The Single Transferable Vote — Questions & Answers

Produced by KNOW STV

The following are factual Questions and Answers about STV that should be considered by all voters before they decide how to vote on May 17, 2005.

  • What is the Single-Transferable Vote (STV) proposed by the Citizens Assembly as BC’s new electoral system?

  • The Single-Transferable Vote (STV) is an alternative to the First Past The Post electoral system currently in use in Canada and every province, as well as in the United Kingdom and United States. It is also sometimes called the Single Member Plurality system.

    First Past The Post is used by the most people — about 45% — in the world living in democracies, in about 67 countries.

    STV is used in just two countries nationally: Ireland and Malta, representing about one 10th of 1% of the world population. It is also used in the jurisdictions of Northern Ireland, as well as the Australian senate and in some Australian states, such as Tasmania.

    Other countries use a variety of electoral systems, with List Proportional Representation and the Two Round System being the next most popular after First Past The Post.

  • How does the Single-Transferable Vote (STV) differ from our current electoral system?

  • Under STV in BC, there would be fewer but much larger constituencies in which voters elect their Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) to represent their interests.

    BC currently has 79 different constituencies but under STV there could be as few as18 constituencies or less. Each larger constituency would have from two or three members in rural areas to as many as seven MLAs in larger urban areas.

    Voters would rank all candidates in that larger constituency by their personal preference, with a 1 being their first choice, 2 their second and so on. Voters can rank every candidate in their constituency if they want to.

    A mathematical formula called the Droop Quota is used to determine the percentage of support a particular candidate needs. This quota will be different depending on the number of seats in your constituency. The quota is the number of valid votes cast divided by the number of seats plus one, plus one vote.

    The method of transferring ranked preferences is called the "Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method" (see Citizens Assembly Technical Report for details).

    In a constituency of 100,000 voters electing three members the number of votes needed to win is 25,001: that is 100,000 divided by 4 (3 + 1) + 1 vote.

    When counting the vote, all number 1 preferences are counted first. Once a candidate has received enough votes to win, the number 2 preference choices of those voters are counted and so on until all candidates are elected in the constituency. Click here for an explanation of STV vote counting.

  • What constituency will I be in under STV, what are the geographical boundaries and how many members will represent the constituency?

  • None of those questions can be answered until after the referendum on May 17, 2005. If BC voters vote yes to STV, the Electoral Boundaries Commission — an independent commission established by the government, will draw up new constituency boundaries and determine the size of each constituency.

    But you can click here to see how BC’s constituencies might look under STV, in a map prepared by the pro-STV group Fair Voting BC.

    You can also look at the Citizens Assembly Technical Report, which discusses these and other issues.

  • So how does our current First Past the Post electoral system work by comparison?

  • Under First Past the Post, each voter chooses one candidate to represent their constituency and the candidate who wins more votes than any other is elected.

    Each FPTP constituency has one MLA who is personally accountable to those voters and the constituencies are much smaller both geographically and in terms of the number of voters in each one.

  • Isn’t STV a lot more complicated than FPTP?

  • Yes. One of FPTP’s biggest advantages is the simplicity and ease of understanding it brings to all voters. In recent New Zealand local elections using STV for the first time 11% of all votes were disqualified, more than 14 times the number rejected in the previous election.

    Voters may also be faced with a very large ballot and dozens of candidates in larger ridings, making it hard to rank the candidates knowledgeably. Click here to see a sample STV ballot.

    Link to sample ballot — LINK TO COME

    Voters will also be confused by a mathematical quota called the Weighted Inclusive Gregory System which determines how and where exactly their vote will be “transferred” to, by having to rank a large number of candidates in each constituency and by the need to trust computers to get the results right.

  • Are there any other options other than keeping FPTP or voting for STV? Can we adopt other electoral systems?

  • The only choice on the referendum question is to either keep our current FPTP system or to adopt an STV electoral system. Considering other systems after the referendum will be up to voters and the government they elect.

  • Will STV increase or reduce local representation and accountability?

  • There will be less local representation and accountability because STV will mean much larger constituencies and MLAs will be representing far more people over a wider geographic area.

    Under First Past The Post, smaller constituencies with only one MLA mean that elected representative must be available and accountable to the constituency, not just the part of it with more voters.

    In large rural constituencies that contain a major town, it’s possible that all MLAs elected will come from that town because that’s where the most voters are, reducing accountability for other parts of the constituency.

    In city constituencies like Vancouver, the majority of MLAs may come from one part of the city. In Vancouver municipal elections the west side of the city has elected the vast majority of city councilors because west side residents vote in higher numbers than east side residents.

  • STV supporters say local representation is very good in Ireland under STV. What’s the difference with BC?

  • BC and Ireland are quite different geographically, with BC many times larger. However Ireland’s population is very close to BC’s 4 million people and they have 166 representatives in their parliament, called the Dail, while in BC we have just 79 MLAs in the B.C. Legislature.

    That means tiny Ireland has double the number of elected representatives as huge BC for roughly the same number of people.

    Inevitably with huge ridings and few MLAs parts of BC would likely lose local representation. In some areas it is possible that no local candidate would be elected as an MLA, removing local representation completely.

  • Does STV give proportional results? That is, if a party gets 10% of the popular vote in B.C. would it win 10% of the seats?

