By Mariah McCooey–Be prepared – the provincial election ballot is going to look different.
In addition to the usual selection of candidates, there will be a yes/no referendum question on a proposed new system of electing our provincial legislature.
So that you aren’t left standing there on election day, scratching your head with your mini pencil, here is an overview of what the proposed system entails.
The Single Transferable Vote system was proposed by the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform, a randomly selected non-partisan group of citizens from around the province. The assembly spent ten months studying different electoral systems, and assessing whether or not our current “first past the post” system accurately represents British Columbians. Their conclusion was a resounding “no” – they voted 146 to 7 in favour of adopting a new system.
This new system, called “BC-STV” for short, would come into effect in the 2009 election if the referendum passes. The main difference would be the way the electoral boundaries are drawn up. Ridings would be geographically larger, with more than one MLA representing each one. Densely populated regions in the Lower Mainland would have up to seven MLAs, whereas sparsely populated ones – such as our own – would have two. For example, five electoral ridings might be consolidated, and given five representatives. BC-STV would not change the proportion of citizens to elected members, and the number of MLA’s in the legislature would also remain the same.
The other main difference would be the actual slate of candidates running, and the way in which you choose them. Instead of just an “X” beside the candidate you prefer, you will be asked to rank candidates in the order of preference: first, second, third, and so on as far or as little as you choose. You would still be able to just choose one if you wanted, (by putting a “1” beside the candidate you prefer) but being able to rank your choices means that if your first-choice candidate doesn’t win, at least your second-choice one might. In addition, there could be numerous candidates on the ballot running for the same party.
When the ballots are being totaled up, your vote would go through several rounds, where the candidate with the lowest number of #1 rankings would be taken out of the running, and the totals re-calculated as many times as it takes to end up with a majority of votes.
Not surprisingly, one of the main criticisms of this system is that it is complicated. According to some, it is extremely complicated, and could lead to more spoiled ballots. But Ireland has been using a similar system for over eighty years, despite several referendums where the STV system was put up on the block.
Another criticism is that the proposed BC-STV would reduce regional representation. In a riding with 5 MLAs, they would nonetheless be expected to equally represent all of their constituents, even though there would be many more of them. The islands, for example, would probably become part of a much larger area including vastly differing interests – which could compromise our representation as a distinct region.
There are other places in the world that use STV, including Australia, Malta, Ireland, and several municipalities worldwide. If implemented, BC would be the first province in Canada to change its system from “first past the post.”
In fact, BC has already had an STV-like system. In 1952, the Liberal-Conservative coalition government put the single transferable vote in place, because they thought it would shut out the socialist CCF. They assumed voters would choose either Liberal or Conservative, and then one or the other as second choices, which would guarantee their continued electoral success. But they were wrong, and the 1952 election actually marked the beginning of Social Credit’s long reign.
So why the change? What’s wrong with the current system?
Right now in BC, we use “first past the post,” which means the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of the total number of votes cast. For example, this means that if there were four candidates running, one of them could win with as little as 30-percent of the popular vote-meaning that a party can get a majority of seats in the House with the support of less than 50 percent of the population.
With a majority, the governing party is able to pass almost any piece of legislation it pleases. One of the main arguments for BC-STV is that it would be less likely to produce majority governments – forcing parties to compromise and negotiate more. According to the Citizens’ Assembly, this means that a party’s share of seats in the legislature would more accurately reflect its share of voter support.
Another “pro” for STV is that it would reduce the need to vote strategically, essentially throwing away a vote. For example, you might vote for the NDP, even though you really support the Green Party, to make sure the Liberals don’t win, etc. With BC-STV, theoretically anyway, you could simply vote for the candidate you want to win.
No system is perfect – but it’s up to you to decide whether this one would be an improvement on the current system. You’ll have your say on election day.
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