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What does a single vote weigh?

February 10, 2011

So I’ve got a comment on an arcane voting procedure issue for a current party leadership contest…sounds exciting huh? Everybody gather round!

The party is the BC Liberal party. The issue is weighting a votes by riding.

The current rules say that each party member will get one vote towards the leader.  The new rule would weight the votes from party members in each riding so that each riding has an equal voice.  The reasoning is that in an election each riding gets one choice to pick the liberals or not and so each riding should have an equal say in choosing the leader.

Sounds like it might be reasonable.  The good part is that it will help unify liberals across the province, letting people in rural ridings know their voice matters and preparing the ground for a competitive election.  If each riding has roughly the same number of member who will vote for leader then there is no problem with this.  In fact, in that case it wouldn’t really be that necessary.

The fact people are proposing this change indicates to me that there are a lot more party members in the cities than in the rural parts of the province.  On the face of it what instituting this rule tells urban members is “Your voice matters, but not as much as the rural members. So we’re going to listen to you less.”

From the riding point of view it’s fine.  This means essentially that each riding only gets one vote and all the members from that riding get to have their own mini election to decide who their riding will vote for.  If what happens is that everyone in each riding gets together and agrees on a leader to advise, then those votes go off to the main vote it will be an honest process.

But that’s not what is going to happen as I understand it. By letting each member vote individually online and then weighting urban votes down you are giving the opinions of individual members in rural areas more say over who should be leader.  Rural voters shouldn’t get more say over the winner, they should get equal say.

What I’m worried about is statistical significance.  Like the scrapping of the long-form census, if you use less data you can’t make the same conclusions.  In this case, if some riding up in the Peace has a six times less members than my riding at UBC, then each of the people in that riding, voting online get 6 times more say than I do.  Why even have everyone vote if our votes don’t all count in the same way.  Under this system when I vote I will actually be trying to sway who my riding will put forward as the leader, this is a very different thing.

Let me be clear, it might be a better way to do it. Maybe there are really enough members in each riding to get a good sense of  what people in that riding want, in which case its fine. But if some riding has just a few hundred people and mine has thousands then you could get a very skewed answer from the small riding if you don’t have a really good sample of the population.

This is the reason why during elections we make sure that all ridings have roughly the same number of voters, so that weighting is unnecessary.  Since the party list could vary a lot between ridings you need to take the true population into account.  But simply weighting each vote can cause big problems if some of the ridings have very few members voting.

This is not a criticism of any candidate which are supporting this change.  I only know about this because I am interested in seeing Christy Clark as premier and she’s for this change. The fact that she and others are even thinking about this is great since it shows thinking about the legitimacy of votes and improving our democratic system.

But I would encourage the party to consider the statistical implications of this and make sure that it is implemented in a way that does not give a huge weight to a small number of people just in order to try to reduce a perceive rural/urban divide.  If the riding sizes vary alot and there is no way to correct these errors then it might be better to simply treat each member equally.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2011 4:28 pm

    This same weighting system is used by the Ontario PCs to choose their leader. But in their case their membership base is in the rural ridings, and the result of the weighting is to give their urban minority more weight, possibly resulting in a more moderate and representative party.

    This prevents the stronghold intensification phenomenon. The winner-take-all system already over-represents strongholds in the caucus, and leaves “weaker” ridings with no representation in caucus. Any regional proportional representation system avoids this by ensuring that every region has representation in both the government caucus and opposition parties. But we aren’t there yet. So I see this regional weighting model for leadership votes as a countervailing force against this stronghold effect, so in that limited sense it may be a good thing.

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