How do the various proportional voting systems that have been proposed for use in BC compare with one another? While each achieves the goal of significantly reducing the disparity between vote share and seat share by party, they do so in different ways, emphasizing somewhat different electoral values. The table below summarizes the performance of one strong example of each of three main categories of systems (Multi-Member, Top-Up and Combined Multi-Member + Top-Up) on key aspects of voting systems that various groups or parties have articulated as being important to them. Brief descriptions of the voting systems and qualities assessed as well as justifications for the scores assigned follow.
|Type of System:||Multi-Member||Top-Up||Combined Multi-Member & Top-Up||Majoritarian|
(Mixed Member PR)
(Multi-Member Proportional Plus)
(First-Past-the-Post, or Single Member Plurality)
|Related Variants:||STV, Open List PR||Dual Member Proportional (PEI)||Rural-Urban PR, LPR+||Alternative Vote|
|Direct Representation Score (% of voters with an MLA they specifically voted for)||~90-95%||~65%||~95-98%||~50%||Party Representation Score (% of voters with an MLA from a party they voted for)||~90-95%+||~95%+||~95-98%||~50%|
|Proportionality (Vote vs Seat Share by Party)||mismatch ~3-5%||mismatch ~3-4%||mismatch <2-3%||mismatch ~12-20%|
|Type of Choice||Rank or pick 1-3+ local region candidates||Pick one local, one regional candidate||Rank or pick 1-3+ local region candidates||Pick one local candidate|
|Choice Within Party||Yes, by ranking||One choice from regional list||Yes, by ranking||No|
|Choice Across Party||Yes, by ranking||Can pick a candidate from a different party on regional list||Yes, by ranking||No|
(# of names)
|~15-20 (could be lower if desired)||~4-5|
|Temptation for Strategic Voting||Low||Moderate||Low||Strong|
|Prevents Regional Sweeps||Yes||Yes, in top-up tier||Yes||No|
|Local Connection (first tier)||Most voters support an MLA in the local multi-member region; nearly half the voters support the MLA in their specific riding*||Half the voters support the MLA in their constituency, which is ~1.7X current riding size||Most voters support an MLA in the local multi-member region; nearly half the voters support the MLA in their specific riding*||Half the voters support the MLA in their riding|
|Regional Connection (top-up seats, if applicable)||N/A||Top-up region covers ~8-14 ridings||Top-up MLAs are in multi-member ridings (~4-8 seats) or in regions of ~8-14 ridings||N/A|
|Smallest Riding Size*||1X||~1.7X||1-~1.15X||1X|
|Electing Women**||Multi-member system examples up to 67%
Mechanism most effective in larger parties
|Top-up system examples up to 50%
Mechanism most effective in opposition parties
|Multi-member system examples up to 67%
Mechanism most effective in larger parties
|Electing Independents||Happens frequently in Ireland under STV||Can collect votes across region on second ballot, but rare||Happens frequently in Ireland under STV||Rare|
* With voting systems that use multimember ridings, all MLAs derive support from across the riding and are responsive to their supporters there. Voting rules are available that can ensure, if desired, that there is one MLA elected from each current riding (LPR (see below) explicitly has this feature), so in principle any multi-member-based system can provide the same local connection that our current voting system does while giving almost all voters in the multi-member ridings access to an MLA they support and markedly more diverse and representative policy perspectives. The MMP+ model can optionally embed the top-up MLAs within the multi-member districts, or could add them as a second tier, in which case the smallest riding size would be a bit larger (~15%) than current ridings to compensate.
** See detailed explanation of influence of voting system on number of women elected near the bottom of this page. Although the percentage of women elected under FPTP in BC is the strongest showing in Canada, the system itself has no characteristics that directly encourage the election of more women.
Scores in the table above are colour-coded to indicate how the values of the metrics are usually perceived (we acknowledge that there are some disputes as to the relative merits of different systems, so readers should feel free to interpret the scores according to their own set of electoral values).
Voting Systems Assessed
The example systems presented in the table above are:
- Multi-Member: Local Proportional Representation (LPR) – the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended a well-known multi-member voting system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV) because STV provides strong proportionality and local region representation and offers a high level of voter choice (voters can rank candidates both within and across parties). The Local PR (LPR) model is an evolution of the STV approach that can ensure that every existing riding would retain one MLA, while providing proportional representation at a regional level.
- Top-Up: Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) – the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform and various other commissions in Canada have recommended the Mixed Member Proportional voting system. With MMP, we would have about 60% of the seats as enlarged single member districts and about 40% of the seats as compensatory (‘top-up’) seats assigned at the regional level based on the party preferences expressed by voters.
