Everything you need to know about BC's electoral referendum this fall

Oct 30 2018, 5:43 am

By now, BC residents have started receiving a mail-in ballot from Elections BC, asking them whether or not we should change the way we conduct our provincial elections.

But what exactly does that mean?

Currently, BC’s provincial election system falls under what is known as a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.

Under this system, BC is divided into numerous electoral districts, with each one being represented by one Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Victoria.

During an election, people in these districts vote for the candidate they want to have represent them as their MLA in Victoria and the candidate with the most votes wins.

The question at the core of the referendum this fall is whether voters would like to keep this current system or move to what is known as Proportional Representation (ProRep).

According to Elections BC, proportional representation is defined as when the share of seats of a political party is about the same as the party’s share of the popular vote.

But there are different voting systems that are designed to produce proportional results.

As such, the referendum not only includes a question of whether or not to keep FPTP or move to ProRep, but also includes a question about what kind of ProRep supporters of the system would like to see.

Which brings us to the mail-in ballot itself, which feature not one, but two questions.

First, you’ll have the option if you want to keep the system we have, or scrap it in favour of proportional representation. If you choose proportional representation, you can rank what kind of system you like best.

So what are those systems exactly?

Dual Member Proportional (DMP)

Under a DMP system, most districts will combine with another district and would have two representatives instead of one.

For the districts with two seats, Elections BC says that some parties will choose two candidates and designate them as primary and secondary candidates.

The first seat for a district will be occupied by the primary candidate with the most votes.

The second seats will be filled after all the votes in the province are counted. This seat is based on the popular vote.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

Under an MMP system, the representatives are divided into district and regional MLAs.

District MLAs are elected directly through the same FPTP system we have now (the candidate with the most votes wins).

Regional MLAs will be elected by a list made by political parties. The party that the Regional MLAs come from will be based on the popular vote.

Essentially, this means that you can vote for the party you like best  – even if you think that candidate’s chances of actually winning are slim to nil.

Rural-Urban Proportional

According to Elections BC, a Rural-Urban Proportional system would mean different systems for urban and rural districts.

Districts defined as rural would vote using the MMP system. The rest of the districts would vote using a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. STV districts would be larger; the idea being that more people would be represented within each district.

Each district would also have more than one MLA (between two and seven to be exact, and multiple candidates from a single party would be allowed to run.) Voters can rank as many of the candidates as they want, as long as they rank at least one.

This type of electoral system takes numerous rounds of counting, according to Elections BC. Here’s why:

  • Every district has what’s known as a quota. A quota is the number of votes a candidate needs to be elected in a district. These vary based on the number of votes cast and district size.
  • In the first round of voting, only primary votes (votes counted as people’s first option) are counted. If a candidate reaches the quota, they win a seat for the district. Leftover votes from an elected candidate are transferred to other candidates, based on the percentages of secondary votes from the people who ranked that candidate as their first option.
  • If no candidate is elected from the extra votes, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. That candidate’s votes are then transferred to the other candidates based on who the voters chose as their second options.
  • If still no candidate reaches the quota, the candidates with the next fewest votes get eliminated until a candidate reaches the quota. This process continues until enough candidates have reached the quota number to fill the seats given to that district.

What the parties are saying

So which system is the right system? Well, that depends on who you ask.

The push for ProRep has been a key part of the NDP and Green Party since taking power last year.

At a recent rally in Victoria, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver recognized that thanks to the current FPTP system, he and two other Green Party candidates were “left holding the balance of power in an NDP minority government.”

That being said, Weaver also noted that the province is at a “pivotal moment” with an opportunity to “change the system, make it more inclusive.”

He added that the current FPTP is a system that pits parties against one another into a “zero-sum fight for power. It forces people to vote for what they don’t want, instead of what they do want.”

NDP Leader John Horgan echoed his sentiments.

“Proportional representation ensures that we get the votes into the box on election day, because people are anxious to make sure that their values and their points of view are reflected,” he said. “That’s what PR can – and will do – here in British Columbia.”

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson has a different take.

His party claims that thanks to the referendum, “local accountability is at risk” and that the whole thing is”rigged” and “flawed.”

A group that calls itself No Proportional Representation Society of BC claims in a YouTube video that under ProRep, “extremists are elected to legislatures with a tiny percentage of votes.”

Wilkinson and his party also charge that ProRep leads to more frequent elections with coalition governments formed in backroom deals.

They also say that two out of the three suggested ProRep systems “have never been used anywhere in the world before.”

Now, as mail-in ballots continue to be sent out and received, both leaders have agreed to a televised debate on electoral reform, scheduled to take place on November 8.

Voting packages are being delivered throughout BC until November 2, and the referendum runs until November 30.

See also

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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