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How we vote: Mixed Member Proportional

The last in Pique's series on the provincial referendum on electoral reform

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Beginning next month, British Columbians will choose whether to adopt a new voting system, or keep the province's current First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system.

The referendum will present voters with several options of new systems they can vote to implement. One of the potential new systems that will be included on that list is Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

The system is a hybrid, combining aspects of FPTP and proportional representation. MMP was originally created to elect representatives in Germany, where it continues to be used. It has since been adopted in countries such as Bolivia, New Zealand and Scotland.

Under MMP, voters would have two decisions to make on their ballot: one to elect a local representative for their riding, and another to indicate which party they'd like to win the most seats.

About 60 per cent of the total seats in the legislature would be filled by whichever local representatives earn the most votes in their single-member electoral districts. The remaining seats would be filled by regional representatives selected from a party list, with the number of seats each party wins directly corresponding to the percentage of votes that party received.

It's a system that "gives you the best of both worlds," explained Megan Dias, who holds a master's degree in political science from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and recently co-authored a report with the Broadbent Institute examining electoral reform in B.C.

"The local ballot is counted up the exact same way it's counted now, and then you look at the party vote; you look at the overall percentage of the vote a party won, and that's the number of seats a party is entitled to," she explained. "So if the amount of seats (a party) won through the local riding does not directly correspond to the number of seats they're owed, you would use something called top-up seats. You would have additional (members of the legislative assembly) come in and fill those seats so that the results are ultimately proportional."

In order for MMP to be implemented without a significant increase to the size of the legislative assembly, B.C.'s ridings would grow—to approximately double, in most cases.

"With MMP, unlike other PR (Proportional Representation) systems, you're able to really easily maintain local representation so it doesn't get rid of those local ridings and the connection people have to their local (MLA)," Dias explained.

For the 'top-up' MLAs, B.C. has proposed to have groups of them assigned to represent specific regions that would be considerably larger than the electoral districts.

When it comes to how those 'top-up' candidates would be elected from the party list, MMP offers two different approaches: a closed list, and an open list.

"If its an open list system, there would be a list of names the voter would actually get to choose (from), but if it's a closed list system then the parties would make a list, and then what happens is you allocate seats going from the top of the list to the bottom," explained Max Cameron, director with the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at UBC.

The province has yet to determine whether the party candidates elected through the proportional vote would be selected from a closed or open party list, should MMP be chosen to replace FPTP.

Proponents of this system also point out its ability to fix a common dilemma voters can face under the current FPTP system: what happens when the candidate you think would best represent your local riding doesn't belong to the party you think would best lead?

Under MMP, voters in this scenario could essentially split their votes.

"You could vote for a local candidate who you really like, but that might not be the candidate for your party. So you could still support your party, and actually that vote is a really important vote because that's the one that decides overall ... how many seats they get through the top-up process," Cameron explained.

But under any proportional representation system, including MMP, a party would have to win over 50 per cent of the vote in order to earn a majority—something that rarely happens in B.C.

"It's less likely under MMP—or under any PR system—that you're going to get a single-party majority government, so this is a system that it actually requires parties to work together to form government." said Cameron.

British Columbians will decide if they want to keep the current First-Past-the-Post voting system or move to either MMP, Dual Member Proportional or Rural-Urban PR during a mail-in vote from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30,

Head to engage.gov.bc.ca/howwevote to read detailed descriptions of each or go to www.piquenewsmagazine.com and search "electoral reform."

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