How to decide what to vote for in B.C.’s referendum on electoral reform

Ballots are due at Elections BC on Friday, Dec. 7, at 4:30 p.m.

The deadline to vote in B.C.’s electoral reform referendum is Dec. 7 at 4:30 p.m. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

It’s Monday morning. You only have five days to submit your vote on how B.C.’s elections should work. Whether you like the status quo or you want reform, here’s what to do.

First off, did you get a ballot? If not, head to your nearest Service BC Centre or Referendum Service Office with some government identification and ask for your ballot package. Can’t find a centre near you? Call 1-800-661-8683.

Your ballot is due at Elections BC on Friday, Dec. 7, at 4:30 p.m.

There are two questions on the ballot. The first questions asks: proportional representation or first past the post?

READ MORE: John Horgan, Andrew Wilkinson square off on BC voting referendum

Currently, B.C. uses the first past the post system. B.C. is divided into 87 electoral districts, each represented by one member of the legislative assembly.

Voters can choose one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins and gets to represent that district in the legislature. The party that wins the most seats gets to form government.

This system, according to Elections BC, tends to favour more established parties, and all votes for losing candidates are thrown out.

Staying with first past the post is supported by the BC Liberals, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC, and the official opposition group to proportional representation, No Proportional Representation BC.

The official opposition group is run by Bill Tieleman, a former NDP political strategist, Suzanne Anton, the former Attorney General and Bob Plecas, who authored a controversial review into the child welfare system.

READ MORE: ICBA again tries to halt B.C.’s electoral reform referendum

If you chose proportional representation in the first question, there are three systems you may consider in the second question.

According to Elections BC, proportional representation gives smaller parties a better chance of getting into the legislature, as well as making government more closely reflect votes cast by British Columbians.

Dual member proportional

In this option, most electoral districts would be combined with their neighbour and represented by two MLAs.

In two-MLA districts, parties can have one or two candidates (a primary and a secondary) on the ballot, and voters pick the party, not the candidate.

The primary candidate whose party gets the most votes gets to represent that district.

Who becomes the second MLA? That’s based on how much of the popular vote each party gets province-wide, so that the percentage of seats in the legislature is roughly equal to the amount of people who voted for that party.

READ MORE: B.C. electoral reform option designed by University of Alberta student

Independent candidates win a seat if they place first or second in the district, and a party must get at least five per cent of the popular vote to get any second seats.

This system was created in Canada, but it’s not used anywhere in the world.

Mixed member proportional

In this system, the province’s 87 electoral districts would be grouped into regions.

Each district would elect one MLA, and each region would get a number of MLAs based on a list of candidates prepared by the party, based on the percentage of seats each party gets in the legislature. Voters will be able to choose which candidates go on this list.

READ MORE: Is pro rep in fact ‘lit’? Horgan’s debate comment prompts online groans

A legislative committee would still have to decide if each voter gets to choose a party and a candidate, or only a candidate.

This system is used in Germany, New Zealand and Scotland and here in B.C., Premier John Horgan voted for it.

Rural-urban proportional

This system would combine a mixed member proportional system for larger, rural ridings, and has a single transferable vote system for urban ones.

The urban districts would be larger, combining several current districts into one and be represented by multiple MLAs picked during several rounds of voting.

Instead of voting for just one candidate, voters can rank each candidate from first to last place. They don’t need to rank them all, but they must vote for at least one.

Any candidate who gets enough votes, determined by a quota that will be different for all districts, is elected as one of the district’s MLAs.

Any extra votes (beyond the quota) the candidate receives are moved to those voters’ next choices. Then, Elections BC would count which candidate (excluding the one already elected) has the most votes.

READ MORE: Threat of extremism posed by proportional representation overstated, say academics

If that candidate has reached the quota, they are elected, and any extra votes are moved over to the voters’ second choice.

This continues until all seats in the district are filled.

If there is a round of voting with no candidates having reached the quota, then the last-place candidate is dropped, and their votes are moved to the voters’ next choice.

The single transferrable vote system is used in Ireland, Australia and Malta.

Proportional representation, in all its forms, is supported by Fair Vote Canada, the BC NDP, BC Greens and Vote PR BC.

It’s also been endorsed by B.C. Teachers Federation president Glen Hansman, new Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, David Suzuki, Generation Squeeze CEO Paul Kershaw and universal childcare advocate Sharon Gregson.

Reaching the finish line

You’re almost done!

After you’ve made your choice, put your ballot into the provided secrecy sleeve, put that into the certification envelope, put that into the yellow out envelope and, finally, drop the whole package into a mailbox, at your nearest Canada Post location or a nearby Referendum Service Office or Service BC location.

As of Friday, more than 1.2 million packages have been received by Elections BC. That means 37 per cent of eligible voters have sent in their ballots.

READ MORE: One week left: 37% of ballots returned in BC’s electoral reform referendum

If voters choose first past the post, B.C. elections will go on as before. If a form of proportional representation is chosen, legislative committees will drill down into the details and the resulting system will be tested during the following two elections.

Following the second election, another referendum will be held to allow British Columbians a final say on which electoral system they want for their province.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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