Making votes count
Claim: “Under proportional representation, your vote will count in every election.” “This is our chance to make every vote count!”

Stated by: Maria Dobrinskya, spokesperson for the official campaign for proportional representation: The Province, April 19, 2018. Fair Vote Canada, PR4BC page and campaign slogan:

Fact Check

Proportional systems make ALMOST every vote count. Electoral reform experts such as Fair Voting BC estimate that proportional models for BC will make over 95% of votes count.  How many voters cast ballots that contribute to the make-up of the legislature?

In the 2017 election in British Columbia, 49.29% of voters cast ballots that elected no-one. 50.71% cast votes for an MLA that was elected – they “counted” towards electing representation and the make-up of the BC legislature. In the 2015 federal election, 51.8 % cast ballots that elected no-one. 48.2% cast ballots that counted towards electing representation and the make-up of the federal legislature. Roughly half of voters not electing anyone (what is sometimes called “wasted votes”) is average in Canada’s first-past-the-post elections. Recently, BC MLA Jackie Tegart stated that “every vote counts now“. While it’s true that every vote is physically counted, that is different than every vote “counting” – having an impact on the results in the legislature.

How many votes count in proportional systems?

Proportional representation is not one system – it’s a principle that the legislature should mirror how the public voted. No proportional system can do this exactly. In countries with OECD proportional voting, the number of voters whose ballots “count” towards the make-up of the legislature varies with the design of the system, whether there is a threshold a party must cross to be eligible for seats, and the voting patterns in the particular election. Here are a few examples from recent elections: Sweden (2014): 95.91% counted, 4.09% did not count New Zealand (2017): 93.76% counted, 6.24% did not count Denmark (2015): 99.09% counted, .9% did not count Germany (2017): 95.01% counted, 4.99% did not count The best way to measure how closely an election outcome reflects the popular vote is using the Gallagher Index of Disproportionality. A score of zero would be perfect proportionality (impossible in practice). Places with proportional systems such as Mixed Member Proportional or Single Transferable Vote (New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, Germany) – systems that are proportional and maintain local representation – tend to have a Gallagher score of between 3 and 7, depending on the election, whereas countries like Canada and UK have scores between 10 and 15.

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