Fundamental Principles of Democratic Government
Towards Utopian Systems of Governance

by Craig Carmichael  -  Victoria BC Canada
Original draft: April 2nd to May 2nd 2003
Minor revision: Aug 26th, 2003
Revised: "Choice Ranking" Voting (other names: STV, Instant Runoff, Majority Preference, 1-2 Vote): "THE" correct way to vote? (January 2012)


1. Freedom and Responsibility: Dangers of Democracy

2. Government Represents the Governed

3. The Three Branches of Government and Separation of Powers

The Executive Branch
The Legislative Branch
The Judicial Branch

4. Jurisdictional Divisions: World, Continents, Nations and States

5. Electoral Practices and Voting Techniques

Qualifying to Vote - Qualifying to Run For Office
Simple "X" Ballot and Vote Splitting
Multiple Ballots and Choice Ranking Voting
Proportional Representation

6. Petitions and Initiatives
Appendix: Supplemental Notes and Case Studies

Proportional Representation Systems: Party List System and Mixed Member Systems
Proportional Representation Systems: Multi-Member Constituency Systems
Proportional Voting Systems for Multi-Member Constituencies
Canada - Combining the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government
France - Separation of Powers
British Columbia - Petitions


Here are just a few pages of basic outlines for building better governing institutions, better nations, and a better world, compiled from more advanced political thought from various sources.
In the interest of brevity, some subsidiary ideas are presented without explanation in an idealized form rather than as commonly practiced today, and the words "he", "him" and "his" are intended to apply to both sexes.

1. Freedom and Responsibility: Dangers of Democracy

With freedom comes responsibility to choose constructively rather than destructively. Liberty used foolishly can be worse than no liberty, but to educated, discerning and moral persons -- responsible persons -- liberty is a great blessing of constructive opportunities. Our spirit Father has given us freedom of individual will to act as brothers and sisters in the family of heaven or as wayward children pursuing our own ends.
In an authoritarian regime, one has very limited political freedom: Political rules and decisions are imposed by the ruler and his supporters. As he chooses, for good or for ill, so the nation must follow. When everyone's political and national freedom is enhanced by the ability to choose a government which represents them and acts on their behalf, and even to act directly by petition, everyone has responsibility to make political decisions, when they are called for, that will help promote the progress and stability of one's society.
Whenever there is a betrayal of the public trust by anyone entrusted with public affairs from the leader to the least civil servants, for example by acceptance of bribes, or by using a position of power for personal gain at the expense of the public good, society takes a step backwards towards anarchy and the need for dictatorship. Betrayal of public trust weakens and destroys progressive society, and should be looked upon in the same manner as murder or treason, and those guilty of it sternly punished.
As decisions and actions are continually taken for the public good by those upon whom power has been conferred, society forges ahead bit by bit towards accomplishment and prosperity, towards "light and life".

Once a society has become free from dictatorial oppression and men and women have control of their nation's political affairs, they must interpret their charter of liberty wisely, intelligently and fearlessly in order that there may be prevented:

1.     Usurpation of unwarranted power by either the executive or legislative branches.
2.     Machinations of ignorant and superstitious agitators.
3.     Retardation of scientific and technical progress.
4.     The dominance of mediocrity.
5.     Domination by vicious minorities (eg: Ku Klux Klan, "religious" extremists).
6.     Loss of control to ambitious and clever would-be dictators.
7.     Disastrous disruption of panics.
8.     Exploitation by the unscrupulous.
9.     Taxation enslavement of the citizenry by the state: The citizenry must have some control over taxation.
10.     Failure of social and economic fairness.
11.     Union of church and state: No human government may claim its actions are divinely sanctioned, and personal religious faith must not -- can not -- be legislated.
12.     Loss of personal liberty, or slavery to public opinion: the majority is not always right.

A specific danger to democracy that has been seen in many lands is seizure of governmental control by the military. If all military training were combined with specific trade, scientific discipline or professional education, it could: let young people support themselves while gaining an education, provide a reserve of trained soldiers in case of war, and help avoid the creation of a self-absorbed professional military class. Four years of military training might provide two years of transferable trade, technical college or university credits.

Some benefits of a free society with a representative government include:

1.     Freedom to hold and to express personal ideas and opinions, including religious ideas, and even ideas contrary to public opinion or to government decisions, without fear for one's position or personal and family safety
2.     Equality of opportunity: talented and industrious men and women are free to better themselves and their position or status regardless of their social, racial or religious background.
3.     More freedom to make one's own choices in travel, education, career, and society.
4.     Redress through the courts for injustices, even injustices by the government
5.     Citizen concerns are usually eventually addressed by government in legislation, rather than ignored or even deliberately suppressed.

2. Government Represents the Governed

In ancient Athens, the entire citizenry banded together to discuss issues, vote, and make decisions. Attendance was mandatory. This was commendable in an independent town, but it is hopelessly impractical and unwieldy in a nation-state.
Instead, the citizenry must periodically select people it trusts to form a legislature or parliament, a discussion and decision making group of legislators that represents their interests, makes decisions, and writes social rules, laws, to provide for equality of opportunity, provide for the unfortunate and for old age pensions, prevent unfair exploitation of people by other people, and create and further projects of general public interest. As society grows and changes, new decisions and laws - legislation - must frequently be made, and so the legislature has regular sessions, meetings for bringing up and passing or enacting new legislation.
And the citizenry must also periodically choose a wise and capable executive leader to whom they may safely confide the administration of the nation's affairs.
Lastly, by some practical process, judges must be found to adjudicate the inevitable disputes that spring up in all human affairs, in accordance with the laws made by the legislature representing the public will.

The process by which legislators and-or leaders are chosen by people is called an election. Every person entitled to vote in an election is a voter or elector and all the electors together are the voters or the electorate. Those who wish to be elected "run" for election, they become candidates for the office (position) to be filled. Those chosen in the election by the most voters become the elected. After a fixed, or at least maximum, time period called a term of office (often four or five years), new elections are held and the voters choose new representatives and a new leader, or may re-elect the same person. Often the role of executive leader, and sometimes of legislators, is restricted to a certain number of terms of office, promoting fresh blood and new ideas in government.
Traditional alternatives to electing leaders include such techniques as the powerful and their supporters warring with each other, the eldest son of the old ruler inheriting the position, and revolution. Such methods are not likely to bring experienced statesmen in their political prime to society's service. Such rulers wield great personal power at the expense of civil freedoms, and a change of power is generally accomplished only by the death of the previous ruler. Hence social progress under such governments tends to be very slow at best.
But democracy is more than just elections. To elect someone without knowing where they stand, and-or to know not what they do or how they vote once elected, is only a democratic shell. The voter and his interests are not truly represented and the elected person isn't accountable to the voters. The electorate must be educated and knowledgable. The voters must know the candidates, and the elected must report to the electorate and be responsible to them: they must represent the electorate. The closer the relationship is between the electorate and the elected, the greater is the potential for best results, for electing the best persons and for having them act in the best way.
It is vital that elected leaders, even the president, be made to work within the constitution and laws. Sometimes someone is elected who proves unworthy of the trust placed in him, or who becomes permanently unfit to continue in his duties. There should be a recall or impeachment proceedure in place for removing an unfit or unworthy leader or representative. Prominent examples: A president was discovered to have secretly used unethical and illegal means to gain advantages over the other candidates before and during the election. Facing impeachment, he resigned from office. Another became senile and unfit to govern following his second election. His aides kept this quiet until the end of his appointed term of office.

3. The Three Branches of Government and Separation of Powers

There is a natural division of governmental organization into three branches. Attempting to organize it differently inherently builds conflicts of interest and confusion of function into the system of governance.

One branch makes the rules, laws, by which society governs itself. This is the Legislative Branch of government. Its head(s) may perhaps be titled speaker, house leader or senate leader. It decides when it is to convene to formulate and vote on new laws and plans, or amend and refine existing ones.

Running the country, administration, is the purpose of the Executive Branch of government. The executive is obliged to administrate in accordance with the laws made by the legislature, which always grant a certain amount of freedom of administrative action. The leader chosen to head this branch, the chief executive, often has a title such as president (at the national level) or governor (at a subsidiary level). The national chief executive is the country's head of state.

It is inevitable in human affairs that disagreements will arise, even in the absence of crime or evil intent, and the Judicial Branch of government exists to interpret the rules created by the legislature to each individual dispute. Verdict rendering is always a group function, and generally panels of several judges will sit to hear and adjudicate in any dispute. Generally there are courts at state and national level, sometimes specialized (family, industrial, and criminal courts), depending on the nature and scope of the case.

There are organizational ramifications to mixing any of the three branches of government:
When a legislature attempts to administrate a nation's affairs, as it does in some lands today, it compromises both the freedom and independence of the legislature (distorting the focus and quality of legislation) and the freedom of administrative action (often causing weak governments). Or, an executive administration responsible for making laws might be apt to enact dictatorial laws to suit its own administrative convenience rather than laws in the best interests of society.
If those who make laws sit in judgement they may not render a fair verdict if it might show the law itself to be faulty, nor can those who run the country pass impartial judgements in disputes involving the governing of the land itself. The judicial branch must not be involved in legislative or executive affairs which might require adjudication.
Also, where the legislative branch assumes the executive functions, the voting public must cast one "schizophrenic" vote to decide two unrelated and often conflicting issues: (a) who they wish to have represent them in the legislature and, oh by the way - indirectly - (b) who is to become the national chief executive. Repercussions include a strong party-based system where legislative candidates are elected or rejected mainly based on their party and who its leader is rather than their personal talents and experience, and where legislators are not usually free to legislate according to their individual best judgement but must support their party leader.

Thus, the three branches of government are so natural they may virtually be said to be divinely ordained. To call this triple division "the American system" is simply to acknowledge that America's founders figured it out and implemented it first, and it probably plays a major role in America's political and social strength.

Because of the separation of powers -- lawmaking, executive administration, and judgement -- no one person is able to make far-reaching plans and carry them out without having them examined and approved by an independent party. Reasonable ideas are acted on but one person, even holding the highest office, cannot impose his personal agenda on an unwilling country.
Still less may anyone seize complete control of the country and become its dictator unless the nation permits him to overstep the authority of the office he holds. All citizens including civil servants and the military must understand that their allegiance lies with the nation as a whole and not with any one person: they must know when to draw the line, disobey illegal orders, and help cast from office anyone who would wield unwarranted power, no matter how charismatic, popular, forceful or brilliant.

The best government is one which co-ordinates most while governing least, and a government of three co-ordinate branches is a fundamental means for facilitating this.

The Executive Branch

Usually the executive branch of a government centers around one person, usually titled president and head of state (at the national level) or governor (at a smaller level). Once elected, this leader is often free to choose his administrative staff or "cabinet" at will. An executive advisory panel consisting of all living past presidents can add much wisdom of experience to an administration's cabinet.
The separate executive branch permits strong central government to maintain law, order and national security even in the face of divided opinions and inaction of the legislature, permitting free experimentation with various advanced and refined forms of legislative representation without courting national danger or governmental paralysis.
The chief executive is head of the civil service and the military. He may negotiate agreements and treaties with other countries, which must afterwards be approved by the legislature. He is permitted to position military forces and employ them in limited roles, but waging war unless the nation is actually attacked requires legislative approval.
Of course, in the process of governing, new ideas occur at various levels, in executive departments and agencies, and these are submitted, depending on the nature and import of the proposal, to the department director or chief executive.
Sometimes such proposals necessitate new legislation or laws in order to effect them. The executive branch must then submit the ideas to the legislature in order to have them enacted. Often, of course, there is considerable consultation before the formal submission is made.

In some lands, the president must approve a bill passed by the legislature, and may veto it if he really disagrees with it. The legislature can re-vote on the vetoed bill and pass it against the presidential veto only if a very large majority of the legislators agree, such as 60% (three members for it per every two against) up to an overwhelming 67% (twice as many for as against).

The chief executive is elected by the citizenry from the candidates, perhaps by a nation-wide, one vote per person election system such as majority preference balloting (see appendix).
There should be a hierarchy of emergency succession to prevent any lapse in national leadership in the event that the president becomes unable to function. This may include, for example, a vice president, elected or chosen by the president, the most recent past president, and the head of the legislature. An unscheduled election of a successor is a possible option if the remaining duration of the term is long, with the winner serving either for the remainder of the fixed term, or for a new full term starting on the election day.

The Legislative Branch

A legislature or parliament usually consists of tens or hundreds of representatives, legislators who are chosen by groups of citizens to represent a broad cross section of societal viewpoints. Sometimes there are two legislative "houses", which must each approve a bill before it may become law. Generally, the first house initiates bills, while the second house examines them in an independent "second look" before they are allowed to become law.
When a bill is approved - passes - in the first house, the second house (often called a senate) must also approve the bill before it can become law. In some lands the chief executive must also approve new laws, as mentioned above.
If the second house (or the chief executive) disagrees, it can send the bill back to the first house, often with suggestions of what would make it more acceptable. Sometimes the second house plays a purely advisory role, but if it is properly independent, its opinion will be publicly respected and will have great moral authority.
The second house is often composed of experienced elder statesmen who have held other public positions and rendered notable public services in the past. Replacements may be nominated, for example, by the chief executives (president, governors), the leader of the first house, and the chief justice, and elected for life from the nominees by the members themselves when a vacancy occurs.

Legislators of the first house are elected by the citizenry, often en mass in a general election, by a number of possible techniques (see appendix) and groupings, and are responsible to them.
Inevitably, a few legislative seats are vacated in mid-term by resignation for personal or health reasons, or occasionally by recall or impeachment. The process for choosing someone to fill a vacant seat varies. A legislative seat may be left empty for a certain period. If there is a considerable time left in the term of office, a byelection, an election just for the one seat, may be held.

In today's typical systems, legislators are usually elected simply to represent different areas of the country, one person being chosen from each riding or constituency. In a modified form of constituency-based representation, multiple legislators may be elected per constituency.
Such systems, though serviceable, do not necessarily bring the best qualified people to represent public interests. They can set up needless local-area-based conflicts, foster organized and controlled political parties at the expense of independent legislative opinion and action, and promote uniformity of legislators instead of diversity of areas of expertise.

Electoral divisions with more meaning than place of residence are possible. For example, in some countries, one can vote for a political party, or for members of a political party, without regard to geography, by party list voting (see appendix). This has the drawback of the voter not voting directly for individuals, and thus the elected are less accountable to the electorate.

A more targeted proposal is to elect some or all of the legislative representatives based on socio-economic commonality of interests instead of by geography. One might call this interest group based voting, which would probably raise the quality of legislative deliberations and legislation.
For example, those involved in industrial, professional, agricultural and other fields of occupation could each elect their own occupational representative(s). One would register in one of these voter groups -- occupational constituencies rather than residential area constituencies -- for a specified term (10 years?), depending on one's working occupation, then reselect if necessary in accordance with changed status.
A separate category of representatives could be elected based on social, political and philosophic lines, with voters registered to vote in one interest group within each of the two categories.
Imagine specialist representatives for Fisheries and Oceans elected by commercial fishermen, sports fishermen, fish farmers and other oceanic stakeholders; for Agriculture by farmers, farm workers and food distributors; for Parks, Wildlife and Recreation by environmentalists, those in the tourism industry and outdoorsmen, and so forth, again with each person being registered to vote in particular interest groups.
Such a system would ensure that the legislature has respected people covering different fields of expertise, elected by those who know them best. They would thus have authority to choose independently how they will vote in the legislature, and to sponsor bills on matters related to their own fields.

In another untried idea, the first legislative house could be split into two or more specialized "houses", with members elected by society in different groupings such as those above, to deal with legislation of differing natures. For example, there could be a house formulating public safety and criminal laws, one for industrial and trade legislation, and other possible specializations.

The Judicial Branch

Adjudication is the highest function of any government, and those who are entrusted with verdict rendering should be chosen from the best of the most experienced and understanding individuals. Judgement is a group function: No lone person should ever be permitted to pass sentence or render a verdict because of the limitations of any one person's viewpoint, since all of our individual views at various times and on various matters may be colored by inexperience, ignorance or even unfair or unconscious discrimination.
Judgement must be as fair as possible; it must also be swift and efficient. Decisions delayed too long can be themselves an injustice.
There are many types of legal actions: family disputes, industrial disputes, and criminal trials, and specialized types of courts -- family courts, industrial and trade dispute courts and criminal courts -- are best able to deal with such specialized types of cases.

In criminal matters, is it society's stern duty to punish evildoers and safeguard the public, but equally to acquit the accused innocent. To that end, all persons must be presumed to be innocent of a crime unless they can be proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". Justice must be applied impartially towards all citizens regardless of wealth, race, sex or religion.
Occasional mistakes are inevitable, and another duty of the justice system besides minimizing their number is to promptly free and clear, and even to generously make whatever amends are reasonable and possible for someone if it is discovered he has been wrongfully punished.

Sometimes judges are elected by the citizens, but since they generally operate away from public scrutiny, it is probably better to have them nominated by other elected leaders and representatives or respected public bodies, and perhaps confirmed or voted in by the legislature, federal or state depending upon the court's jurisdiction.
Some criminal trial systems employ a primitive practice for selecting judges: a jury of citizens is impressed involuntarily into verdict rendering service, usually having little knowledge, experience or interest in criminal trials or criminals. Juries are easily fooled by clever lawyers, clever criminals and inept innocent people, and too frequently render wrong verdicts - both convictions and acquittals. And often the judge alone passes sentence, according to his own individual convictions. This is wrong. It would seem more reasonable that a panel of experienced, professional judges take the place of the amateur jury both for the verdict and the sentencing.

4. Jurisdictional Divisions: World, Continents, Nations and States

There are two absolute levels of human rights or "sovereignty": the sovereignty of each individual and the sovereignty of all mankind. All intervening jurisdictional divisions such as nations and states are of relative value just insofar as they promote human comfort, happiness and social progress.
Today nations are the top well-organized political division, and national governments are responsible for keeping the peace of the realm and defending it from foreign aggression.
Larger nations subdivide themselves into smaller jurisdictions of varying land sizes with names such as states (USA, Australia, etc), provinces (Canada) or departments (France). Governments of the states manage issues which are specific to that geographic area. The national government does not permit these smaller units to raise armies and wage war with each other.
Someday the sovereignty of all mankind will be vested in a democratic, representative world government of some sort which will likewise enforce peace, security and justice between nations, as well as regulate international corporations and global trade. The need for and the feasibility of world government are growing by the decade. Nothing less than world government can bring lasting peace on Earth and goodwill towards all men.
Winston S. Churchill suggested in 1944 that each continent should have its own congress handling continental affairs, and that a world congress for managing world affairs would have representatives chosen equally from each continent. This rather simple idea for division of world organization has much to commend itself. "Mother Asia" probably merits representation in about five sub-continental regions including Europe and India.

At each level - state, nation and someday continent and world - there should be a representative government based on the principles outlined herein.
It is also possible to combine states (or small nations) into larger administrative regions with common economic interests, or to subdivide large ones into smaller administrative units, thus interposing another level of government, one which may perhaps be solely an administrative (executive) level as to governmental functions, without separate legislatures and courts.

Legislative representation may be based on areas of equal populations, by specific regional areas regardless of their population or size, or by societal divisions which are independent of geography.
Land-based constituency divisions based on equal populations can be fair in a homogenous society without significant regional issues. However, when there are regional issues, regions with smaller populations are under-represented while the more populous regions are over-represented. This works to the detriment of regions with smaller populations: those with larger are continually favored in legislative decisions, and political parties elected by such systems commit political suicide in trying to rectify or overcome this disparity: in doing so, they lose popularity in the populous regions with the most seats.
There can also be problems with representation by specific regional divisions such as by country. In North America over 60 state jurisdictions are merged into just three large nations, while Africa remains fragmented into almost as many small unaffiliated countries. In the "United Nations" general assembly, North America is practically unrepresented with only three votes while Africa has about four dozen.
If there are two legislative houses elected by area-based constituencies, they may be constituted differently, balancing representation by population with representation by region. And this is the chief distinction between the two otherwise rather similar legislative houses of the USA: the house of representatives is based on constituencies of equal population, while the senate has two representatives from each state regardless of its size or population.
Reducing or eliminating area-based representation in favor of interest group based could assist with attaining balanced regional equality and hence reduction of regional antagonisms.

5. Electoral Practices: Voting

There must be some body or agency in charge of running elections themselves. Obviously, no political party or government alone can be trusted to count votes involving itself or its interests. In Canada, there is an independent department called Elections Canada consisting of civil servants pledged to impartiality and led by the Chief Electoral Officer, which conducts the elections and counts the votes. This agency hires many temporary employees in the times leading up to and during an election to ensure that voter registration is up to date and to tally the votes. The Governor General, an appointed position with no limit on his term of office, actually calls the election, usually at the behest of the Prime Minister, but always within five years of the previous election.
In the USA with its two-party system, there is no independent agency like Elections Canada, but representatives of both parties are on hand when the votes are counted.

Qualifying to Vote - Qualifying to Run For Office

Traditionally, all citizens over a certain age such as 21 years except convicted criminals, the mentally unfit, and sometimes government workers, are entitled to cast one vote in the selection of representatives and leaders.

But every voter should also be literate, and should understand the basic principles of democracy, just such as are outlined in this booklet. A written test to gain a voting certificate would disqualify only the illiterate, the indolent, and those incapable of understanding this fairly simple material. Should such people choose leaders and legislators? Wishing to be able to vote is an inducement to study and become literate.

It is also possible to confer extra voting power upon persons of accomplishment who are worthy of respect, giving their demonstratedly capable or wise viewpoints more weight. For example, those rendering exceptional service to society, and those demonstrating extraordinary wisdom in governmental service might be nominated, as well as scientists, inventors, teachers, philosophers and spiritual leaders. Such honors would be proudly attached to one's name along with educational degrees and other personal achievements. Heavy taxpayers might also be rewarded with extra voting credits. Additional voting power generally extends only to the selection of legislative representatives, not to executive leaders.

Each voter must be registered in a particular voting jurisdiction prior to election time in order to cast a ballot there. They may be registered by constituency, or, in the case of voting by economic and-or other group divisions, in one voting group from each of the group categories.

Prospective politicians, too, should be required to know at least as much about democracy and its institutions as the educated electorate. Ideally to qualify for holding public office, they should be certified graduates of a training course in statesmanship, including not only political theory but also, for example, the nation's own political structure, legislative proceedures and administrative traditions and techniques.
Often, someone who wishes to run for office must be nominated by others. Sometimes even dozens of nominee signatures are required, to discourage unstable people and those who are not really serious, for example humorists, from putting their names on the ballot as a publicity stunt. Diplomas of political qualification would weed out most of these.

By all these means, a society could hope to have a more knowledgeable electorate and avoid having base and ignorant politicians, which would help prevent choosing rulers and legislators whose acts would have a negative impact on society instead of a positive one.

Significance of Voting Systems (January 2012)

No doubt in the beginnings of democracy, it seemed reasonable to vote 'yes' or 'no' to simple, vital issues, and sometimes it still is. When ballots went to paper, that choice became an "X". But where choices become more complex, where there are gray areas and multiple choices, the system used for voting as well as the merits of the issue itself starts to affect the choices that are made.

By 2004 I started to realize that political partisan groups, "parties", are a political disease. A legislature is supposed to be a representative cross section of the society it represents where legislation is proposed and debated, not a small number of political factions squabbling for power who make their decisions behind closed doors and vote in blocks. Two things especially cater to "partyism": mixing the executive and legislative branches of government, and voting systems that prejudice the chances of independent candidates. The first of these topics is covered in an appendix. The second is here. In all these years, the only fair voting systems I've found are multiple ballots and choice ranking, which do the same thing. All the others cater to, or even enshrine in the system, political "party" factions, and give voters obnoxious but valid reasons to vote for choices other than who or what they actually want most.

Simple "X" Ballot and Vote Splitting

In this simplest form of voting ballot, a voter marks an "X" or other convenient mark for the candidate of his choice, or for the specified number of candidates if more than one position is to be filled. This system works fine for selecting one candidate out of two, and not badly for selecting multiple candidates from one list.

But if there are three or more candidates for one office, often the result of an "X" vote is not what the majority of the voters actually wanted on account of a phenomenon called "vote splitting". The candidate most different from the others has an unfair advantage because the majority vote is split between two or more similar candidates while the minority are all voting for just one person, who is thus likely to win even when more than half the voters would have preferred any one of the other two or more similar candidates. (See example in Appendix.)

Single "X" balloting has often been called "first past the post" voting, but it might better be described as "nearest to the post on the first toss" voting, since it is not required that a candidate actually reach the 50% "post", merely that he have any slight lead over his nearest rival on the first (and only) count.

Multiple Ballots Voting

One solution where the leading candidate claims less than 50% of the votes is to eliminate the least popular candidate(s) and vote again with fewer choices in a runoff election, two or more times until one person does have 50%. Recognizing the unfairness of the "illiterate's single "X"" voting system, this process is often used at political party conventions for selecting a party leader, but in a public election where the votes are not counted until the end of the day, this solution is impractical: Many voters would have to return to the polls and vote twice, or perhaps even three or more times, over a period of days or weeks. The simple solution to achieve the very same result with a single ballot follows.

Choice Ranking Voting
(revised January 2012)

Australia and New Zealand currently use this utterly simple and most fair of all systems.
I suspect it's the final form of voting that will be adopted sooner or later by all, everywhere. It sounded strange to me at first, but on due consideration of all the possible options, it was chosen by the vast majority of the BC Citizen's Committee on Electoral Reform in 2003-2004 as the best option. Subsequently I too recognized its great value. It's been given confusing names such as "instant runoff" and STV ("Single Transferable Vote") that make it sound strange and complicated, and some odd counting methods have been used that mostly obtain the desired result, but further muddy the waters. Today with computers to do the counting, only the ideal counting system below is required.

The voters simply rank all the choices, 1(st), 2(nd), 3(rd), etc. No winner is selected until one choice has over 50% of the votes. Ideally, if no choice has over 50% on the first count, the choice with the least number of votes is dropped, and the ballots for that choice are recounted for those voters' second choices. Dropping the least chosen and recounting for those voters' next choice continues until one choice has over 50% of the vote.

The ramifications of this type of balloting, where the ballot is the same but is filled out with preferences 1, 2, 3, ... instead of the illiterate's single "X", are more profound than is obvious at first glance. First and foremost, it eliminates all "strategic voting": there is never any reason to rank the choices in any order other than what you actually prefer. The preconception of the likelihood of a choice winning is no reason to rank it higher. No vote for what may seem like an unlikely choice is ever wasted. This by itself changes the prospects for the choices, and levels the field. A popular independent candidate is more likely to win than a ho-hum political partisan ("party") candidate, helping to eliminate the back room power of political partisan groups and put it back in the legislatures where it is supposed to reside.

I placed two campaign signs in a recent Canadian federal election.
This one provided a simple example of a choice ranking ballot.

If two or more choices are to be selected, voting is exactly the same as for a single choice. The first choice is elected the same way. The second and subsequent choices are also elected the same way, save that the names of those who have already won are excluded from the second counts, the votes going to the voters' next choices.

Additionally, if this voting system is used in a legislature, it can streamline the whole legislative process. Instead of repeated loops of discussion, proposed amendment, and voting on each amendment, all proposed amendments and choices can be saved for the single, final ballot. Since no number of similar proposals prejudice each other, the legislator can decide at the end exactly which fine details he prefers in the final bill, as well as the coarse ones. And this includes, for example, even if a legislator is against the bill, but if it's passing anyway, his second and subsequent choice preferences still give him a say in the final form of the passing bill. No failing first choice prevents the voter from having his say on the next available choice!

Proportional Representation Systems: Party List System and Mixed Member Systems

In the Party List System, voters vote for a party rather than for individual candidates. The parties list the persons they would like to have in the legislature in order of preference. The seats are allocated to each party in accordance with their percentage of the popular vote. This is perhaps an advance on purely constituency-based systems in that there can be societal considerations independent of geography in the selection of some of the representatives, and these representatives are free of dealing with specific geographical constituency issues. On the other hand, these "members at large" are not closely tied to the electorate: they are selected by the political party. If one of them is disliked by the public, there is no specific group to whom he is responsible which could demand he step down or refuse to vote for him in the next election, specifically, except by the entire populace refusing to vote for the party he is in. And, this system does not permit independent candidates, those unaffiliated with some political party. It is the most popular form of proportional representation, but it is often mixed with constituency voting.
In a Mixed Member system, the voter casts one vote (hopefully by instant runoff) for his constituency representative and another for his favored party, and a portion of the legislative seats are allocated by each method.
In some such systems, a given number of seats are won directly by constituency and a second block of seats by the party list system. In others, the constituency seats are also won directly, and additional seats are allocated to each party's list until each is proportionately represented in accordance with the percentage of the party vote.
Often there is a minimum threshold of 5% to 10% of the party-list vote before a party is considered eligible to be represented in the legislature.

Proportional Representation

If each election for each legislator is viewed by itself and by individual candidates and if there were no political parties, then the instant runoff vote would make for fair elections. But when the legislature and the population is viewed as a whole and by political party, the overall result is not fair. If 15% of the voters voted for "Blue" party candidates, it would be logical to expect that the Blue party should have 15% of the seats. But probably the Blue party didn't manage to get 50% of the vote in any one of the 100 ridings and thus, it has no seats at all! The views of the 15% of the electorate who voted for Blue party candidates and philosophy are completely unrepresented in the legislature while the views of the largest voting groups are disproportionately over-represented, and sometimes, after stunning defeats, or repeated failures to gain any seats at all, losing parties collapse with their ideas and ideals in spite of the support of a substantial percentage of the population.
Proportional Representation allocates 15% of the seats to the most popular Blue party candidates so that the overall portion of seats follows the overall pattern of voting and all voters are thus proportionately represented by the parties of their choice.
The more different points of view that are electable to a legislature, the less chance there is that any one party voting block will predominate and be able to dictate the course of legislative events, ignoring other considered opinions and alternative ideas.
In countries which have so far failed to separate the executive and legislative branches of their governments, legislative minorities result in weak executive governments which have trouble running the country, and so such countries fear proportional representation. It is, in fact, another reason the executive branch of government must be independent of the legislative.

Although it is more fair to voters overall and tends to prevent polarization in politics, proportional representation requires more complex systems of voting, or for allocating the seats after voting, and the relationship between the voters and the candidates is often less direct, and so it has been implemented in different forms in different lands. Major forms of full or quasi-proportional representation are discussed in the appendix.

6. Petitions and Initiatives: Direct Democracy

Sometimes, it is not enough to be represented by others. Sometimes there are political "hot potatos" that politicians do not wish to deal with. Sometimes, politicians as a class can have a conflict of interest with the rest of their society. Sometimes, someone will have a good idea without being able to get politicians to take any notice of it.
Citizens must have some means of presenting good ideas to their fellow citizens without having to get the approval of, or even in spite of the opinions of, their chosen representatives and leaders. And not only must they be able to present petitions, but they must carry weight: the citizens' voice, the explicit voice of public opinion, must prevail even over the views of the leader and the legislature, and extend to the operation of the government.
One of the newest forms of petition is the American state "initiative". When any US citizen makes up a petition and gets enough people to sign it (several thousand?), it is presented as a choice, an "initiative", on a ballot at the next state-wide election: The entire population of the state votes "yes" or "no" to the idea. In this way, Americans have recently sometimes been able to pass progressive laws which sometimes their leaders and representatives do not approve of.

Appendix: Supplemental Notes and Case Studies

A note on "Vote Splitting " and the Choice Ranking / "Instant Runoff" Vote

Suppose there are two rather similar candidates, for example two conservatives. The third candidate is a lone socialist. (It can just as easily be two socialists and one conservative, or any two dissimilar philosophies.) The voting ratio on a simple "X" ballot turns out as:
     * Conservative A 25%,          * Conservative B 36%          * Socialist 39%.
61% of the voters chose a conservative candidate, and yet the socialist candidate is elected with 39% of the vote.
Ironically, Conservative B, during the election, often tells Conservative A that he is doing society a disservice by running for office(!), because now probably neither of them will win. Conservative A may feel the same about Conservative B.
This situation arises routinely in Canada, often deciding which party forms the government and helping to grant a disproportionate number of legislative seats to the beneficiary party. The current (2003) British Columbia provincial (state) governing party has 77 of 79 legislative seats with just over 50% of the voters choosing it, but with most of the remaining vote "split" between two parties with somewhat similar appeal.
With the instant runoff vote, Conservative A, with the least votes, would be dropped after the first count. The ballots cast for him - 25% of the ballots - are re-counted according to the voters' second choices, after which we might find a much different end result, with Conservative B being proven strongly favored over the Socialist:
     * Conservative B 58%          * Socialist 42%

Proportional Representation Systems: Party List System and Mixed Member Systems

In the Party List System, voters vote for a party rather than for individual candidates. The parties list the persons they would like to have in the legislature in order of preference. The seats are allocated to each party in accordance with their percentage of the popular vote. This is perhaps an advance on purely constituency-based systems in that there can be societal considerations independent of geography in the selection of some of the representatives, and these representatives are free of dealing with specific geographical constituency issues. On the other hand, these "members at large" are not closely tied to the electorate: they are selected by the political party. If one of them is disliked by the public, there is no specific group to whom he is responsible which could demand he step down or refuse to vote for him in the next election, specifically, except by the entire populace refusing to vote for the party he is in. And, this system does not permit independent candidates, those unaffiliated with some political party. It is the most popular form of proportional representation, but it is often mixed with constituency voting.
In a Mixed Member system, the voter casts one vote (hopefully by instant runoff) for his constituency representative and another for his favored party, and a portion of the legislative seats are allocated by each method.
In some such systems, a given number of seats are won directly by constituency and a second block of seats by the party list system. In others, the constituency seats are also won directly, and additional seats are allocated to each party's list until each is proportionately represented in accordance with the percentage of the party vote.
Often there is a minimum threshold of 5% to 10% of the party-list vote before a party is considered eligible to be represented in the legislature.

Proportional Representation Systems: Multi-Member Constituency Systems

If a given constituency has multiple members instead of a single member, several forms of intra-constituency quasi-proportional representation are possible. If a constituency - presumably one five times larger - had five seats instead of one, parties or individuals obtaining around 15% to 25% of the votes would be likely to win one seat (20% of the seats) under any of the several possible systems. They eliminate most of the "pot luck" of "closest to the post" voting for a single candidate, while also giving reasonably strong minorities and popular independent candidates a voice in the legislature.
Multi-member constituencies can thus eliminate the need for national-scale proportional representation voting, bringing it down to a local level where individual candidates are better known by reputation and more directly accountable to the electorate.
In an interest-based representation system, a multi-member constituency could consist of the several seats available in each voting category rather than each geographic area. The systems could also be mixed, with interest-based voting localized within larger, more geographically significant constituencies.

Proportional Voting Systems for Multi-Member Constituencies

One intra-constituency proportional representation election system is party list voting as above. The party lists would only include candidates within the constituency, for example there would be up to five names on each party's list in a five member constituency. Again, the element of directly electing individuals is missing.

Another quasi-proportional method is called cumulative voting. The voters are permitted the number of "X" votes that there are seats to be filled, for example, five in a five seat constituency, to be allocated in any desired manner. Major parties will have up to five candidates running; smaller parties might have just one. Thus, the larger number of votes cast for the major parties may be split between the five, whereas the fewer voters for a small party, or for a talented individual not in any party, may cast up to all five "X"es for the same candidate, giving him a much better chance of winning one of the five seats. This method is simple for the voter and easy to count. It has the advantages of being direct, individual candidate oriented rather than party based, and of the voter having refined power of choice, able to cast additional votes for someone he strongly prefers or to spread his votes among several whom he knows and likes more or less equally well. It also lends itself easily to worthy citizens being granted additional voting power, taking the form of extra permitted "X"es for those voters.
Limited voting systems are similar, but one is only permitted half the number of "X" votes as there are seats to be elected, eg, two in the five member constituency. This may be intended to limit the voter's ability to push too strongly for one minority candidate.
Perhaps a better way to "fine-tune" the system to remove an unfair bias towards minority candidates (if any is shown to exist) is to place a limit on the number of "X"es allowed for any one candidate - perhaps 4, 3 or 2. One could then even go the opposite direction and permit more "X"es than there are seats, say seven or eight, so voters could select up to five candidates but still cast (1 to 3) extra votes for their favorite(s). This would give voters the most refined power of choice, to support each desired candidate more or less strongly according to preference.
The cumulative voting system is used in Canada for selecting several members from a list of candidates in local school board trustee and civic aldermanic elections, with the number of "X"es being equal to the number of seats to be won, and with a strict limit of one "X" per candidate. Here, owing to this voting system, individual candidate qualifications are usually dominant over party politics.

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Canada et al - Combining the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government

Society carries on under any type of government, but it may be instructive to examine how the organizational forms or the governing techniques of a country may sometimes be an unrecognized factor causing ongoing political and social problems.

Canada and other countries using the British Parliamentary System effectively combine the executive and legislative branches of their governments. The leader of the largest legislative political party becomes executive head of the government, the "prime minister" or premier. He chooses his cabinet of other "ministers" from the elected members of parliament as a president would select his staff and is free to replace them at any time, so they rarely risk serious dispute with him. Likewise, the members of his party, almost always well over half of the parliament owing to the non-proportional, single X-ballot election system, risk their political careers to vote against their leader. Thus, the prime minister controls both the executive and the legislature, and so can almost automatically count on the support of all those he needs agreement from to effect any legislation or action, giving him almost dictatorial powers. Only when his plans and ideas are so repugnant that he risks a voting revolt by his own party is his power limit reached.
And his combined power interferes further with the legislative body: First, parliament is convened in accordance with the Prime Minister's own, usually executive, agenda. Then, all proposals for bills not originating from the governing executive cabinet, so-called "private member's bills", require unanimous consent by parliament to even be discussed, so they almost never are. This is necessary to effectively expedite executive business and prevent paralysis of action. By combining legislative and executive functions, the executive branch has usurped the independent power of the legislative branch to legislate. Or is it the other way around?: The "executive branch" members were elected as legislators: Canadians as a whole do not choose the prime minister, except by electing members of his party as their representatives, regardless of their fitness as legislators.
Canadians accept this unsatisfactory but familiar state of affairs as normal, as do most citizens living under most governmental systems. But in countries where the executive and legislative branches are properly separated, the president has no power or right to tell the legislature when they may meet and what they may talk about and vote on, and there would be outrage if he tried.

This was the second of two campaign signs I posted in a Canadian federal election.
This one is not only a second example of a choice ranking ballot, it illustrates one of the problems
with jumbling the executive and legislative branches of government together.

France - Separation of Powers

France also had a mixed legislative and executive government branch. And owing to a fairer voting system, there are many parties in the French parliament and no single party can gain a clear majority of the seats. This creates a very different situation: the Prime Minister could never be sure of gaining enough voting support in the legislature for anything he tried to do. An endless succession of weak French governments were formed and then resigned after their bills failed to pass.
In a confusing governmental crisis in the 1950's that could easily have resulted in a military government, people turned to Charles de Gaulle for direction. He surprised everyone by creating a new separate elected position, President of France. Now there is someone who can act as necessary, independently of the deliberations of the French legislature. It took many decades of democratic political turmoil before someone finally grasped this essential solution, and it has been slow to spread to other "parliamentary" countries.

British Columbia - Petitions

In Canada's province of British Columbia, a system for petitioning was instituted by the legislature about ten years ago. If a petition meets the conditions and has enough signatures, it will be presented for a public vote at the next provincial election, and if it passes, the legislature is obligated to pass laws to give it effect.
But owing to the strict terms and short time period within which an immense number of signatures must be collected from all across the province (which is 360,000 square miles), all efforts to bring a petition even close to the voting stage have proven doomed to failure - even a major petition by an important, organized political party to initiate a proportional representation voting system. It would seem the petitioner must essentially prove that the petition would easily win if voted on, without any resources to conduct such an unofficial election, instead of simply having to show that there are enough people interested to make the issue worthy of bringing to a public vote when a regular election is taking place.
Though unusable in its current form, this endorsement of the fundamental right to petition could easily become a real democratic asset if the terms for petitioning were made reasonable.