How many of you realized that there is a referendum coming up to decide if Canada changes its voting system? Not many, I’m guessing. Out of those of you who had heard of the referendum, how many of you could explain the three different types of proportional representation that British Columbians are being asked to choose between?
Having read all of the government provided material, I can actually say that I understand less about the topic than I did before I started reading. The wording is so bafflingly vague and peppered with legal jargon that it takes at least three re-reads to even comprehend the basics of what they are trying to tell you. One could even believe that the government is doing so on purpose just to confuse us into voting for the system that they want to see in operation. In addition to this, they do not give concrete examples of how these systems have worked in real life applications, meaning that the voters are forced to go out and do research on their own. This is not the point of a referendum. In a referendum, the government is supposed to provide the information and let the public make up their own minds from the comprehensive information provided. The public should not be required to hunt around the internet trying desperately to fathom what each option entails.
Thus, the eddy has compiled a brief summary of each voting system in order to help you understand the options.
The first, and probably the easiest system to understand, is First Past the Post (FPTP), which is the system we have at the moment and is based off of the British Parliamentary system. Under a FPTP voting system, the country is divided into electoral districts, each of which elects one member of parliament. Everyone votes for one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. Because of this, the number of seats in the legislature that each party holds is equal to the number of districts that each party wins. The candidates who are elected are often from larger political parties. This system often results in single-party majority governments, as it has in Canada in the past, compared to the minority government which we have at the moment.
So, how is FPTP different from proportional representation? The main basis of all proportional representation voting systems is that the number of seats a party holds in the legislature is a reflection of the percentage of votes the party got province wide. This may seem confusing, so here’s an example. If a party receives 73% of the popular vote, then, as a result of that, the party will hold approximately 73 seats in legislature. This differs from FPTP in that it offers a chance for smaller political parties to gain seats in the legislature, rather than tending to favour the more prominent political parties. Because multiple parties will be represented in legislature, proportional representation often results in minority governments, requiring the parties to either reach an agreement or form a coalition before the government can function properly.
Before we continue, what is a coalition government? A coalition government is where two parties form an agreement to hold a majority, because neither party holds enough seats in the legislature to form their own majority.
However, there is not only one type of proportional representation. For our purposes, there are three that we are being asked to choose between: Dual Member Proportional (DMP), Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) and Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP). So what are the differences between the three types of proportional representation?
Let’s start with Dual Member Proportional (DMP). In Dual Member proportional, each electoral district is combined with another to create one large electoral district which elects two MLAs rather than one (However, larger rural districts continue to operate on the FPTP system where one candidate is elected). Now, under this system, parties can choose to run two candidates for their party in the same district, in which case the candidates will be listed as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ candidates. As in our current system, the first seat in the legislature for that district is filled by the candidate who gets the most votes. For parties who ran two candidates in the same district, this seat is filled by the primary candidate. Here the system starts to get confusing. The Elections BC website states that “second seats go to parties so that each party’s share of seats in the legislature roughly matches its share of the province-wide popular vote.” What this seems to mean is that, where a party did particularly well (a party must have at least 5% of the vote to get any second seats), they will gain a second seat in the legislature, which they will fill with their second candidate if they chose to run one. It is important to note that this voting system was recently developed in Canada and has never been put into practice.
The second option is Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). In this type of proportional representation, there are two types of MLAs: district MLAs and regional MLAs. District MLAs represent electoral districts and are elected using FPTP. Regional MLAs represent groups of electoral districts called regions and are elected from a party list, so that the number of seats each party holds in the legislature roughly matches their share of the province wide popular vote. A party must hold at least five percent of the vote in order to get any regional seats. There are two variations of Mixed Member Proportional. In the first variation, voters have two seperate votes: they vote for a candidate and a party. In the second variation, voters only have one vote for a candidate which also counts as a vote towards that candidate’s party. In both of these cases, the regional candidates will be elected from a list of party candidates prepared by the party. There are three types of party lists: open, closed and open list with party option. An open list is where voters vote for one singular candidate from a party list. A closed list is where voters vote for a party’s list of candidates. An open list with party option is where voters can either vote for a certain candidate or they can choose to endorse a party’s list of candidates. If MMP is chosen, a legislative committee will decide if voters get one vote or two and which type of party list will be used.
The third and final option is Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP). RUP combines two separate voting systems: Single Transferable Vote and Mixed Member Proportional. Voters in urban and semi-urban districts use the STV system to vote for multiple MLAs in their larger electoral districts. In STV, parties can run multiple candidates in a district and voters rank their preferred candidates on their ballots. They can rank as many candidates as they want. In STV, each district has a quota of votes that any candidate must have before they are eligible to hold a seat. Any candidates who pass the quota are elected. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, their excess votes are transferred to other candidates using the ranking on the voters ballots. If a candidate does not meet the required quota, they are dropped and their votes are also transferred. In the rural areas, MMP is used to elect district and regional MLAs based on the system above. RUP is not used currently as a single system but its components are used separately in several countries such as Germany and Ireland.
Hopefully, this article clears some things up about the upcoming referendum.
All information courtesy of https://elections.bc.ca/referendum/voting-systems/
Feature photo courtesy of https://www.abbynews.com/news/john-horgan-shrugs-off-low-turnout-change-to-referendum-option/