How to increase voter turnout

0
53

Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

Canadians are expecting a federal election this fall; within the past two years, several provinces have had elections and there have been a couple of federal by-elections. What all of these elections have in common is that they were based on the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. A number of the provincial elections included a ballot asking the electorate if some kind of proportional representation would be preferred. In all cases, maintaining the status quo was the most commonly selected option despite the fact that many voters recognize the problem of fair representation with the FPTP method.
The problem arises from the simple fact that, for most elected offices, there are more than two candidates: often four or more. The result is that the “winner” is then the preferred candidate of less than 50% of the voters, or stated differently, more than 50% of the electorate voted against the selected candidate. This creates some difficulty when the elected representative claims to speak on behalf of all constituents in a system where that member is also expected to maintain party loyalty on major issues. 
Solving this problem is further complicated by Arrow’s impossibility theorem proven by American economist Kenneth Arrow that states there is no preferential voting method that fairly decides the result of an election involving three or more candidates while satisfying criteria basic to a democratic process.
While there may be no totally-fair voting system, some methods are better than others at providing results that give a fairer representation than FPTP. More than 80 modern democracies have some form of proportional representation. The three most common methods for determining proportional representation are: party list (PR), single transferable vote (STV) and mixed member proportional representation (MMP). Countries that have some form of proportional system have higher voter turnouts.
But there is further benefit to a proportional system; they often result in coalition governments. This means that parties that want to be part of a meaningful government as ruling coalition or significant opposition must concentrate on
policy development and avoid trading cheap partisan shots at other parties with which they may have to cooperate.
In the last federal election, the Liberal government made a commitment that future
elections would be held under some form of proportional representation. Obviously, this hasn’t happened. Shouldn’t fair representation be a significant issue for the next federal election? Or is Canada to face the situation where more
than 50% of eligible voters do not cast a ballot?