To read the graph:
In BC in 2017 there were 4.6 million people in the province. 3.2 million, or 70%, of them were eligible to vote. Of that 70%, only actually 60% voted. Of that 60%, the winner got 57% of the votes. So 57% of 60% of 70% means that only 24% of the people of the province voted for the winners in the election.
This is a pre-emptive strike on a topic that will become important in British Columbia in 2018. The NDP/Green alliance has promised to review our election system, to see if there is a will in the voting populace to try a more representational form of democracy.
The unmistakable fact shown in the above chart is that what we call “democracy” is a shadow of true representational government. A large percentage of the population of North America is governed by the will of 18% of its people, and that’s assuming that the leaders are listening to those who elected them. The only thing that keeps it from being a dictatorship is that every once in a while a different 18% gets to rule. Which makes our form of government a serial autocracy at best.
And Canada can’t make fun of the US, because the Canadian federal parliament is run by the Liberals who, with the support of 18% of the population, can make just about any law they want, with far less checks and balances than in our neighbours to the south. And we disdain Athenian democracy of 2500 years ago, where only landowning adult males could vote. How far we have not come. Less than a fifth of the people in this country make the laws that 100% of us have to follow.
And British Columbia only looks good because I combined the 40% of the NDP with the 17% of the Greens who support them. If you only count the NDP numbers, we have a government with a dismal 16.8% support.
The question is, which of these dismal statistics can be changed, and how?
- Number of Voters
I have no idea how to change the number of voters. It can’t be motivation. The National Voter Registry in Canada is a database created from various sources such as the census and the income tax department. About 92% of the eligible voters are on it automatically, without taking any action on their own behalf. Basically, anyone who is eligible to vote can vote, without a bunch of bureaucratic hoo-ha getting in the way.
As far as adding other categories, I don’t hear anyone touting the advantages of allowing children, temporary residents, or recent immigrants to vote. All of these groups will have the opportunity to spend their time, pay their dues, and prove themselves worthy of the honour at a later date.
The data on the graph above is inconclusive because of different definitions in different countries. US estimates 75% of its people are eligible to vote, but as many as 50 million of those are not registered. If that were true, their percentage of voters is only 62% and their ruling class drops to 13%. (And since their present President doesn’t listen to anyone…you figure it out.)
So let’s assume that 70% of Canadians are eligible to vote, and that’s a given.
- Voter Turnout
The voter turnout is another matter. People come out and vote for two reasons. First, there is an issue important to them in the election. Second – and this is the key one – they think their vote will count. And the overall factor that makes a difference is knowledge; voters who know enough about the election process and are aware of the issues in any given election are more likely to vote.
We might ask ourselves what was going on from 1958 to 1972 when voter turnout in Canadian federal elections was at a steady 76-79% level. Note that, following a Conservative win with a majority higher than any in recent history, four of the next five governments were minorities.
This leads to interesting speculation. Perhaps a series of minority governments shows that the voter percentages are well balanced. Thus only a few votes swing every election. Thus there is a voter perception that every vote counts. It is also worth noting that minority governments don’t last. So there are elections more often, leading to a better informed voting public, and more news coverage of politics and political platforms.
This would indicate that no matter what the form our new election methods take, the motivation should be to educate voters and to create a feeling in the voting population that their vote counts. At the moment, educating voters about our system (as in reading the graph above) only serves to teach people that their vote doesn’t count, which is rather counterproductive.
- Winner Take All
The final kick to democracy’s head is the number of votes that constitute a “win.” Our present “winner take all” system means that only one party gets into power, no matter how many votes they have, as long as someone else can’t muster more support. With a multi-party system, this almost guarantees a minority of the popular vote can run the country.
This creates a lot of voters in any election who know darned well that their vote means basically nothing, because another party has, for whatever reason, sewn up their riding. People who don’t feel useful don’t care, so they don’t listen to the speeches, so they are even less likely to vote, a declining spiral that we have seen in Canada in the last twenty years.
Any method that can be found that spreads the effect of each voter’s vote over a larger area does two things. First, it means more people’s votes count, which means our democracy represents more of our population. Second, it means people have the perception that their votes count. So they listen to the speeches and the media coverage. So they know more about the election. So they are more likely to vote.
Which would be good for everyone except the ruling elite who depend on the inequities of the present situation to maintain their power. This makes electoral reform problematic, because the rulers in power (Trudeau’s Liberals, for example) don’t really want to enact a reform that undermines their power.
In BC we have a party (the Greens) that are broadly underrepresented, so they will gain a great deal in a more representational climate. Their allies, the NDP, get into power very rarely under the old system. Since the Greens don’t get along with the provincial Liberals, the NDP stand a very good chance of being the more powerful partner in a coalition government, which is much more likely under a more representational system.
A whole lot of power once in a while, or less power most of the time? That’s their choice.
It’s up to the voters to learn about the new systems that are being proposed, and to realize that any one of these systems will give the individual voter more power than the old system.
So when the ballot comes out, MAIL IT BACK IN. If you don’t exercise your franchise, it gets flabby.