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Leadnow | July 8, 2016

Voting Systems Part 1: First-past-the-post

Big changes are coming to the way we vote in Canada and we couldn’t be happier. Canada is still using the unfair and antiquated first-past-the-post voting system, but now we have an opportunity to upgrade to something better.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to change the way we elect government by the next federal election and make every vote count.  But what changes are on the table? And which voting system is the Leadnow community supporting?  In this series we'll be looking at different types of voting systems. First up is the system we currently use: first-past-the-post. 
 

Our Current ‘Winner Takes All’ System: First-Past-the-Post (FPTP)

In our current voting system, first-past-the-post (FPTP), you vote for one local candidate, and whoever gets the most votes wins.  
 

new fptp map.png
Greater Vancouver Riding Map
Example of FPTP ridings in Greater Vancouver with sample FPTP ballot

District: One MP per riding
Ballot: One vote per ballot
How votes are counted: Most votes wins

Although we’ve been using FPTP in federal elections for almost 150 years, it’s a pretty unfair way to elect MPs. Because we usually have more than two candidates per riding, it’s common for MPs to win with less than 50% of the vote.  The votes of everyone who didn’t vote for the winner are thus wasted - that adds up to millions of ineffective votes in each and every election.

It also leads to a skewed national election result, where the number of seats that parties ultimately win are often not reflective of their share of the popular vote. For example, in 2015:

2015 federal election results

Under FPTP, a party can get 100% of the power, with less than 40% of the vote. This happened in 2011 when the Harper Conservatives won their majority with 39% of the vote, and again in 2015 with the Liberals. A party can get a majority in government even when the majority of the electorate didn’t vote for them.

As a result, many people end up voting strategically, which means they vote for who they think is most likely to beat their least favourite candidate, instead of voting for who they want the most. Many of us have had this experience - and can be frustrating to feel like you can't vote for your first choice. 

As you can see, Canada is one of the last Western countries still using first-past-the-post: 

In future weeks we'll take a look at other ways we could elect our government, including several types of proportional representation systems!