This fall British Columbians will have a chance to vote on electoral reform.
On Wednesday, Attorney General David Eby presented a report to the provincial cabinet that includes recommendations on what the questions should be for the upcoming referendum.
Eby is recommending two separate questions.
- Which should British Columbia use for elections to the Legislative Assembly?
- The current First Past the Post voting system
- A proportional representation voting system
- If British Columbia adopts a proportional representation voting system, which of the following voting systems do you prefer?
- Dual Member Proportional (DMP)
- Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- Rural-Urban PR
On the first question, British Columbians can only vote for one option and the winner needs 50 per cent of the vote plus one.
On the second question, British Columbians can rank the three choices or select one, two or three options. If none of the three gets a majority of first-choice votes, then the option that receives the fewest first-choice votes is dropped from further consideration.
But what do those systems actually mean?
Elections BC will be responsible for providing information to the public on the different systems, including the current first-past-the-post system (FPTP). For now, the best explanations of the possible electoral systems are contained inside an informational binder handed over to cabinet.
Dual Member Proportional (DMP)
This system of proportional representation (PR) is described as the most basic one being proposed.
In DMP most of B.C.’s existing ridings would be merged with a neighbouring riding to create two member districts.
The largest rural districts would remain unchanged as single-member ridings. Political parties would nominate up to two candidates per electoral district.
In an election, one seat in a dual-member district would go to the candidate who got the most votes, as under the current system. But the second seat would be allocated based on province-wide voting results and the individual districts.
This system tends to have proportional results province-wide, but not necessarily in each district. Independent candidates are elected if they place first or second in an electoral district.
Where it can get complicated is who wins the second seat in this model. The runner-up in an electoral district may not receive the second seat because it would be distributed to achieve province-wide proportionality.
“DMP is a relatively simple system to understand and for voters to use,” reads the submission. “The election ballot would change little from the current voting system.”
This model would see between the current 87 and 95 MLAs. A political party must receive at least five per cent of the province-wide vote to be eligible for the second seat in any district.
WATCH HERE: What are the possible B.C. electoral reform referendum questions?
Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
This system combines elements of the current first-past-the-post system and ‘List PR’ systems that allocate seats on a regional or provincial level.
The system would create two different types of MLAs: those who are elected directly in a riding, and those elected or chosen regionally from parties’ lists.
The total number of seats a party gets in the legislature is based on how that party does in the province-wide vote. After all of the MLAs in traditional ridings are decided, the number of seats a party gets in the legislature is ‘topped up’ from the their party list so that their percentage of seats matches the percentage of votes they won.
The actual representatives who fill the List PR seats are either elected directly or allocated from the parties’ list of candidates. Those lists could be either open or closed to the public.
It is likely this system would see the current number of electoral districts reduced do make way for the List PR seats. At least 60 per cent of the total seats would be from the traditional single-member electoral districts.
“MMP also provides for a relatively simple ballot with the possibility for voters to vote directly for candidates for both FPTP and List PR seats,” reads the submission. “MMP could be implemented with either no increase or a modest increase to the size of the Legislative Assembly.”
Like the Dual Member system, MMP would include between the current 87 members and 95 members. The List PR seats would be allocated within defined regions. No region would have fewer MLAs than it currently does and a political party must receive at least five per cent of the province-wide vote to be eligible to receive List PR seats. Voters could have one vote, counting for both the local candidate and the List PR allocation, or two votes.
Elections BC would have to make some decisions on the list such as determining whether the order of candidates on the List PR ballot should be randomized or not.
This would be a mixed voting system that elects MLAs in two ways.
Single Transferable Vote (STV), a type of ranked voting, would be used in urban and semi-urban areas, and the mixed member proportional system described above would be used in rural areas.
This is the most complex of the three proposed systems of PR. Rural-Urban PR is currently not used anywhere as a single integrated system.
The system would ensure proportionality in most areas of the province.
Local representation in rural areas would be maintained with small to medium impact on the size of existing electoral districts.
The system would provide less proportional results in rural areas than in urban areas. The system could also see a high percentage of independent representatives, with more of them elected in STV regions.
“Rural-Urban PR was developed to address the varied geographic and demographic needs of voters in the urban and rural areas of Canada,” reads the submission. “It can provide some proportionality in the most rural areas of the province while retaining comparable levels of local representation for those voters.”
Like the other systems, the number of MLAs would be between the current 87 and 95. The MMP regions would contain the same rules as the proposed MMP system for the entire province. The STV regions would use elements recommended by the previous Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
First Past The Post
This is the current electoral system in British Columbia.
Each electoral district picks one MLA, and the candidate with the most votes becomes the riding’s representative.
The system does not produce proportional results, with parties getting around 40 per cent of the vote holding all the power in government.
Although the 2017 provincial election was a different story, this system often produces single-party majority governments.