The Case for First Past The Post
Something that is going to become a big topic in a few years, whenever the LPC decides to act on their election promise,is to change the way our votes are counted. The current system of elections we have is known as the first past the post (FPTP). It’s a really easy system to understand. We have constituencies (also known as ridings) for a specific geographical area and the person that receives the most votes win.
When I was younger and in school, I took a lot of political science courses just because it interested me. I had the chance to learn about other electoral systems like the United States, Italy and Germany.
The main criticisms of FPTP is that people end up winning seats without getting a majority of votes in their riding. For example, some will complain that more ‘left of center’ votes were cast, yet the Conservative Party won. Another example is that voting for your preferred choice, if more fringe or small, is essentially throwing your vote away. These criticisms of FPTP are true and completely fair.
I’m going to argue for FPTP, but that’s not me saying it is perfect. There are deep flaws in every voting system that doesn’t necessarily provide the best results - especially when there are different views on what is expected to be the result of an election. There is one observation I have, and the drive to remove FPTP are from those that are losing elections and I don’t think that’s the best direction to approach it.
I have a few particular angles and views on this issue, so I’ll break that out for you.
Political outcomes are determined by culture, not the election system
This is my main issue with changing the election system is that it really doesn’t matter. The culture of people in society inevitably determine elections. Sure your person or your party may not be the one that gets in, but it’s the nature of politics. The parties and people that want to get elected must reflect the people of the riding. They must represent those views.
A false strawman is that political opponents are far off base. This alleged statement gives the impression of an injustice when there really isn’t. The Conservative Party of Canada may have very conservative or have libertarian leaning individuals, but it had to govern in the center. It may be a little center-right, but that’s the nature of politics. The Liberal Party of Canada may have some idealistic socialists, but it will govern from the center - even if it is a little center-left.
I’m of the view that if you want to change policies of parties, you need to change the views of society. If you want a more libertarian society, you’re going to need to change society and convince people of these ideas - and politicians will follow through. If you want a more socialist society, you’re going to need to change society and convince people of these ideas - and politicians will follow through.
The center is where society lives. When you convince society of socialist/libertarian ideas, than the center becomes that with parties that live on different sides of that center point.
FPTP is decisive, easy and creates governments that can act(stability)
You vote, and winner takes all. It’s easy to understand. The type of election outcomes are better governments that can act because we are most likely going to end up with a majority (at least most of the time). Countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have survived wars, internal conflict and transitions of government easily under the system of FPTP. Countries that don’t have it have happened to fall into chaos, become occupied and end up in deadlock.
Problems with Proportional Representation
Another popular voting system is proportional representation. This is a party based voting and the percentage of each party goes to Parliament. Many argue that this is a better representation of votes. The problem with this type of system is how a government can act. Italy has something similar to this idea. What does this produce? Minority governments that can’t act, much bickering and gridlocking, and elections in very short orders of time.
A purely proportional representation system eliminates the concept of independents and individuals from the system. It becomes parties and parties only. Maybe you like a party, but really have a problem with specific people in the party. Well, you don’t have a choice in that. As well, you have to consider that someone has to represent your local area. The Green Party should receive roughly 5% of all seats, but it mainly gets 5% in all ridings. So - some areas of the country will end up with a Green Party representative - even though 95% of the riding didn’t vote for them.
Pure proportional representation is easy to understand, but for the problems above it becomes complex. No one does pure proportional representation and make it complicated. Italy, for example, has 2 rounds of voting, party based proportional representation with a majority bonus and a 3% election threshold. Not so simple anymore. I’m not trying to pick on proportional representation (it is the most popular), but these points need to be thought out.
Proponents contend that you can vote for your most representative party of your views and in Parliament they’ll have to work together, blending views, moderating and that’s how they govern. I would argue this is what we have already in Canada and the United States, only that this process happens before the election. It’s more apparent in the United States where there are big elections within the two main parties, picking a leader and direction. A ton of interested people in the election vote in the party primaries to choose how the party will be.
I would argue that this is far more preferable to democracy because on election day I know what I’m getting. After election bargaining and compromises may result in something I don’t support. For example, let’s say I really believe in polices A, B and C, but I also hate with a passion policies D and E. How do two parties supporting these different ideas compromise? I may find a compromise of A, B and D as tolerable, but deplore a combination of B, C and E. If you’re curious what situation this could be, a simple example would be very liberal social programs and welfare combined with open borders - or something along those lines.
Another issue with proportional representation is the addition of extreme parties and extreme views. From Nazis to Marxists we end up with elected officials (and yes the Nazi and Marxist representative) has to represent some area of the country. In other systems the fringe would be kept off the map as insignificant.
Ranked Ballot Creates Less Diverse Ideas
Ranked ballot is an interesting one, but something that probably won’t be adopted because the complainers (remember the people that lose) will not win with it. The idea is that you don’t just vote for your ideal candidate, you rank it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you rank them all, but maybe top 3 or something along those lines.
If we look at a few different examples we can see how weak this system actually is. Take a typical conservative: they’d pick maybe a more fringe right wing party as first, Conservative party as second and Liberal party as third. A typical liberal: they’d pick liberal, and second maybe Conservative or NDP. A typical socialist: they’d pick NDP/fringe, NDP and Liberal.
And what we end up with is Liberal wins every time. I heard the argument that it would convince the Conservatives to be more like the Liberal Party. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But as you can see you just end up with a very generic party that is typical of most parties. It’s just another form of finding center, but instead of there being a center , one party (which may not be truly center) becomes center.
Whether that is good or bad, I’ll leave to you.
Run off Voting
This is a voting system where there are additional votes until a candidate gets 50%+1 votes. The idea is that they eliminate a low (or multiple) low candidate(s) and people vote again based on the choices. It’s a good system I think. It’s easy to understand and people will eventually get to the candidate everyone can agree on.
The problem with this type of system is that it’s expensive and really hard to do. It’s easier at a small event or something along that, but doing a national election like this would require a lot of time, money and we would lose a lot of voters based on the time constraints and complexity. Ranked ballot is a means to deal with the costs and time of run off voting.
I realize I haven’t addressed all the different electoral systems that I could possibly do. There are far too many and far too many options applied to each to address everything. FPTP is a good stable system that is easy to understand, easy to apply and creates strong stable governments. It’s not a perfect system, but neither are the others.
Each of the proposed other systems have flaws and I think I’ve demonstrated that they don’t necessarily correct issues of FPTP, but create new ones. The main premise seems to be whether we create stable governments or whether your vote enables the best outcome of your views. I think it’s a compromise between these two ideas. I want a government that can be stable and be productive, with a representation of the people that vote. I think FPTP provides that.
Either way you lean, you have to consider what you’re going to be told in this upcoming debate on electoral reform. You will be told all the negatives of FPTP and all the positives of a proponents desired electoral system. This is marketing. All systems have flaws and I think you’ll find, far more than FPTP. Whether we the people will get a choice on this matter remains to be seen, but if we do you should pick FPTP.