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Proportional Representation

The Wikipedia dictionary states:Proportional Representation (PR) describes various multi-winner electoral systems which try to ensure that the proportional support gained by different groups is accurately reflected in the election result. Proportional representation is also used to describe this (intended) effect.

Proportional Representation

Proportional Representation

A study into PR is a look into confusion.  It tries to “level the playing field” by providing fair representation for fair elections.  But the truth is that it plays into the hands of political parties and can easily subvert democracy.

There are a number of methods for Proportional Representation including:

Closed Party List voting wherein you vote for a party rather than an individual.  For example, in Ontario, with its 106 ridings, a single ballot would be printed for all voters.  The ballot would list all candidates by party.  Independents would be listed as if they are a party.  What could be simpler?  Just check off a party and the bureaucrats at Elections Canada would assign the seats according to the percentage of the vote.  For example, if the Liberals got 25% of the vote they would get 25% or 26.5 seats.  If the Communists got 0.9% they would get 0.954 seats.  Because no one votes for a candidate, however, the MPs are selected by the party.

Open Party List voting would list all the candidates running for all the parties and independents in all the 106 ridings in Ontario.(The ballot would have to be 10-15 pages long.) You would select the lad or lady you prefer by checking their name – if you can find it.  The result would be determined according to a simple calculation of how many people voted for which candidate and to which party  the candidate is affiliated.  For example, if there are 1,000,000 votes cast and the Conservatives get 250,000 of the total votes they get 25% (26.5 of the total number of seats) but – unlike the Closed Party List, the candidates with the highest number of votes in the party list become the MPs, regardless of the number of votes they received personally.

Mixed Member Proportional Representation is a real simple one to understand. (This is the scheme that is most talked about as being used in New Zealand.) In this election you cast two votes.  In Ontario to cast a vote for your favorite local candidate and then you also cast a ballot for a party.  In this case Independents are not classified as a party.  Your MPS are selected as follows:

  • the person who garners the most votes (sound a bit like “first past the finish line” just like the system we want to eliminate?) on the first ballot in a riding gets a seat.
  • but because many of the seats in Ontario have been set aside for the winning parties in the second ballot, there will be a huge number of winners who could in fact be losers.

Single Transferable Vote is the final contender for democracy-at-work.  This system is being used in Australia where it is called the Hare-Clark system.  This system is apparently very democratic if you could only figure out how it works.  Under this system you vote for a series of candidates according to whom you like best.  It is a bit like those multiple choice rating questionnaires that ask you to rate the smell of sour milk according to the scale 1-10 (where 1 = I love it and 10 = It makes me gag.)  The guys who invented Hare-Clark are not around to explain it as the scheme was invented in 1856.  It was introduced in Tasmania in 1896 and was even updated in 1979 by inclusion of the Robson Rotation (I kid you not!)

Australia Hare Clark

Australia Hare Clark

I will not even attempt to explain this one.  Let me rather draw on the Government of Tasmania electoral web site at:

How do you cast a vote The ballot paper directs the voter to- place the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and so on as the case requires, beside the names of the candidates in the order of his/her preference. To be formal, a ballot paper must have at least the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 with no repetitions or omissions. How is a candidate elected?

A candidate is elected when his/her total number of votes equals or exceeds the quota.

What is the quota?

The quota is the lowest number of votes a candidate needs to be certain of election.

To calculate the quota, the number of formal votes is divided by one more than the number of candidates to be elected (rounded up to the next whole number). For the House of Assembly, which elects five members per electorate, the quota is one sixth or 16.7% of the formal votes.

If five candidates each receive a quota (just over one sixth of the formal vote) then less than one quota of the votes remain.

Representation in the Parliament

Under Hare-Clark, parties, groups and independents are elected to the House of Assembly in proportion to their support in the electorate. The composition of the House closely reflects the proportion of primary votes on a State-wide basis.


When a vacancy occurs a new member is elected by a recount process based on votes cast at the previous general election. Only unsuccessful candidates at the general election are eligible to contest the recount.

