What’d I miss?: Elec­toral Re­form in B.C.

The Miracle - - Local - By: Michelle Gomez, Staff writer the-peak.ca

H ere’s a guide to vot­ing in BC’s ref­er­en­dum. Have you no­ticed the bal­lots and pam­phlets in your mail­box? B.C.’s up­com­ing 2018 Ref­er­en­dum on Elec­toral Re­form will de­cide whether we keep our first-past-the-post sys­tem (FPTP) or switch to one of three pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) sys­tems. This is fol­low­ing two pre­vi­ous ref­er­en­dums, one in 2005 and one in 2009, nei­ther of which brought any changes. Vot­ing in the ref­er­en­dum could en­tirely re­struc­ture B.C.’s pol­i­tics, but cur­rently, about one third of Bri­tish Columbians are un­de­cided about how to vote. Any­one who is a Cana­dian cit­i­zen, is 18 or older, and has been a res­i­dent of Bri­tish Columbia for at least the past six months is el­i­gi­ble to vote. The vot­ing pack­ages will be de­liv­ered un­til Novem­ber 2, and bal­lots must be re­turned to Elec­tions B.C. by Novem­ber 30. The ref­er­en­dum bal­lot will ask you two ques­tions. First, it’ll ask whether we should keep our cur­rent sys­tem or switch to PR. Then, vot­ers will be asked to rank all three pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tems in or­der of pref­er­ence on a sep­a­rate bal­lot, so that we’ll know which sys­tem to switch to if the an­swer to the first ques­tion is “yes.” This sec­ond ques­tion makes it im­por­tant to have an un­der­stand­ing of all of the sys­tems, even if you would rather stick to first-past-the-post.

Cur­rent: First-past-the-post (FPTP)

BC’s cur­rent vot­ing sys­tem is first-past­the-post (FPTP). FPTP splits up the province ge­o­graph­i­cally into elec­toral dis­tricts, or rid­ings, which each elect an MLA to rep­re­sent them — in this case, in the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture. Vot­ers choose one can­di­date for their district, and a can­di­date needs to win the most votes to win their seat. So, there’s one seat in the leg­is­la­ture for each district, and for each district a party wins, they also win a seat; the break­down of in­di­vid­ual votes for each party is ir­rel­e­vant. FPTP is cur­rently used in many coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United King­dom. Crit­ics FPTP point out that un­der it, leg­isla- ture does not pro­por­tion­ally re­flect the votes. This sys­tem often favours can­di­dates from large par­ties, and often re­sults in sin­gle-party ma­jor­ity govern­ments (mean­ing that a sin­gle party holds more than 50% of the seats in the leg­is­la­ture and there­fore holds enough votes to over­rule any de­ci­sion made). Ad­van­tages of FPTP in­clude how easy it is both for vot­ers to to use and un­der­stand, and it is easy to ad­min­is­ter and man­age as well. Some fans of FPTP also ar­gue that this sys­tem bars ex­trem­ist or fringe par­ties from gain­ing po­lit­i­cal power.

Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion al­ter­na­tives

Ac­cord­ing to Fair Vote Canada BC, “pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion is a prin­ci­ple un­der­ly­ing a vot­ing sys­tem: Peo­ple should be rep­re­sented in pro­por­tion to how they voted.” In other words, un­der pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, a party would re­ceive roughly the same per­cent­age of seats as they do votes. While there are many dif­fer­ent sys­tems de­signed to yield pro­por­tional re­sults, the three that we will be vot­ing on in B.C. are dualmem­ber pro­por­tional (DMP), mixed-mem­ber pro­por­tional (MMP), and ru­ral-ur­ban pro­por­tional (RUP).

Dual-Mem­ber Pro­por­tional (DMP)

Dual-mem­ber pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion would re­ar­range B.C.’s elec­toral dis­tricts to re­con­fig­ure how our MLAs are se­lected. Most rid­ings, aside from large ru­ral ones, would fuse with an ad­ja­cent rid­ing. These new rid­ings would each have two MLAs. Dur­ing an elec­tion, in an ur­ban rid­ing, each party could run a pri­mary and sec­ondary can­di­date, and vot­ers would se­lect their party of choice, rather than their pre­ferred can­di­date. The win­ning party’s main can­di­date is elected as one of the MLAs. In­de­pen­dents would only be elected if they place first or sec­ond in the rid­ing. The sec­ond MLA is cho­sen by com­par­ing the win­ning party’s sec­ondary can­di­date to the other par­ties’ el­i­gi­ble main can­di­dates, ex­cept that now the win­ning party’s sec­ondary can­di­date is given half of their party’s votes. From there, seats are pro­por­tion­ally dis­trib­uted across rid­ings based off of each party’s per­for­mance on a pro­vin­cial level, with some ex­tra caveats that you can read more about on B.C. Elec­tions’ web­site. CBC ex­plains that while “this sys­tem would favour pri­mary can­di­dates from the party that fin­ished sec­ond in a rid­ing some­times, a sec­ondary can­di­date from a win­ning party would get in if the party did both re­ally well in that rid­ing and across the province gen­er­ally.” DMP was de­vel­oped in Canada, but is cur­rently not used any­where in the world.

Mixed-Mem­ber Pro­por­tional (MMP)

In mixed-mem­ber pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, vot­ers would elect one lo­cal MLA (as we do now), as well as MLAs rep­re­sent­ing a new kind of rid­ing called a re­gion. About 60% of the MLAs would be lo­cal, and the re­main­ing 40% would be re­gional. Un­der MMP, vot­ers would choose their pre­ferred lo­cal MLA as we do now, and the lo­cal can­di­dates would be elected as they are now un­der first-past-the-post. In ad­di­tion, vot­ers would also choose their pre­ferred re­gional can­di­date from a party list, and the re­gional can­di­dates would be elected to en­sure that the over­all com­po­si­tion of MLAs re­flects the pro­por­tions of the vote. Sim­i­lar to the DMP sys­tem we talked about, a party must get at least 5% of the vote to gain a re­gional seat. This sys­tem is cur­rently used in Ger­many, New Zealand, and Scot­land, among oth­ers. The spe­cific size and lim­its of fu­ture elec­toral dis­tricts and re­gions have not been de­cided yet; these will be des­ig­nated by a leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee if MMP is cho­sen in the ref­er­en­dum. This com­mit­tee will also de­cide if vot­ers have one vote or two un­der this sys­tem, since both are in use in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Ru­ral-ur­ban pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (RUP)

Ru­ral-ur­ban pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion merges two other sys­tems, MMP and sin­gle trans­fer­able vote (STV), to en­sure that ur­ban and ru­ral vot­ers are rep­re­sented equally. In ru­ral ar­eas, vot­ers would elect lo­cal and re­gional MLAs with the MMP sys­tem. In ur­ban (ge­o­graph­i­cally small but densely pop­u­lated) ar­eas, vot­ers would use STV to elect their MLAs. In STV, mul­ti­ple rid­ings would be merged into one multi-district rid­ing in which vot­ers would elect a small team of MLAs. In­stead of vot­ing for their sin­gle favourite can­di­date, vot­ers would num­ber off the can­di­dates on the bal­lot to in­di­cate how much they liked each one (so you would mark your favourite can­di­date num­ber-one, your sec­ond would be marked num­ber-two, et cetera.) Par­ties could run many can­di­dates per district as well. If RUP were to be cho­sen, an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion would de­ter­mine the bound­aries of all the var­i­ous dis­tricts. Bri­tish Columbia would also be the only place in the world us­ing RUP sys­tem, though MMP and STV are both used in­di­vid­u­ally.

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