- Combined Multi-Member + Top-Up – Multi-Member Proportional Plus (MMP+) – The concepts of multi-member ridings and top-up seats can be combined. With MMP, we need about 40% of the seats to be designated as top-up seats because the single member elections are so disproportional. With pure multi-member systems, the proportionality is limited by the size of the multi-member regions. The LPR innovation of ‘protecting’ local ridings and ensuring that each has an MLA elected from there reduces this concern to a great extent, but we could achieve essentially perfect correspondence between vote share and seat share by party by using multi-member ridings in combination with a small percentage of top-up seats (in the range of 10-15%). The top-up seats can either be in a separate tier (this was proposed by Fair Voting BC and Fair Vote Canada during the federal process as the Rural-Urban PR model) or integrated into the multi-member ridings (we call this MMP+ – it is essentially the LPR model with a few top-up seats added (typically one in each of the largest multi-member ridings in each region). With MMP+, no change in current riding boundaries is required.
We note that other voting systems have been proposed (e.g., the Dual Member Proportional system in Prince Edward Island, the Single Member District PR system [click for PDF], and various forms of Weighted or Proxy Voting in which representatives have different voting weights in the legislature to ensure that each party’s total voting weight is proportional to the votes its candidates won). We have not assessed these alternatives here because they have been less widely discussed, but they are certainly worthy of consideration.
For more details on the above systems, please check out our more detailed descriptions at Fair Ways BC Could Vote.
|Direct Representation Score||This metric measures how many voters end up casting votes directly for an elected candidate. Our current voting system has a value of about 50%. A pure List PR system would have low party disproportionality, but a 0% Direct Representation score. The more voter-centric systems can have scores close to 100%.|
|Party Proportionality (Vote vs Seat Share by Party)||Party proportionality is the principal issue most people think of when considering proportional voting systems. There are metrics that express the difference between vote share and seat share by party (e.g., the Gallagher or Loosemore Hanby Indices). A completely proportional system would have a disproportionality index of zero. Our current system tends to have values in the high teens, while highly proportional systems tend to have values below about 5%.|
|Type of Choice||Different voting systems offer voters different kinds of choices. Some allow voters to pick only one candidate, while others allow voters to rank one or more (in case their first choice does not have enough support to be elected). Here, we are not considering systems that only allow voters to pick a party rather than a candidate (e.g., Closed List PR).|
|Choice Within Party||Some systems offer voters the ability to choose between candidates from the same party.|
|Ballot Size (# of names)||Ballots should offer voters meaningful but not overwhelming options. The number of names on a ballot should be reasonable, such that a voter can be reasonably expected to identify their top one or several choices, and the voter’s task should not be onerous (i.e., they should be asked to approve of or rank only a small number of candidates).|
|Incentive for Strategic Voting||Our current voting system encourages strategic (dishonest) voting, in which a voter perceives an incentive to vote for someone other than their true preference in order to avoid a worse outcome. Voting systems should encourage honest voting and make it both unnecessary and difficult to attempt or succeed in strategic voting.|
|Prevents Regional Sweeps||One significant failing of our current voting system is that it allows single parties to win all or virtually all seats in particular regions of the province. A voting system should enable accurate representation of diverse perspectives within each region.|
|Local Connection (first tier)||MLAs should have a meaningful connection to the local region from which they have received voter support. Our current system is said to offer local representation, but half the voters have no-one representing them. Multi-member systems offer local representation over moderate-sized regions, and the LPR innovation of ‘protecting’ ridings ensures that every existing riding will have one MLA uniquely assigned to it.|
|Regional Connection (top-up seats, if applicable)||If top-up seats are used, they should ideally be associated with reasonably local regions – a top-up candidate from Victoria should not be expected to represent voters in the Peace River region, or vice versa.|
|Smallest Riding Size||Some people, most notably more rural MLAs, express concern about how the size of their ridings might change under proportional voting. We measure the size of the smallest possible riding under various systems relative to current single member ridings. All proportional systems give local voters access to other MLAs in the region even if their most local MLA does not share their political perspectives.|
|Women Elected||Many people would like our voting system to encourage improved gender balance (amongst other diversity goals). Research suggests that the best ways to improve representation of women are (1) to encourage or force parties to put forward multi-candidate slates that are visible to voters and (2) to avoid requiring women to challenge male incumbents to win a nomination.|
The disproportionality and direct representation numbers in the table above are largely derived from the Elections Modelling project by University of Waterloo computer scientist Byron Weber Becker that estimates performance of these systems at the federal level.
