MoVE: the Movement for Voter Equality exists to advocate for equal, effective votes and transparent, accountable representation for all Canadians.
MoVE’s mandate is to fight for the equality of all Canadian voters, irrespective of geographic location, community of interest, race, gender, etc. and for the equal effectiveness of their votes in local, provincial and federal elections. MoVE will work strategically to leverage major opportunities to achieve true voter equality and accountable representation through any branch of government at any political level.
Principles and Heritage
In contemporary Canadian society, there exists a broad social consensus across the political spectrum on three intertwined points:
(1) All people are equal
(2) All people have the right to exercise political power through voting
(3) All votes people’s votes should count equally
These are fundamental values that Canadians have inherited from our days as a colony and, later, dominion of the British Empire. Yet, today, our election laws do not reflect them. That is because our electoral system will be celebrating its eight hundredth birthday in June 2015. Aside from expansions of the franchise to include all adults between 1832 and 1961, our voting system remains one that was designed to represent the people of a small, feudal island in the Atlantic Ocean in the Middle Ages.
The system of representation hammered-out between King John and his barons in the thirteenth century deserves a great deal of respect, in part because it was tailored to meet the needs of the heady days of the High Middle Ages, when a newly-confident, educated urbanizing class was drinking in the cutting-edge knowledge crusaders were bringing back from the Middle East. But today, we do these intelligent and forward-looking men a disservice when we imagine that the political system they built for Anglo-Norman England was built for all people at all times and places.
Equal Communities and Equal People Today
One of the biggest differences between the world of 2014 and the world of 1215 is how we understand and participate in community. Before telecommunications, fossil fuels and ocean-going vessels, your community was your village, town or parish. Social and family life were about the people who lived near you and, consequently, so were economic and political life.
Today, that is simply not the case. It is viewed as a happy or remarkable coincidence if we are close friends with our neighbours or if our relatives live on the same street. Much more often, the people with whom we share the most, the people with whom we most agree, the people who are our community are the people we see at work, at church, at soccer, etc. and it is a rare street on which we see only one party’s lawn signs at election time.
Yet, when we vote, our votes get pooled and counted with those of our neighbours and not with the people with whom we actually share community. Because, when we designed this system in 1215, our neighbours were our community.
And the problem is that if we count our votes based only on who we live near, here’s what happens: people in groups that are evenly spread over a wide area get little or no representation; people in groups that are heavily concentrated in one place are underrepresented but not as badly as the really spread-out groups; but the lucky people in groups that are distributed at just the right density often get to pick our whole government, even though they are almost always less than half the population.
In order for every person’s vote to count equally and every community’s voting power to be proportionate to its size, we need to make some changes to how we count votes. There are lots of ways to fix our voting system and make everybody’s vote equal; and most of them have been successfully used outside Canada.
False Solutions and Half-Measures
In 1787, America’s founders had an idea about how to make everybody’s vote equal. What if a law were passed that created political communities that all had almost exactly the same population? The English parliament did the same thing in 1832 and, in Canada, the courts imposed the same solution in 1989.
But this does not actually help all that much. It does not solve the problem of some communities being concentrated and some being diffuse, especially when those communities are not all that large in the first place. But even when they comprise millions of people there are often still problems. In the last US Congressional election, even though every electoral district had within 1% of the same population, the Republican Party won 34 more seats than the Democrats despite receiving 1.3 million fewer votes. That’s because Democratic voters lived too close to each other in some places and too far from each other in others.
So-called “wrong winner” elections like the 2012 US house elections are not that uncommon in our current voting system. In recent years, BC, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Québec have all had “majority” governments that didn’t just fail to get a majority of the popular vote but actually received fewer votes than the party that lost.
To truly treat voters equally, we need a voting system that does not discriminate against people either for having too few neighbours who are like them or for having too many. In an egalitarian system, what matters is not how many of your neighbours agree with you but how many people agree with you.
MoVE is working for voter equality in Canada right now to insure that your vote is counted equally. Here are some of our current areas of focus