Pro-rep vote referendum underway

Ballot includes four different options for voters

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The way British Columbia votes is currently under the microscope, as people have the chance to vote in the 2018 Electoral Reform Referendum until the end of November.

Though some confusion exists about the different proportional representation options on the ballot, the main question on the ballot — whether or not B.C. should adopt a system of proportional representation — is more straightforward.

Salt Spring’s Bob MacKie, a proponent of proportional representation and vice president of Fair Voting BC, explained earlier this year that “Question number one is the important question. Do you want it, or don’t you? I think that’s going to be the main focus for most people.”

To Stephen Roberts, also of Salt Spring, who ran for the BC Liberals in the Saanich North and the Islands riding in the 2017 provincial election, the lack of information provided about the different options is concerning.

“I think that there’s not enough information about what this will look like after the referendum if it will pass,” he said. “The government said they would figure out a list of things that would be determined later, which is not really sufficient for people to make an informed decision when so much is left unanswered.”

The second question gives voters the option to rank the three choices in order of their preference. Voters do not have to choose any of the three for their ballot to be counted, or they can rank one, two or three of the options. Voters can also answer the second question even if they vote for first past the post on the first.

In total, four options are on the ballot: first past the post, dual member proportional, mixed member proportional and a rural/urban system. The last three are proportional systems wherein the percentage of votes a party gets province-wide will roughly equal the amount of seats that party has in the legislature.

Canada currently uses the first past the post system. The party that gets the highest number of votes wins the election. It tends to create strong governments, but also does not accurately represent voters’ choices. Though the highest polling candidate is elected, it is possible for more people to vote against the candidate rather than for them. Majority governments can be elected and receive 100 per cent power with sometimes less than 40 per cent of the vote. This system is easy to understand and allows governments to be efficient and meet their mandates easier. However, it can lead to partisanship and make some voters feel their vote does not count, particularly in politically entrenched ridings.

Dual Member Proportional

Dual member proportional is the first option on the ballot. This system combines neighbouring ridings, and gives people two votes from the list of candidates on the ballot. Voters select a party with two candidates listed. The party with the most votes elects their first candidate through first past the post. The remaining seats are allocated proportionally so that each party’s seats matches its share of the province-wide vote. The second seats are chosen from districts where the particular party did well, ensuring that voters get the MLAs that represent them. Districts could have representation from two different parties, depending on how the secondary seats are allocated. This system was recently developed in Canada and is not currently in use.

Mixed Member Proportional

Mixed member proportional is the second option on the list. This system has two different kinds of MLAs, district and regional, and voters have two votes on their ballot. One vote is for the district MLA, who is elected using first past the post. The second vote is for a party. Districts are grouped together into regions and regional MLAs are chosen from a party list using the results from the party vote. Voters do not need to choose the party that their candidate represents. District MLAs fill the remaining seats in order to ensure the province-wide vote is proportional. This system is in use in Germany, New Zealand and Scotland.

Rural-Urban

The third option is for rural-urban proportional representation. This system combines mixed member proportional (explained above) and a system called the single transferable vote. In rural districts, MMP will be used. Urban and semi-urban voters will vote for more than one MLA  by ranking their choices. The candidate that meets a quota of votes is elected. Any votes that exceed the quota are redistributed to the voters’ second choices. This continues until all of the seats are filled. If no candidates meet the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed. Single transferrable vote is used in Ireland, Australia and Malta.

The options being presented will not reduce the number of MLAs in the legislature, although some may be added in some cases. The number of MLAs in B.C. also changes from time to time using FPTP.

Ballots come with an information package about the different systems. Video explanations are also available on the Elections B.C. website.

Voters will also get a second chance to decide on whether or not to keep proportional representation. After two election cycles, another referendum will be held on the subject, so voters have a chance to confirm their choice at that time.

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