Disproportionality: We use the standard (country-wide) Gallagher Index as a measure of disproportionality. Becker reports results based on recent election data (2006-2015) to derive likely values we might expect over multiple election cycles.
Direct Representation: With LPR, every elected MLA is elected solely with votes cast explicitly for them. For MMP+, this metric is a bit harder to calculate or estimate, but a significant fraction of the votes that help elect the top-up candidates are also cast explicitly for them (likely between about one third and two thirds). For MMP, about 50% of the votes are cast explicitly for the local riding winners, but only about a third of the remaining votes would be explicitly cast for the winners from the open list, so we estimate a direct representation score of about 65%; the remaining 30-35% of voters who contribute to electing MLAs do so through intra-party transfers. That is, their vote is used to help elect another candidate of the same party as the candidate they named.
Smallest Riding Size: Our current voting system nominally divides the province into roughly equally-sized electoral districts averaging about 50,000 people (note that there can be considerable variability across the province). For MMP, we have assumed a 60-40 split between local and regional seats. For MMP+, we have assumed about 12.5% top-up seats. We note that the main arguments in favour of smaller rural ridings are related to the difficulty of providing ombudsperson service and ensuring that there are people in parliament who are familiar with the issues of the area, but the principal motivation for adopting proportional voting is to ensure that as many voters as possible are represented by an MLA they support on legislative matters; since not all voters in a given riding share the same political leanings, it is necessary to have multiple MLAs representing each geographic area to provide legislative representation, which is the primary constitutional purpose of MLAs.
Ballot Design: Our current voting system uses a very simple ballot – voters are asked to mark an X beside one of typically about four or five names. While this is simple, it does not give the voters any choice between candidates from each voter’s preferred party, nor does it encourage parties to put forward more diverse slates of candidates.
Both LPR and MMP+ would use the same kind of ballot – it would list one or more candidates from each party across a region of typically 5 or 6 current seats, arranged in columns, optionally with each row listing candidates from the same local riding. Typical ballots would list about 20-25 names in total (up to 5 or 6 rows of ~3-5 candidates per local riding). In a more urban area where individual ridings are not separated out, some parties might run fewer candidates than the seats available (e.g., if the west side of Vancouver were a 6-seat riding, some parties might choose to run only 3-4 candidates or fewer). On average, we might expect the number of names to equal about 3 x N, where N is the number of seats available in the district (e.g., about 12 candidates for a 4-seat district). Since MMP+ offers a top-up mechanism, we could make the regions a bit smaller, especially in more rural areas – if felt desirable, we could even retain single member ridings in the most remote areas.
The usual recommendation for MMP would be a two-part ballot: the first part of the ballot would be essentially identical to our current ballot (i.e., about 4-5 candidates, one from each major party, plus independents and candidates from smaller parties), while the second would typically list all candidates running in the region. For an 8 seat region with 5 local seats, there would likely be about 4-5 candidates per local riding, or 20-25 names. For a 14 seat region with 9 local seats, there would typically be closer to 35-40 names listed. With open list MMP, the voter would typically be asked to choose two candidates – one in the local riding and one from the regional list.
With LPR or MMP+, the voter would typically be asked to rank one or more candidates (it is also possible to use a ‘Mark an X’ rule with these ballots) – no-one is advocating any system in which the voters would be required to know or rank all the candidates shown on the ballot.
The STV system from which LPR and MMP+ have been derived has sometimes been criticized for having a counting process that is somewhat complex to describe, but we can easily use very straightforward approaches instead – for example, one could simply use the standard runoff process of sequentially eliminating the lowest-ranked candidate and transferring those ballots to the next-named candidate on each ballot, stopping when there are only as many candidates left as seats. In evaluating ease of use for multi-member systems, we therefore presume that one of these simpler approaches is used.
Women Elected: Many people support proportional voting systems because they would like to see women elected in closer proportion to their share in the overall population. More women are typically elected under proportional voting systems than under our current system (26% in 2015 Parliament, but 39% in BC’s 2017 Legislature). Although nomination practices and male incumbency appear to play the dominant role in how many women are elected [see perspectives from the UK and Canada], voting systems that encourage parties to put forward gender-balanced multi-candidate slates visible to voters can help. With MMP, the open list ballot is the mechanism by which parties can show voters that they are offering more women, while with multi-member systems (such as STV, LPR and MMP+), the single ballot will show multiple candidates from most parties. Below, we show the percentage of women elected under some STV and MMP systems:
- Maltese European Union MEPs: 67% (4 of 6)
- Irish European Union MEPs: 55% (6 of 11)
- Australian Capital Territory: 52% (2016)
- Australian Senate: 39.5% (2016) (vs 29% in lower house) [comparison of STV vs AV elections across Australia]
- Western Australia Upper House: 39% (2016), down from 47% in 2008
- Wales (closed list): 42% (2016), down from 50% in 2003; interestingly, in 2016, women won 48% of the constituency seats, but only 30% of the list seats; in 2003, women won 55% of the constituency seats, but only 40% of the list seats. Both these results are contrary to the expectation that women will win more frequently on the lists than in the constituency seats and show the importance of other factors.
