Fighting for Fairness: Teaching Proportional Representation

Cindy Spackman

To illustrate the FPTP system, a simple exercise helps  students  understand  how  our voting system works right now. After  they had considered some of the historical issues surrounding  our  political  system  through their history unit, I told my grade 7 class that they were going to develop their explanatory writing skills. By exploring Canada’s current voting system and a proposed  change to it, we would be able to explain to others how elections work right now, why some people think our electoral system is unfair, and what change has been suggested. I began by asking the class to vote on whose music to play at a school dance.

This was the result:
Justin Bieber:
 5 votes
LMFAO: 10 votes
K’naan: 3 votes
Taylor  Swift:   11 votes

The discussion that followed went like this:

Me: “Who has the most votes?”

“Taylor Swift.”

Me: “Did the majority of you vote for Taylor Swift?”

Some said yes, others said no. I asked one of the naysayers to explain his reasoning.

“There are 29 of us, and only 11 voted for Taylor Swift, so no.”

Me: “So, you’re saying that the majority of the class voted for someone else, not Taylor Swift.” Another student jumped in. “Right. She got the most of any one kind of vote, but most people wanted someone else.”

Me: “The one with the most votes was Taylor Swift. She got 11 votes. But the majority of you didn’t vote for her. Eighteen of you voted for someone else. So if we play only Taylor Swift’s music, the majority of you will be unhappy with the choice, even though she got the most votes.”

With the school dance question, students begin to perceive the problems inherent in the FPTP system when there are more than two choices on the ballot. A discussion about how to solve the problem of whose music is played at the dance revealed interesting things about  students’  perceptions of  what a  fair vote is, and opened the door for discussion about how we resolve conflicts. At this point I showed the class examples of actual Canadian election results.

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