On a mission for fairness

I'm writing in response to the recent editorial and column that mentioned me in respect to changing our electoral system. I want to offer my thoughts on our current system and how we can improve it.

COMMENTARY

by Dave Brekke

I’m writing in response to the recent editorial and column that mentioned me in respect to changing our electoral system. I want to offer my thoughts on our current system and how we can improve it. It’s hard for me to believe the ineffectiveness of our present system. I believe that we can persuade our government to act for positive change, even if it’s not currently their focus.

I have had this life mission for the past eight years, ever since I saw the shortcomings of our election process while serving on a federal returning officers advisory committee to give feedback on proposals to increase voter turnout in 2005. At the first meeting, another returning officer asked why we weren’t looking at the electoral system. I was shocked to hear it; the candidate with the most votes wins! It seemed fair to me at the time. We were told the electoral system is a political question and that we could not discuss it: Elections Canada is apolitical.

It came up again in evening discussions, and I started to learn more about Canada’s present system and about other systems. There is no perfect system. Canada’s system was simple, voters could know the candidates, but sometimes the party seat results differed wildly from the party votes. Half the votes that were counted didn’t have any effect on the overall election results. How Canada could have such a non-inclusive system was and is very disturbing to me. It seemed like a good system could be developed using the best parts of several systems.

When I started on this mission, I was Yukon’s returning officer. I had been advised to only encourage discussion without passing judgement, so I called a meeting for interested people to discuss electoral reform. I resigned as returning officer immediately after validating the vote in the 2006 election so I could undertake my new mission. To start, I put together an electoral system for people to criticize. It has changed many times and remains open to change with the feedback I receive. To date, I’m not aware of a better system than the combination preferential proportional system developed in the Yukon.

How many programs does the government of Yukon have in place to allow any given group of people feel inclusion? How much money do we spend to try to create community around ourselves? Doesn’t it seem a little contradictory to have all these programs, awards, and efforts in place for all Yukoners to come together while our electoral system drives wedges between us? We just honoured 24 people who have served tirelessly to build community. And yet, on Election Day, we will end up excluding over half the people we’ve been trying to bring together on every other day of the year. This is silly and ineffective.

I’ve proposed a simple system from the voters’ end: rather than one checkmark, or X, you simply mark up to three choices in order of preference. This lets voters vote for what they really value, without fear of “splitting the vote.” It also very nearly eliminates the danger of “throwing your vote away,” because even if your first choice doesn’t win the riding seat, it can still win a proportional seat for your preferred candidate or one of their fellow party members.

The editorial about this system says the system is complicated and difficult to follow, but I’d like to point out that from a voter’s perspective, the only change at the ballot box would be to mark 1, 2, 3 rather than X. I’m absolutely certain we’re all able to do that, and I wager being able to vote your values rather than trying to vote strategically is far more satisfying.

I often refer to two important quotes when I’m talking about electoral change: Geraldine Van Bibber’s “The heart of democracy is inclusion,” and “Change happens when there is enough of a public outcry, or the effects of a problem are so evident that decision makers are forced to act,” said by Tzeporah Berman in This Crazy Time.

I find these two points perfectly bookend my mission in life: the problems of exclusion in democracy are so evident that we are forced to act. I’d finally like to clarify one thing: I’m no electoral scholar. I am a concerned citizen and an electoral thinker who wants to see all of our community included everywhere, especially at the ballot box. If you want to know more about our electoral system or my proposed solution, you’re welcome to visit my website for more information: www.electoralchange.ca.

Dave Brekke lives in Whitehorse.

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