Starting this October, ballots will be mailed out to all registered voters to participate in the referendum on proportional representation. The ballot will consist of two separate questions. The first question asks whether the province should move to a form of proportional representation electoral system, and is a binary yes or no decision. The second question will ask which of the three proportional representation systems the province should switch to. An interesting part of the referendum will be that even those who vote no on the first question will be allowed to offer their preference on which system is used, assuming that the yes side is able to win on the first question. The three different proportional representation systems being proposed for the referendum are as follows: the Dual Member Proportional, the Mixed Member Proportional, and the Urban-Rural Proportional.
In a Dual Member Proportional system, pairs of ridings would be merged into a single riding that would elect two separate MLAs, except in the geographically largest ridings which would be left at their current size and configuration. Political parties would nominate two individuals in the combined riding, a primary candidate and a secondary candidate, and both would run together. The voter would then vote for which party they wish to win the seat, as opposed to which individual candidate. The winner of the seat would be the primary candidate from the party that receives the most votes, and the second seat in the riding would be awarded based on local and provincial proportionality. In a Dual Member Proportional system, the voter only has to mark one part of the ballot, just as we do now.
Mixed Member Proportional requires the voter to vote for two different things. The voter will vote for a local MLA to represent them, but also vote for which party they want to be elected to help determine provincewide proportionality. Once again, the ridings would be made larger than they currently are, and you would be able to vote for the local MLA. The second vote cast is to vote for a team of candidates from that party, with the party being allowed to choose from among that list to bring their proportional share of the seats in line with their provincewide vote. Mixed Member Proportional is the only proportional representation system on the ballot that is used in other countries.
Rural-Urban Proportional Representation is perhaps the most complicated, but offers many potential benefits to voters. In urban areas such as the Metro Vancouver and Capital region, ridings would be merged and voters would elect multiple MLAs using a ranked choice system, allowing multiple parties to potentially win in the same geographic area. In rural areas such as the Peace River districts or the Kootenays, the system would look similar to a Mixed Member Proportional system where the voters in rural districts would vote both for a local MLA and then for their regional party list candidates.
The current system is known as a single member plurality system, or better known as a first past the post system. In this system, voters elect a single MLA, with the candidate receiving the most votes becoming the MLA for the riding. Ridings are kept at roughly similar population levels to ensure equal and effective representation, and a candidate does not have to receive a majority of all votes to be elected; they simply need to have the most votes out of all the candidates on the ballot in order to win.
Individuals and organizations from both the yes and no side of the referendum will be escalating their campaign activities, asking for your support to defend the first past the post system or to change to a new electoral system that promises results more in line with the popular vote in each provincial election. Take the time to listen to the volunteers for each organization participating in the referendum. Ask them questions, make sure that you understand exactly what it is you’re voting for. There’s no excuse not to vote in this referendum as the ballots are to be mailed to each voter.
This is an important referendum, it will change the way we govern ourselves. It’s our duty to participate and ensure that as many voices are heard in the process as possible. In order to vote you will need to be registered, and if you are not sure if you are a registered voter or not, you can check with Elections BC. Registration is free and does not take very long, and once you register you will only have to update your registry when you move so that they know you’re in a different place than before.