Posted by Drew Spencer Penrose on August 29, 2016
Last week, FairVote joined scholars like Arend Lijphart - himself a member of FairVote’s Ranked Choice Voting Advisory Committee - in submitting a brief to the Canadian Special Committee on Electoral Reform to help guide their decision making as to how Canada’s elections should be reformed.
Like the United States, Canada elects its national legislature exclusively from single-winner districts, elected by plurality vote. It does not use a proportional system. Also like the United States, this causes problems.
Under single-winner plurality, a political party’s nominees can win a majority of seats in the national legislature with far less than a majority of the votes. In the United States, for example, we have seen how distorted results can be between the two major parties. In 2012, Democratic candidates won more votes in House races, yet Republicans won a majority of the seats. This year, it could be worse: Our analysis suggests that Republicans would keep the House with as little as 45% two-party support, while a recent analysis from Alan Abramowitz suggests Republicans could keep the House with even less.
In Canada, the outcomes can be even more chaotic, because they have more than two major parties. After the 2015 election, the Liberal Party won a majority of seats with only about 39% of the national vote. In the prior election, in 2011, the Conservative Party had won a majority of seats, also with about 40% of the vote. Both elections saw many candidates win their seats with less than a majority in multi-candidate races. Both elections had overall results out of step with the national vote totals.
Fortunately, prior to the 2015 election, the Liberal Party made a promise to end the use of single-winner plurality in Canadian parliamentary elections should they win a majority. After winning their majority, they followed through by assembling the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. The Committee is considering reforms like ranked choice voting and forms of proportional representation. Now that committee seeks input from members of the public.
FairVote’s brief highlights key research on the use of ranked choice voting in the United States, demonstrating that it helps make campaigns more civil, that it improves representation of women and people of color, and that voters use it well and support it. We also included materials promoting the use of multi-winner ranked choice voting as a proportional option, like our recently published law review article. These features of ranked choice voting could help resolve many of Canada’s electoral problems.
Arend Lijphart’s testimony summarizes the reasons that political scientists like himself believe forms of proportional representation serve countries better than single-winner plurality elections. As he puts it, “the empirical evidence is now overwhelmingly strong in support of this conclusion.” He recommends that Canada adopt a proportional method, and that it look to other English-speaking PR countries for models, including countries like Ireland, Malta, and Australia that use ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts.