Guess that's a No then

On the BC electoral reform referendum, it wasn’t even close. BC-STV didn’t carry a voter majority in almost any riding, and it didn’t come anywhere near the 60% threshold in total popular vote. Faced with the same question a second time, far fewer British Columbians voted Yes.

That must settle the question. It was pushing things to ask the electoral-reform question a second time. Advocates of STV, who fancy themselves advocates of greater democracy, must not “give it a rest” or “regroup and try again later” — in British Columbia, they must give up. It’s over.

Advocates of electoral reform elsewhere have to ask themselves serious questions about what went wrong in BC. In no particular order, here are a few thoughts (some of which have been suggested to me in emails from Inkless Irregulars):

• The Yes campaign’s chosen colours were nearly identical to the party colours of the losing party in the general election. That’s really dumb.

• The Yes campaign had no single, highly visible personality to act as standard-bearer for the idea. That sort of person can come in handy during a referendum campaign, as I believe Lucien Bouchard would tell you if you asked.

• The whole asking-twice thing is highly annoying to many voters. They were right to be annoyed. Message to would-be electoral reformers: the price of getting something wrong on your first attempt is very high.

• Just by the luck of things, this referendum fell on the same day as one of British Columbia’s exceedingly rare non-pathological general elections. The Gordon Campbell Liberals won 46% of the popular vote and about 58% of seats. The familiar first-past-the-post phenomenon — a plurality of votes produces a majority of seats — was at play here, but there was no wild distortion of the kind that makes the case for electoral reform, as there usually is in BC elections.

• BC-STV is more complicated than reform should have been. Reform advocates, who like to dive into the minutae of electoral-system theory, have a much higher tolerance for the arcane plumbing of various voting systems than does the ordinary voter. So reform advocates tend to wildly overestimate voter patience for a system that takes more than a few sentences to explain.

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