Argument: First-past-the-post voting disenfranchises minority parties


Andrew Coyne. “The Case Against First Past the Post.” BC-STV. September 26, 2007: “False majorities are but one of the distortions to which the present system gives rise. It is not unknown in this country for one party to take all or nearly all of the seats in the house, with 60% or less of the popular vote — as happened in B.C. in 2001, and New Brunswick in 1987. The 40% of the public or more who voted for other parties, with other philosophies, were effectively disenfranchised: entitled to vote, but not to representation, which alone gives votes meaning.

Small, startup parties, like the Greens, know what it’s like to be shut out. In the last federal election, the Greens obtained more than 660,000 votes, nearly 5% of the popular vote — yet they got zero seats. Nor is that injustice restricted to the smaller parties. The 27% of Albertans who voted Liberal or NDP in 2006, but got no seats; the 38% of Ontarians who voted Conservative or Alliance in 2004, but got two seats; the majorities of Quebecers who voted for federalist parties in every election since 1993, only to see the Bloc Quebecois take a majority of the seats — how much different would our history have been had our electoral system not presented, time and time again, such a false picture of the country?

These anomalies and distortions are reflections of what goes on at the riding level: The winner is not the candidate who receives a majority of the votes cast, but simply the one who comes in first place. With four candidates, it can be done with as little as 25% plus one of the vote. The other 75% of the voters are rewarded for doing their civic duty with … bupkus. All in all, between one-half and two-thirds of all the votes cast in a given election are, in this sense, wasted.

The practice of giving representation only to the winning party is what biases the system against smaller parties, or against larger parties that are in a minority in a given region: a party’s success depends not on now many votes it has overall, but how well it can bunch them geographically. Hence the Conservatives, in 1993, won 16% of the vote nationwide, and were rewarded with two seats, while the Reform party, with 18.7% of the vote, won 52 — two seats fewer than the Bloc was able to win, with just 13.5% of the vote.”