Did you know that Vancouver has attempted to change its electoral system five times since 1973? And not once has the system actually changed.
Depending on your temperament, you might think that the matter should be settled by now or that Vancouver is plagued by a persistently bad electoral system that continues to mobilize new critics. At FairVote Canada – Vancouver, we are of the latter temperament and think that the electoral system is just as bad as it was in 1973. Furthermore, in the past 41 years, the only proposed change was to move from at-large voting to a ward system, failed attempts perhaps because voters realized that even a ward system would perpetuate unfair elections.
Vancouver currently runs elections using a plurality at large system, where candidates run to represent citizens from the entire city of Vancouver. Past proposals for reform advocated for the use of wards, where candidates would run to represent the citizens of a particular district within the city, similar to the riding system used in Canada’s federal and provincial elections.
Unfortunately, this system just brings with it all the problems of the first past the post system that are visible at the federal and provincial level. The fundamental problem with any first past the post voting system is the high number of wasted votes, ie, any votes cast for the losing candidates. This winner-take-all electoral process applies to the current system and would also apply to a ward system.
Examples of this can be seen in the 2011 election for Vancouver City Council. Vision Vancouver received 34% of all votes but won 70% of the available seats. In other words, they received almost twice as much as common sense would suggest they deserve. A ward system would unlikely solve this problem.
On the other hand, proportional voting systems are designed to reduce wasted votes. By increasing the number of voters who are represented on the council, we would have a council that is more representative of the community. That alone would lead to more democratic governance.
Switching from at-large voting to wards would just be switching from one bad system to another bad system. If we’re going to change the electoral system, let’s pick one that is more democratic.
Image ©Vancouver City Archives