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What the election results might have been…

Three Ontario Votes educates voters on alternative systems

Photo by of a.drian on Flickr

In the Ontario election on Oct. 6, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals won far more seats than their foes. The Liberals got 53, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives landed 37, and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats took only 17.

But McGuinty only beat Hudak by a few percentage points, 38 to 35, and Horwath received only a sixth of the seats for her 23 per cent of the votes. The seat count didn’t come close to matching the popular vote.

Likewise in Manitoba on Oct. 4. Premier Greg Selinger’s NDP won double the number of seats as Hugh McFadyen’s PCs, (37 to 19), despite the fact that he only got about two per cent more votes.

With results like these, it’s no surprise that people are once again asking whether first-past-the-post (FPTP), where the winner takes all in each seat, is the best electoral system.

A group of political scientists anticipated this debate and created Three Ontario Votes. They asked 9,000 website visitorsto “vote three ways” before the Ontario election, to see if the results of their hypothetical elections would be different from the real thing. They were, in fact, different.

Participants voted three times: once as if they were voting in a traditional FPTP system, once in an Alternative Vote (AV) system and once as if their province had Proportional Representation (PR).

In an AV system, which is used in Australia, if a candidate gets 50 per cent or more of the vote, they win. If no one gets 50 per cent, then the weakest candidate is eliminated and the voters’ second choices (which they’ve already marked on their ballots) are taken into account. This happens until someone reaches 50 per cent. It allows voters to express their second choices.

In the PR system, used in the Netherlands, parties supply lists of potential representatives and citizens vote for the party they want, rather than individual MPs. The seats are divided up based on the popular vote. The makeup of parliament better reflects how the nation voted as a whole.

The results of the Three Ontario Votes experiment, reports CBC News, show how different results could be in Canada. Under AV, 12 per cent of voters ranked a different party as their top choice than when they voted using FPTP. Under PR, 18 per cent supported a different party than when they voted under FPTP. More people supported smaller parties in both alternative systems than the Liberals or PCs; perhaps they felt there was less chance that their votes would be wasted.

The researchers suggest that, based on the results, under the PR system the Liberals would still have won a minority government in Ontario, but it would have been much smaller at 37 seats. The PCs would have lost a few seats, the NDP would have gained a few, and that would have tied them for second place at 31 seats each. The never-elected Green Party would have won eight.

That’s a very different result indeed.

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