Friday, April 29, 2011

An Alternate Voting Proposal

One day, the internet will be seen as trustworthy enough that we'll be able to vote online, from the comfort of our houses. And then that might be the time to consider an alternative method of voting, one that I've carried in my mind for years. There are huge practicality issues, but I can't help liking it as a concept and wishing it were true. Start with the electoral system exactly the way we have it right now here in Canada: 300-some ridings, first past the post, Prime Minister the person who holds the confidence of a majority of MPs in Commons, etc. But eliminate the concept of an 'election day', and replace it with this: every adult citizen gets one vote, but keeps it 'parked' with a certain party - or rather with a certain local candidate. So if at some point in time I realise that I like the Liberals most, or like the local Liberal MP more than whoever I previously supported, I log on to the election website and transfer my vote from one person to the Liberal guy. Inasmuch as this isn't enough to change the 'winner' in my riding, it probably wouldn't affect anything. However, if over time enough voters in the same riding shifted their voting allegiance that the Liberal candidate surpassed the sitting MP (let's say he was NDP, just to make the hypothetical less predictable), then the sitting MP would stand down and be replaced by the Liberal. At a certain point, if this happens in enough ridings that it affects the overall confidence of Parliament (perhaps by having one party lose an overall majority), then the Prime Minister changes. Obviously there are certain kinks here - for example, for a riding to change hands, it must pass a point where the two parties are at approximately equal numbers. In this transition period, the person in the lead might vacillate back and forth. So we might insist that the contender maintain a lead over the incumbent for a month continuously before officially making the change. Similarly, seats might vacillate frequently enough that an evenly split house would find it difficult to maintain a consistent majority. To ensure the Prime Minister did not flicker back and forth between two candidates, we could require the new status quo to hold for a month or something, or perhaps require a slight supermajority - say 156 seats in 308. Additionally, this might possibly result in stasis. A certain number of people might never change their vote, making it difficult to overturn incumbents. Two possibilities here are (1) that a vote would 'expire' if it were not 'renewed' every, say, two years. So the apathetic would find that their vote was parked with nobody until they chose to re-park it. Additionally, upon retirement of an incumbent, all of the electors in that riding could perhaps be required to recast their ballots. Not on a particular day, of course, but within a few weeks of the party selecting a replacement. What I like about this idea is that we could return to majority governmnet without fear of sacrificing half a decade to the whims of any one person: the moment Canadians started to disapprove of the 'man in power', we would be able to replace him. We would be able to ensure that our vote always reflected our current preferences. And all without having to drop $300 million on elections. Or without parties ever campaigning. It would make the democratic proces a constant one, not a once-every-few-years one. or indeed - if regular voting bothered you, you could abstain and only vote when your vote needed renewing. Either way. I'm not sure how feasible it would be, but the idea holds real appeal to me.

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