First-Past-The-Post: Voters Decide

First-Past-the-Post Enables Voters to Decide

This is a commentary on John Pepall’s article Change voting, hurt voters which appeared in the Viewpoint section of the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal, Sept. 17, 2016 which can be found here

The heart of Pepall’s argument favouring First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) versus Proportional Representation (PR) comes down to 2 points: i) FPTP enables voters to decide who governs and ii) FPTP keeps elected politicians accountable.

By contrast, he claims PR fails on both counts because i) PR favours coalitions, which politicians negotiate, not voters and ii) you can’t throw the bums out because, although he does not explicitly say this, those coalitions never appear on the ballot.

Regarding voters decide. This is a slight-of-hand argument. What voters do is vote. Period. Those votes pass through some kind of decision-making formula to determine an outcome. FPTP is such a formula, as are various forms of PR.

To help put the point. The formula could be, the party with the lowest number of votes forms the government. Or, perhaps in a society in which water and the month of August are sacred, the party whose vote count comes closest to the amount of rain which fell in August preceding the election, forms the government. In all of these cases, like FPTP, the voters decide and a government is formed.

Hmmm. Maybe, just maybe, this “voters deciding” thing is not what it’s made out to be here. Maybe that formula that votes pass through matters for something more than simply the idea characterized here as voters decide.

So the question becomes what formula produces a government which best represents the intentions of voters? And this is where PR formulas are introduced to challenge FPTP formulas: the representativeness of the government so formed.

Pepall ignores the historical reality that early representative governments in Canada were always negotiated on the floor of the assembly. Perhaps he recalls a fella by the name of John A. Macdonald, renowned for how he played that game.

So Pepall’s disdain for schemes to produce majorities where there is none, is disdain for precisely what democracies are all about: coming up with a scheme to produce some kind of representative majority to turn bills into laws in the legislature.

So, if Pepall is in fact arguing that representativeness has nothing to do with accountability, perhaps the Fraser Institute needs to read their publications a little more carefully before hitting the “print” button.

For an alternative PR model which maximizes representativeness and riding accountability please consult electoral-reform.


Here is the original article "Change voting, hurt voters":