The Province

Electoral reform option designed by Alberta student


The first time he was old enough to vote in an election, Sean Graham says he realized the system was flawed.

His hometown riding in northern Alberta was a secure seat for a party that he didn’t support, so voting for anyone else under the first-past-thepost system felt like a wasted ballot.

“That to me was a significan­t problem. Regardless of where someone lives, their vote should matter,” Graham said from Edmonton.

Only a few years later as an undergradu­ate student at the University of Alberta, Graham crafted a pitch for a new electoral system. That model is now being considered by voters in British Columbia, where a provincewi­de referendum on electoral reform is underway.

“It is the first Canadian-developed proportion­al representa­tion system to be put to a provincewi­de vote, so I’m very proud to have my work have that status. Certainly it has gained traction more than I thought, though I was hopeful because I do think it addresses the concerns quite well,” he said.

The first question on the ballot asks voters to choose between the existing firstpast-the-post voting system and proportion­al representa­tion, a form of voting where the parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes that are cast for them.

The second question asks voters to rank three forms of proportion­al representa­tion: Rural-urban proportion­al, mixed member proportion­al and Graham’s model, dual member proportion­al.

Elections B.C. is accepting ballots by mail or in person until Dec. 7.

Graham said he developed the model as a grant-funded independen­t research project that was supervised by a professor, while he was pursuing double majors in political science and physics.

“I thought it would be helpful to come up with a system that not only addressed the issue of rural inclusion better but also retained more of what people like about firstpast-the-post,” he said.

Graham said he submitted the model to the B.C. government through a similar process.

In dual member proportion­al, most electoral districts are combined with a neighbouri­ng district and have two representa­tives in the legislatur­e, although large rural districts continue to have one member. In two-member districts, a voter can vote for one candidate or a pair of candidates who may or may not be from the same party. The first seat in a district is won by the candidate with the most votes, while the second goes to the parties so that each party’s share of seats roughly matches its share of the popular vote.

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