Electoral reform 101

Local National News Provincial

The voting systems, explained

Stock image via Pixabay.

 

The upcoming B.C. referendum on electoral reform presents itself as a potentially major crossroads for politics in the province. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 30, registered voters will be able to choose whether or not to stick with our current First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system or transfer to a new electoral system based on a proportional representation model. The first question on the ballot will ask voters if they would like to change to a proportional representation system, and the second question will ask what proportional system voters would like to replace the current system with. If voters do choose to transfer to a proportional method they will have the choice between three different systems: Dual Member Proportional (DMP), Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), and Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP). Here, we break down each option — including our current system — to give an idea of what each voting system entails.

Our current system means that a geographical area has a representative that can give attention to and bring regionally-specific issues to the legislature. Because this is a popular concept, all three proportional systems that are being offered on the ballot still maintain an element of this localized representation, while also adding providing more proportionality to the results.

 

First Past the Post

First Past the Post is British Columbia’s current method of voting and has been the standard method since the province’s first election in 1871, excluding a brief two-election experiment with a system called Alternative Voting in 1952 and 1953.

Under FPTP, the province is split up into  constituencies based on geographical location and population per capita. Within each constituency, candidates run under the umbrella of a political party or as an independent. Each political party selects one candidate to run in each constituency. Each candidate is listed on the ballot with their political party underneath and the voter will tick one box for their chosen candidate.

FPTP is known as a majoritarian system because parties can gain a majority of the seats in the Legislature despite not receiving a majority of the popular vote.

The candidate that receives the most votes wins the riding and becomes the representative for that geographical area in the Legislature.

FPTP has the tendency to produce majority governments where one political party controls over 50 per cent of the seats in the Legislature and can pass bills without contest. This is both a pro and a con, as it allows the government to get things done efficiently but also limits the ability of opposition parties to challenge bills or decisions.

FPTP is known as a majoritarian system because parties can gain a majority of the seats in the Legislature despite not receiving a majority of the popular vote.

 

Dual Member Proportional

Dual Member Proportional is a recent development and has not yet been adopted anywhere.  As such, there are no points of reference to know concretely how this system will look if implemented.

Under this system, urban constituencies will be combined with other urban constituencies. Rural constituencies will remain as they were before and continue to use First Past the Post.

Each newly combined urban constituency will have two seats in the Legislature. Each party can nominate a primary and secondary candidate for these larger urban constituencies.

Besides results being more proportional and minority governments being the likely result, it is hard to speculate as to what the pros and cons of this system will be due to its lack of implementation so far.

Voters will vote for both their favoured party and their candidate of choice — which might not necessarily come from the same political party. The candidate that receives the most votes will become the constituency’s first representative, just like in FPTP.

The second seat for these urban constituencies will be allocated based on the popular vote for political parties province-wide.

Besides results being more proportional and minority governments being the likely result, it is hard to speculate as to what the pros and cons of this system will be due to its lack of implementation so far. However, a benefit to this system is that there is still representation for any given constituency, as well as more proportional representation based on voters’ political party preferences.

 

Mixed Member Proportional

Under a Mixed Member Proportional system, citizens vote for a representative to represent them for their specific riding, and they also vote more generally for a political party. Constituency representatives are still elected by First Past the Post.

Once constituency representatives have been selected, political parties receive a certain number of seats based on their popularity in specific regions of the province. Political parties have regional party lists, and regional representatives will be selected based on those party lists.

If implemented, a legislative committee will decide whether voters get one or two votes and also what form the regional party lists will take.

Germany and New Zealand currently operate at the federal level with this voting system.

If it becomes a one vote system, citizens will vote for their local candidate and that vote will also count for the party as a whole.

If each voter gets two votes, then they will both get to vote for a constituency representative as well as vote for a political party.

 Like with FPTP and DMP, constituencies still get local representation in the Legislature.

As there are so many elements and ways that this system could be implemented it will be interesting to see what the legislative committee decides should MMP become the chosen system.

Germany and New Zealand currently operate at the federal level with this voting system.

 

Rural-Urban Proportional

Rural-Urban Proportional, as the name suggests, divides the province into rural and urban areas.

In rural areas, citizens vote for a candidate to represent their constituency, and for a political party as well, just like in Mixed Member Proportional.

The advantage of this system is that it distributes votes more fairly than any other voting system due to the advanced preference ballot system as well as the range of choice. However, the advanced nature of this system also makes it the most complicated.

Urban and semi-urban areas, like in the case of Dual Member Proportional, are combined into larger constituencies and use Single Transferable Vote (STV). Under this system, parties can run as many candidates as there are seats in a constituency. All candidates are listed on the ballot and voters rank as many of the candidates as they wish in order of preference. Candidates are elected by reaching a specific threshold of votes. Once a candidate has been elected, the remaining votes are added to the tally of the voter’s next preferred candidate. This usually takes several rounds of counting and after every round the candidates with the fewest votes are dropped from the running. Votes that they would have received are transferred to the voters’ next preferred candidate. This continues until all the seats in the given constituency have been filled.

The advantage of this system is that it distributes votes more fairly than any other voting system due to the advanced preference ballot system as well as the range of choice. However, the advanced nature of this system also makes it the most complicated. It can be complicated to explain to voters how their votes move around and how this will impact results.

The combining of STV with MMP would be unique, however both systems are widely used in other nations. Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland use similar voting systems.