Another victim of modified ‘rep by pop’

March 16, 2018   ·   0 Comments

WERE THEY TRULY DEMOCRATIC, the United States would have its first woman president and Ontario’s Progressive Conser-vative party its first female leader.

Last year, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received millions more votes than her rival, Donald Trump, and last weekend Christine Elliott apparently got more votes and won more ridings than Doug Ford, yet both were declared losers.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘democracy’ as “government by the people, or “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

In our view, even our ‘first past the post’ federal and provincial elections fit the definition, although jurisdictions with run-off votes to ensure that the winner has the support of at least half the voters fit much better.

So how is it that on five occasions U.S. presidential elections wound up with all the spoils going to the candidate who finished second in the popular vote? It’s because of something found in no other supposed democracy, an electoral college that stems from the slavery era and in recent years has strongly favored Republican candidates.

Created by the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the U.S. Electoral College is made up of a slate from each state, and, except for California, Maine and Nebraska, all the states use popular voting only to choose a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for a particular party’s candidate.

One reason for this undemocratic system is that southern states feared pure representation by population would discriminate against states whose slaves had no right to vote.

Over the years there have been several attempts to eliminate the electoral college.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter to Congress that indicated his support for essentially abolishing the Electoral College, and in a letter to The New York Times, Jonathan B. Bingham (D-New York) deplored the danger of the “flawed, outdated mechanism of the Electoral College,” noting that a shift of fewer than 10,000 votes in two states would have led to Gerald Ford being re-elected despite Jimmy Carter’s nationwide 1.7 million-vote margin.

And even that was short of the situation last year, when Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes than Donald Trump but he got 304 electoral college votes to her 227.

No similar long history lies behind the screw-up in last week’s PC leadership vote, which saw more than 60,000 party members using electronic ballots in which they could rank their preference for the four candidates rather than using the traditional ‘X’ beside the name of their favorite.

Somehow a convoluted system of modifying the popular vote based on an assumption that too many might vote in some ridings and too few in others required production of paper ballots and a riding-by-riding review which finally resulted in Mr. Ford’s victory.

A better alternative would have seen all paid-up members able to cast a vote for their favorite candidate, and that vote being followed a week or so later by a run-off election in the event no candidate got more than 50 per cent of the votes, with only the names of the top two candidates on the new ballots.

We don’t know what the result would have been, but it would have avoided last Saturday’s foul-ups as well as guaranteeing that the ultimate winner was the candidate who won the popular vote.

In the age of the Internet, a similar approach should be taken for federal and provincial elections, with run-ups in any riding where no candidate secures the support of at least half those who voted.

The result would be a Commons and provincial legislatures where every member could claim to have the support of a majority of the voters.

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