A better system

By Steve Withers
Published October 26th 2005 in Northwest Explorer
Emil Franzi rightly points out that most other countries elect members of their legislatures using proportional representation ("Democracy ain't the same everywhere," Inside Track, Oct. 19). He is also correct that the political parties typically choose the candidates voters will choose from. People vote for parties, or the two chambers of United States Congress would be full of independents. It isn't. Far from it.

Where Mr. Franzi isn't right is in assuming "party bosses" choose those candidates. What voter would be happy with such a situation? In many, if not most, countries using proportional representation, the candidates are not chosen arbitrarily by "bosses." They may be selected by an "electoral college" within each party or they may be selected by democratic vote of party members or by some other consultative and/or democratic process.

The key difference between a proportional voting system and the "winner take al" system used in the United States is the much wider variety of parties a voter can reasonably expect to elect people from. There aren't only two parties. There is no "Red state/Blue-state" division - itself an artifact of the U.S. voting system.

Where the United States is effectively a two-party system, proportional systems may see anywhere up to 20 parties elected - depending entirely on what threshold (ie. 2 percent or 5 percent) of the vote is set to win seats and how ethnically and socially diverse the country concerned may be.

In a proportional system, if voters want to vote for parties that democratically choose their candidates, then they have the power to do exactly that - and see them elected - because in a PR system every vote counts toward representation. Unlike in the U.S., where one party or the other loses in each seat, in a PR system, everyone is a winner to the precise extent they were able to win votes. Some win more than others.

Contrast this with the U.S. system where the Democrat voters in "Red" states may elect virtually no one ... and the same goes for Republican voters in "Blue" states. This allows the voting system itself to foster and perpetuate regional divisions despite the fact that each of the two major parties in the U.S. has millions of voters all over the country and in every state.

The votes of the "losers" are wasted ... and they elect no one at all.

I live in New Zealand. My country dumped "winner take all' in 1993 and adopted a proportional system of voting based on Germany's.

I would never want to return to a U.S.-style system where my vote was worthless because the "other" party always won my area ... and I and thousands like me elected exactly no one - whether they were chosen by a party or not.