Only the ballot papers which were used to elect the vacating member are distributed in the recount. These votes are distributed to contesting candidates. The candidates receiving the least votes are excluded until a candidate receives a majority (50% + 1).

Need for parties to stand extra candidates

Parties and groups usually nominate more candidates than they expect to be elected, in order to provide a pool of candidates to contest any recount to fill a vacancy.

As a result, the voters are provided with a choice of candidates within each party, as well as a choice of candidates across parties, groups and independents.

Is Hare-Clark the same in Local Government elections?

There are two small differences. For Tasmanian Local Government elections, the number to be elected varies (depending on the election) and the initial transfer value is 100 votes rather than one vote.

Hare-Clark – a broad description of How votes are counted

The first step is to distribute all ballot papers to the candidates according to each ballot paper’s first preference. The quota is then calculated from the total formal vote.

If any candidate(s) receives more votes than the quota, he/she are declared elected, and the excess votes (surplus) are passed on to continuing candidates. Following the distribution of each surplus, any candidate(s) who has reached the quota is declared elected; and any resulting surplus again passed on.

Once all surplus votes have been distributed the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and all of their votes passed on to continuing candidates. Further candidates are excluded until another candidate reaches the quota.

The process of distributing surplus votes and excluding candidates continues until five candidates reach the quota. In some cases the final candidate(s) will be elected without reaching the quota as all other candidates have been either elected or excluded.

Do you always need a quota to get elected?

In House of Assembly elections, it is common that the last elected member in a division is elected without obtaining a quota. In some cases the last two elected members in a division are elected without each obtaining a quota.

During the distribution of preferences, some votes are “lost” from the count. A small number are lost due to rounding of fractional numbers. A more significant number of votes are “exhausted” toward the end of the count, as many ballot papers do not show a preference for any remaining candidate.

Where the contest for the last seat is close, it is common for the remaining two candidates to both have less than a quota. The candidate with the least votes is excluded, and the other candidate elected without reaching the quota. The more votes that are lost during the scrutiny, the more likely that not all elected members will obtain the quota.

A less common situation occurs where remaining three candidates are contesting the last two seats. In this case, the candidate with the least votes is excluded, and the other two candidates elected without either reaching the quota.

The Hare-Clark scrutiny (counting) process

To be elected, a candidate must obtain a quota of votes.

First Preferences (Count One)

The first step in the Hare-Clark scrutiny is to count the number of first preference (“1”) votes for each candidate. Ticks and crosses are invalid.

After all valid first preference votes are counted, the quota is calculated.

The quota is the lowest number of votes a candidate needs to be certain of election. Any candidate with votes equal to or greater than the quota will be elected. The quota is calculated by using the ‘Droop’ formula:

(Total Formal Vote (TFV)/Number to be elected+1)+1 = (TFV/6)+1 ~16/7% (ignore any remainder)

For House of Assembly elections, the quota is the minimum number of votes a candidate requires to guarantee he/she is one of the highest five candidates.

If a candidate has more first preference votes than the quota, he/she is declared elected, withdrawn from the scrutiny and his/her surplus votes are distributed to the continuing candidates (as count 2) according to the preferences indicated on each ballot paper.

Surplus = Vote Total – Quota

Count 2

Only the parcel of ballot papers received by the elected candidate at the last count (last parcel of ballot papers) are used to redistribute the surplus votes. Only in the case where a candidate is elected on first preferences, are all his/her ballot papers redistributed.

If more than one candidate has reached the quota with first preferences votes, these candidates are also declared elected after ‘count 1’ and withdrawn from the scrutiny before ‘count 2’ commences.

Transfer Values

Ballot papers and votes are different.

Ballot papers are the medium from which candidates receive votes. The original value of a ballot paper is 1 vote, however, this can change during a scrutiny.

To distribute surplus votes the last parcel of ballot papers must have a new (reduced) transfer value. This fractional transfer value is calculated as follows:

Transfer Value = Surplus votes/Number of ballot papers in the last parcel }truncate to four decimal place}

After each count, the total number of votes counted to each continuing candidate is recalculated. Any continuing candidate who has reached the quota is declared elected and does not continue in the scrutiny.

