Saturday, May 29, 2010

Your vote doesn't matter, but it could.

There's been a lot of ink spilled about how to engage voters in Alberta. The 2008 election had the second lowest voter turnout in Alberta history with about six out of ten eligible voters not bothering to show up.

Australia solved the problem by fining people who don't vote. The Alberta Liberals recently proposed a $50 tax credit for people who vote. Neither of these really solve the fundamental problem here.

The problem is that your vote doesn't matter. In the first past the post system, the chance that your vote will decide even one seat in the election is vanishingly small.

It's the voter's dilemma. If you like the majority party, you already know you're going to win, so there's no reason to go vote. If you back an underdog, there's no way to win, which makes your vote a protest vote, but unlikely to actually change the outcome.

Moreover, if the winning party can win 87% of the seats on 53% of the popular vote (or about 21% of eligible voters), that leaves fully a third of the population underrepresented. This leads to a Legislature that doesn't reflect the broader will of the people.

You can blame people for not voting, most people do, but that's shortsighted. From an economic perspective voting is a waste of time in this system, because as we've noticed, individual votes don't actually matter.

Want to fix it? Make the votes matter.

The solutions are more complicated, but some flavour of proportional representation, single transferrable vote, or a hybrid system would bring the provincial numbers in line with the popular vote.

Bringing the provincial legislature in line with the popular vote would more accurately reflect the will of the people, and determining the will of the people is what elections are all about.

When the votes matter, people will return to the polls. Not before.

Electoral reform is tough here because no matter who the party in power is, they got there thanks to the first past the post system, which skews things towards the winner. The party in power would inevitably lose seats with this sort of change, which makes it a political non-starter.

It's unfortunate but politics often gets in the way of good government. They should really go together.

You might also like:

Let's Just Trick the Kids: A lesson in thinking for yourself.

How to fix Alberta Politics: It needs a reboot.

Actions speak louder than votes: Get involved. It matters.

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