Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fair Vote Canada gets US presidential election problems wrong

After the US election, Fair Vote Canada sent out an email blast that declared "The U.S. first-past-the-post system just elected the wrong winner".

Hillary Clinton got 47.7% of the vote.
Donald Trump got 47.5% of the vote.

Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency. 

Their misrepresentation of what happened in the US is important for deciding if they should be trusted to advise Canada.

How the Presidency is decided

While FPTP is used for other races in the election, it is the Electoral College that decides the US Presidency. Each US State is allocated a number of college votes that are not strictly based on the population of the state. Some states use a "winner take all" where they allocate all electoral college votes to one candidate, while a few allocate them proportionally.  The names that are on the ballot, ignoring write-ins which can't win, are names put forward by political parties. The names which are on the ballots in all states come from the two large political parties who in a bipartisan way run the elections (including televised debates).

The system used to determine the executive branch is not first past the post as most know it, but a system managed by political parties and determined by an electoral college.

Abolish the electoral college?

Fair Vote Canada appears to dislike a system where the person who won the popular vote isn't the person who won the election.  This means that they want to abolish the Electoral College, as a number of people have proposed over the years (and should continue to be pushed).

What would remain is a more common First Past the Post system.  It is odd to see this being the focus of what they thought was wrong,  suggesting Fair Vote Canada would prefer they used First Past the Post.

A proportional Presidency?

The Presidency is a single position, where that person (or realistically, that team) then appoints positions to be filled for the executive branch of government.  It is not the voting system which makes it "winner takes all", but the fact that there is only a single position available : there is only one thing to win.

In order to have a proportional system you need to have more seats with equivalent power to be filled.  Once you have grown the Presidency from a single position to enough seats to be proportional, you might as well have the existing congress (Senate, House, or both) take over the power of the executive branch.  They could select a subset of people to be the executive, much like how our parliamentary system allocates a subset of lower-house representatives to form cabinet.

While FVC weren't clear about what they meant, which I find to be typical in their mailings (more emotion than substance), Fair Vote Canada might be advocating for abolishing of the position of US President.

The real warning to take away from the US election

More influential this election than the electoral college was corruption within the political parties.  Back-room bureaucrats inside the DNC decided early in the primaries who their candidate would be and manipulated the process to ensure that their candidate won -- against the democratic wishes of the "Democrat" party membership.  The corruption was so bad that many Bernie Sanders supporters couldn't hold their nose and vote for the candidate the corrupt party nominated and either didn't vote or voted for "the other candidate".

The fact that Donald Trump won the nomination in a party where the establishment didn't want him to win suggests the RNC was less corrupt this election, but that is not a reason to be less concerned about corruption in political parties.

The fact that these two widely disliked candidates were what US citizens had to choose between, with the most credible candidates weeded out in the primaries within the political parties, is where the focus should be.

What the US presidential election should be is a warning to Canada about the corruption that can and does happen within political parties, and suggest that Canada reject any voting system which puts political parties on the ballot. While FVC is a big fan of Mixed Member Proportional which adds a vote for a party to the ballot, the US election demonstrates how such a system would be a harmful choice.

Appropriate US electoral modernization

While Canada badly needs electoral modernization, the US needs it even more. What they can do without is taking advise from one-trick ponies like Fair Vote Canada.  Fair Vote Canada is only willing to advocate for proportional representation even when it is an inappropriate option - like only having a hammer, and pretending that everything is a nail.

The top problems I see in the voting for the US executive branch are:
  • Political Parties
  • Money claimed to be "free speech"
  • Vote splitting
  • Electoral College
If I were to recommend a system it would be one which removes political parties and money from the election for the executive branch, abolishes the electoral college, and uses a system of runoff voting.

While instant runoff (ranked ballots, Alternate Vote) is cheaper as you only need to run one election, some countries use a two-round system, while votes for leaders of Canadian political parties tend to use exhaustive ballots (keep voting until someone wins majority).

This would mean more than 2 names on the ballot, and would likely favor candidates (teams) which are independent of the two largest political parties. These independent Presidents would likely work better across partisan political lines within Congress.

Fair Vote Canada dislikes Alternate Vote for reasons which don't hold up to scrutiny. Since they are more concerned about how political parties do in elections than making the voting system fair, they would oppose this obvious suggestion.

Since the US has a bicameral legislature with a Senate and House of Representatives they have an opportunity to explore appropriate voting systems for those two houses.  It might be that some form or party based ballot makes sense for one of those houses, but not both -- and clearly it is an entirely inappropriate suggestion for the Presidency.

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