections, won’t be possible under any less thuggish system. That, and the old saw about hung parliaments, as if government can’t keep functoning day-to-day while the vital process of determining who’s going to negotiate and implement change and leadership is worked out.

All this despite the fact that most progressive democracies in the 21st Century use some form of proportional representation to elect their governments. Are B.C. and Canadian voters not up to the mark; are we somehow less sophisticated or intelligent that voters elsewhere in the world?

By that reasoning, shouldn’t we all have our drivers’ licences revoked? After all, how can anyone get into the family car and drive to work, or shopping, or to drop the kids off at school with any degree of confidence, when they don’t really understand how the machine that’s getting them there functions? The modern automobile is a sophisticated piece of engineering most drivers know nothing more about than how to turn the key in the ignition and put into gear. Yet we drive them every day to destinations we could never get to any other way.

If complexity was the issue, electoral luddites should all be driving machines that are simple to operate and easily understood at a glance, like soap box cars.

Here’s the thing, though: Sure, soap box cars are simple and easy to figure out; they provide predictable and manipulable results; but they can only race in the direction gravity works, that is, downhill to the bottom. If we want to go uphill, and create a democracy best able to make nuanced, fair decisions, we need something with an engine in it, something that can take us as a real majority through eras of complex political change.

The engine should be popular will, and that can only be determined by a fair electoral system.