The next count

When more than one candidate is elected with a surplus, each surplus is redistributed in order of election as separate counts.

Once all surpluses have been distributed, the candidate with the fewest total votes is declared excluded, withdrawn from the scrutiny and all of his/her ballot papers are redistributed to continuing candidates.

Excluded candidates

The exclusion of a candidate can take many counts to complete.

When a candidate is excluded, ballot papers are redistributed in the order, and at the same transfer value, they were received by the excluded candidate. Each parcel of ballot papers is distributed as a new count.

After each count, each continuing candidate’s total number of votes is recalculated. Where a continuing candidate reaches the quota, he/she is declared elected and withdrawn from the scrutiny before the next count commences.

Once the exclusion is complete, distribute the surplus of any candidate(s) elected during the exclusion (in order of election). Otherwise exclude the continuing candidate with the fewest total number of votes.

When does a Hare-Clark scrutiny stop?

The process of distributing surplus votes from elected candidates and excluding the candidate with the fewest votes continues until all vacancies are filled.

In the case of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, the scrutiny stops as soon as five candidates are declared elected.

Multi Party Voting Comic

Multi Party Voting Comic

What is the bottom line here?

With all it’s blemishes “First Past the Post” works better in a true democracy than any or all of the Proportional Representation regimes.  At least in our current program you get a partial say in electing your MP.

Under the Closed Party List program you vote only for a party, except for an Independent (unless there is more than one independent running in which case the independents become a party).  The party then “assigns” you an MP.

Under the Open Party List you vote for a candidate but he or she may not be elected even if they have the highest number of vote because their party may have less overall votes in the Province.  In that case you end up with the second or third place loser for an MP.  A candidate who got 51% of the votes in the riding could be “democratically” deprived of his/her seat and replaced by some schmuck who got 10% support in the riding because his/her  party did not do well in the Province. (So much for the Liberals in Alberta and the Conservatives in Quebec.)

The Mixed Member Proportional Vote system, the New Zealand system, tossed around as nirvana in our 2004 election, is simple, unless you are in a riding wherein your MP is the one selected by the party based on the Proportional Vote and not on the local vote.  In the MMPR, you get more politicians making more money and some of them do not have a “real” constituency to represent.  Will elected MP want more money and bigger budgets than selected MPs?  You bet your ass they will.  There is a coalition coming together to educate electors on MMPR prior to the fall referendum in Ontario.

The Single Transferable Vote with the Robson Rotation sounds like it should have a version number like Windows or, at least, an Earned Run Average (ERA) ascribed to it.  You get it, don’t you?  It’s very simple.  The “(Total Formal Vote (TFV)/Number to be elected+1)+1 = (TFV/6)+1 ~16/7% (ignore any remainder)” where “Surplus = Vote Total – Quota” in Ballot one.  Then it’s anyone’s guess.

Luckily they give us a flow diagram:

Single Transferable Vote Diagram

Single Transferable Vote Diagram

To their credit, however, the Government in Tasmania does indicate that all you have to do is vote for a candidate and then the guys with the statistics and accounting degrees (the same one’s who can’t seem to get corporate earnings right the first time) take over – so not to worry!

In the end, one thing that all these schemes have in common (except potentially the Closed Party List) is that they discriminate against Independents.

One of the buzz terms in 2004 was “Democratic Deficit“.  Paul Martin was condemned for choosing some of the Liberal Candidates (while Jack Layton, I guess, democratically “recruited” Ed Broadbent and Monia Mazigh over other NDPers who wished to run in Ottawa Centre and Ottawa South).

Under the conditions of Proportional Representation, the geniuses of Canadian politics (including the NDP and the Conservatives) want us to move to a system wherein they can democratically selectwho represents you and me in parliament.

Doesn’t sound like democracy to me!

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Author of Mysteries of Canada

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