- Germany (closed list): 36.5% (2013)
- Scotland (closed list): 35% (2016), down from 40% in 2003; as with Wales, in the 2003 election, women won a higher proportion of constituency seats than list seats (44% vs 34%), demonstrating that it is likely not the list element of MMP that is the principal reason behind the higher election rates for women in Scotland.
- Note: an interesting article from Scotland argues women are elected there in close proportion to how frequently they are nominated; SNP nominated over 40% women, 43% of SNP MSPs are women; Labour nominated over 50% women, 46% of LP MSPs are women
- New Zealand (closed list): 31% (2014), down from 34% in 2008; New Zealand’s experience of adopting MMP offers a warning for Canada – in the last parliament prior to adopting MMP, women held 21% of the seats, but in the first election under MMP, women won only 14% of the constituency seats [ref] – likely because they lost nomination battles to male incumbents when the number of single member ridings was cut almost in half. In the years since then, women have won an average of only 24% of the constituency seats (very similar to Canada’s experience with single member ridings at 26%), but 43% of the list seats [report]. Since the government tends to be comprised mainly of MPs who have won in constituencies, women in New Zealand have tended to be under-represented in the governing party.
- Bavarian State Parliament (Landtag) – open list: 31% (2008)
In summary, we see that women have won at relatively high rates in a variety of multi-member (STV) elections in Australia (40-52%) and at even higher rates in European Parliamentary elections (up to 67% in Malta). Women have also won a higher percentage of seats under MMP than under our current system (in the range of 31% to as high as 50%, though their election rate off the list has typically not been quite as high). We also have only a single data point for open list MMP (the Bavarian Landtag). Critics of STV sometimes point out that Ireland and Malta do not elect many women in their parliaments using STV, but there are other cultural reasons that likely explain those results. In addition, there are countries that use or have used MMP or related parallel systems that elect few women (e.g., Albania, Romania, Hungary), so individual counter-examples do not negate the claim that these systems would be likely to enhance the proportion of women elected here in BC.
In short, both multi-member and top-up systems have ballots that show multiple candidates from each party, which encourages parties to present slates that are more gender-balanced. This dynamic likely increases representation of women in larger parties under multi-member systems (i.e., those that will typically form government) because larger parties will tend to put forward multiple candidates in each multi-member region, and in the second and smaller parties under top-up systems since they tend to win more seats via the list mechanism (though there are other indirect effects with top-up systems – if currently under-represented parties tend to nominate more women, they will win more seats under proportional voting and so will increase the total number of women MLAs, and the mere presence on the ballot of all a party’s candidates in a region may encourage even the top-ranked party to put forward a more balanced list, even if they expect to win most seats in the constituency elections).
Resistance to Strategic Voting: Our current system is well-known to be susceptible to strategic voting – i.e., where a voter feels that the way to generate the best outcome from their perspective is not to vote honestly, but instead to vote for another candidate who they prefer less to prevent a candidate they like even less from winning. STV is widely regarded as being highly resistant to strategic voting [see reference] – the voter’s best strategy is almost always to vote sincerely as it is normally far too difficult to acquire the information necessary to employ a strategic voting strategy; we presume this resistance applies to the other multi-member systems we are assessing. MMP involves the same strategic considerations as our current system for the local contest, but does encourage voters to vote honestly at the regional level, though there are at least three additional strategic considerations at that level:
- if an open list is being used, voters might consider not voting for their preferred candidate if they are particularly popular as that vote is likely to be unnecessary – they might instead be better off to vote for a less popular candidate in hopes that that person will be elected along with the most popular one
- if a voter’s preferred party is likely to be under the threshold to win list seats, a voter might consider voting for their second preference party
- if a party is likely to win so many local seats that they would not be eligible for any top-up seats, they might consider running a ‘clone’ party to pick up additional seats at the regional level [see reference for more information].
In summary, multi-member systems are considered most resistant to strategic voting, MMP reduces the need for strategic voting due to the second vote, and our current system is notorious for encouraging it.