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Leadnow | July 21, 2016

Voting Systems Part 2: Alternative Vote

Last week we did an overview of the voting system we current use in Canda: first-past-the-post. This week we're covering another type of voting system known as Alternative Vote (AV). The Leadnow community has not endorsed AV for Canada's new voting system, but we think it's important to explain what it is and why over 70% of the Leadnow community opted for proportional representation instead. 

Another ‘Winner Take All’ System: Alternative Vote (AV)

Alternative Vote (AV, also known as Instant Runoff Voting, Preferential Voting, Ranked Choice Voting or Ranked Ballot) is a majority voting system that allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot. [1] Just as with first-past-the-post (FPTP), we would elect only 1 MP per riding.

The difference between AV and FPTP is that if no one candidate gets over 50% of the vote on the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes drops off. The counters then look at the ballots of voters who chose the eliminated candidate first, and apply the voters’ second choices to the totals of the remaining candidates. This may go on for several rounds, until one candidate has 50% +1 of the vote. That is why it is referred to as majority voting - candidates are eliminated until one has a majority of the vote.  


new fptp map.pngRanked Ballot.png

Greater Vancouver Riding Map

Example of current ridings in Greater Vancouver with a sample AV ballot.

District: One MP per riding
Ballot: Ranked Ballot
How votes are counted: Several counts, 50% +1 of the votes wins

Unlike First-Past-the-Post, Alternative Vote means parties have to campaign to not only be voter’s first vote, but also their second, which can lead to more civility in campaigning.  But it introduces the problem that parties who are more 'centrist' could potentially benefit disproportionately, as voters are most likely to put these parties as their second choice. AV also falls short of being able to produce proportional results. As you can see, AV still produces skewed results (sometimes even more skewed than FPTP,) and a party can still win a majority government without a majority of the popular vote:

AV 2015.png

2015 federal election results as they could have been under Alternate Vote (numbers from Broadbent poll)

As you can see, AV would not solve the problem of unfair representation in the House of Commons. To ensure that every vote counts, we need a system that is proportional.

Missed our first installment? Get caught up on all you need to know about first-past-the-post here. 

Next week: we'll dive into a few different types of proportional representation systems in more detail. 

[1] A note on the term 'ranked ballot'

A lot of the media have been using the term 'ranked ballots' to refer to Alternative Vote. It's important to note that ranked ballots are not in and of themselves a system, but in fact a tool that can be used as a component of many types of voting systems, including proportional ones. This article refers only to a scenario in which Alternative Vote (a system which uses a ranked ballot in a single-member district) is applied to the federal level and is not a comment on the use of ranked ballots in other contexts.