Breaking down the ballot
By Darin Nesbitt, Instructor, Department of Political Science
British Columbia will soon have a referendum on which voting system will be used for provincial elections. Referendums are a democratic tool for empowerment, making citizens feel informed and consulted. It is both desirable and necessary that British Columbians choose the rules that define how representatives are elected since governments have an inherent conflict of interest doing so. The type of voting system we use is simply too important to be left to representatives to decide.
The B.C. referendum will be held by mail from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30, 2018. Vote PR BC is the official proponent group, while NO BC Proportional Representation Society is the official opponent. Voters will be asked two questions on the ballot:
- whether to keep the current first-past-the-post (or single-member plurality) voting system or move to a system of proportional representation;
- to rank three proportional systems: dual member proportional, mixed member proportional and rural-urban proportional.
The referendum result is binding, so if more than half of voters support first-past-the-post on the first question, it will continue to be used for provincial elections. If a majority endorses proportional representation, the proportional system with the most support on the second question will be adopted.
An Angus Reid poll of British Columbians on Sept. 28 suggests 33 percent support proportional representation, 31 percent single-member plurality and 33 percent are undecided. That same poll indicates that of voters who favour proportional representation, 49 percent support mixed-member proportional, 26 percent rural-urban proportional, and 24 percent dual-member proportional.
The large number of undecided voters reveals more public information is needed about the benefits of first-past-the-post versus proportional voting systems. As part of this informational campaign, the Department of Political Science and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Douglas College are sponsoring a public talk by Simon Fraser University political scientist Eline de Rooij on the upcoming referendum.
Professor de Rooij will discuss the motivation behind the referendum, what is at stake and the differences between the options on the ballot. She will present some data on the values B.C. citizens want reflected in their electoral system, and on their preferred options. Finally, she will try to debunk some commonly held misconceptions about the different electoral systems, and explore the ways B.C. politics might change should proportional representation be adopted.
The discussion will be held on Oct.23 at 6:30pm in the Aboriginal Gathering Place (room 4650, New Westminster Campus). Students, staff, faculty and the public are all invited to attend this important talk. Coffee and tea will be provided.