Simple MMP Compared to Single Transferable Vote

Single Transferable Vote is a system used in many countries, and produces a result which is believed to be a better representation of the wishes of the voters.  Here’s how it works:

  • The province is divided into regions. For STV to be effective, the regions have to be fairly large, consisting of at least 5 existing ridings. Larger numbers of ridings (members) produce more proportional results.
  • If we continue with the example of 5 ridings forming a region, then that region will elect 5 Members of Parliament. Parties will run up to 5 candidates in each region. (In some cases, parties are allowed to run more than the number of candidates).
  • Voters then vote for every candidate for all parties using a ranked ballot. I select “1” for the person I want to elect most, “2” for the next one, “3” for the next.
  • When the votes are counted, there is a mathematical threshold determined. Candidates with more votes than the threshold are deemed elected.
  • Any extra votes that a candidate has are distributed to the voter’s second choice (my Single Vote is being Transferred so that my number 1 choice gets just what they need to be elected, and the rest of my vote goes to my number 2 choice, etc.)
  • After that, if we have not elected all the members we need, then we take the person at the bottom of the list (who now has no chance of being elected), and we distribute their votes to their number 2 choices.
  • Then we check again to see if someone is over the threshold. If not, we drop off the next person on the bottom, and redistribute (transfer) their votes.
  • We keep doing this until we have selected out 5 MPs.

The strength of STV is that we are voting for people, rather than parties. So, if we like party X, but we don’t like Candidate Y, then you can leave that person out of your rankings and never transfer any of your vote to them.

There are a couple of weaknesses for STV as well. First, if my first choice is that candidate at the bottom of the list, then my vote is transferred to my second choice, or third or fourth, etc. Am I really getting what I want if my 15th selection is the one who becomes my MP?

The second challenge for STV is that it is difficult to understand the exact process. The counting process is too complex to be done manually, so it is necessary to use computer programs to implement the complex vote transfer processes. Most of these programs provide you with a detailed account of how votes were transferred from who to who at each step in the process, so it is possible to audit the count, and the information is available to anyone who wants to see what happened to their vote.

The third problem, as I see it, with STV is that the region sizes have to be very large to be effective.  I think that even 5 member ridings are too small, since it will only elect candidates who have over about 18% of combined support. There are many valid parties in Canada which receive less than this percentage of support, and these parties can be excluded by the STV process. The STV system can be gamed a bit for small parties by running fewer than 5 candidates, and then hoping that they get support from other party’s candidates who fall off the bottom, and keep them in the race.

I believe that Simple MMP is superior to STV for the following reasons:

  1. Every vote under Simple MMP counts in the both the local MP selection and in the provincial pool of votes used to select top-up MPs.  My first choice is represented at all times and is not transferred to anyone else, which often happens under STV
  2. The ability of STV to be proportional is limited by the size of the regions. It is not practical to ask voters to have a region which is the size of the province, which is the size needed to obtain maximum proportionality. Simple MMP provides this high level of proportionality.
  3. Simple MMP is very transparent and so it is easy to see where my vote made a difference.
  4. Under Simple MMP, I never have to settle for supporting my second, third or umpteenth choice.
  5. I believe that STV is simply too complicated to be widely accepted.