  • No. STV supporters say it is more proportional than FPTP but there is no guarantee that seats won will correspond with popular vote. Proportional representation electoral systems such as List PR are designed to ensure such proportionality, not STV.

    If a party got 10% of the vote under STV it would be unlikely to win a seat in any constituency in BC. Look again at the example of a constituency of 100,000 voters electing three members: the number of votes needed to win is 25,001, which means that a party would need at least 25% support to win one seat of the three.

  • Are MLAs elected with equal levels of support under STV?

  • No. Proponents say because STV it is more proportional "overall" if is a fairer system. But a candidate in a two-member riding in northern BC can get elected with 33% public support while a Vancouver or other large urban centre candidate can get elected with just 13% of the votes cast.

    This means some MLAs have had to win far more support than others to be elected to the BC Legislature.

  • Does STV allow independent candidates to win seats?

  • Not necessarily. Malta has used STV since 1921 but since 1950 not a single independent candidate has been elected. Any candidate requires significant funding to win election and with STV the constituencies will be much bigger, forcing candidates to raise even more money. In a seven-member constituency as proposed for Vancouver, major parties will likely spend $1 million or more in that constituency campaign alone — an amount no independent candidate could possibly raise.

  • Would smaller third parties be elected under an STV system?

  • Not necessarily. In Malta, which has had STV since 1921, there are only two parties with elected officials. In recent elections the largest third party has won less than 2% of the vote and no seats. In Ireland small parties have won seats but so have smaller parties in BC under First Past The Post, as recently as in 1996.

  • Are women elected in larger numbers under STV?

  • No. In Malta women make up just 9.2% of the country’s legislators, with only 6 women elected out of 65 representatives. In Ireland just 13.3% of elected officials are women.

    By comparison, in British Columbia under our First Past The Post system, women make up 22.8% of our MLAs, 18 out of 79. While it isn’t representative of our society, it is significantly better than under either STV system.

    And in Canada women represent 21.1% of all elected Members of Parliament, with 65 women out of 308 seats.

  • Does STV mean an end to so-called “wasted votes”?

  • If no vote were to be “wasted” that would mean every voter’s candidate of choice would have to win election — it’s not possible or sensible. Elections are to select which candidate in each constituency has the most support and then which parties across the province have enough support from elected members to form a government.

    STV supporters say that by ranking your choice of candidates, the odds are one of your choices will win a seat. But that’s a little like saying if you bet on every horse in a horserace, one of your picks will be a winner.

    And because of the complicated transfer system, you will never know were your vote actually went in electing the MLAs for your constituency.

    Under First Past The Post, your vote goes to one candidate and is counted clearly. Regardless of your choice, that’s not a wasted vote.

  • If an STV electoral system is approved, will that mean an end to majority governments?

  • Maybe. In Malta, where STV has been in effect since 1921, there is almost always a majority government formed by one of their two major parties. And our current electoral system does not guarantee majority governments — look at the federal minority government situation in Parliament today.

  • Would STV put an end to backroom deals and politics?

  • No. It is a mistake to think an electoral system will change the nature of politics and politicians. Under STV, if no party has a majority there will have to be deals to form a minority government supported by several parties.

    What STV does mean is that potentially a party with just a few MLAs who may represent a very minority view will have the balance of power and can dictate policies in the backroom to the other parties who want to form a government.

    And under STV there will be deals around nominating candidates in the multi-member constituencies that STV requires.

  • Doesn’t an STV system mean political parties have less influence over candidates and that candidates can be more responsive to voters?

  • No. Individual candidates will still require the same level of significant election campaign financing they need today to get elected, meaning they will still need political party support.

  • What would happen to nominating meetings under an STV system?

  • Because STV combines the smaller single member constituencies of our current system into large multi-member constituencies, the likelihood is that special interest groups would dominate the nomination process of political parties even more than today.

    For example, if 7 candidates from each party are to be nominated in a large Vancouver riding, whoever signs up the most party members for their own personal campaign will also be able to pick the party’s other 6 candidates, because they will have the most votes at the meeting.

  • What are the referendum requirements for STV to pass?

  • To adopt an STV electoral system requires 60% of all valid votes in the May 17, 2005 election to vote in favour, plus the referendum requires that 60% of all 79 constituencies in BC to vote in favour of STV by a simple majority.

    That is, overall 60% of all BC voters must vote yes to STV and voters in at least 48 of BC’s 79 constituencies must vote in favour of STV by 50% plus 1 vote.

  • What happens if the STV referendum fails? Will that mean an end to any electoral system change?

  • Not necessarily. It is up to the new government to decide what to do if STV is rejected by the voters. Both the NDP and the Green Party have positions in favour of some form of proportional representation.

  • Does KNOW STV oppose any electoral change?

  • No. Electoral change is always an important part of democracy. KNOW STV is simply very concerned with the STV proposal.

  • What is the short version of what’s wrong with STV? Why should I vote no?

  • STV is complicated, confusing, prone to errors and delay, it reduces local accountability, increases the size of ridings, allows MLAs to avoid direct accountability for their decisions, increases party control and allows special interests to dominate party nominations.

It also hasn’t been proven to do many of the things its proponents claim — like increase the ability of third parties and independents to get elected, and it is not truly proportional in guaranteeing that each party will get the number of seats in the Legislature equivalent to the percentage of votes they received.