This year’s referendum ballot will feature two questions. The first will ask voters to decide between proportional voting and our current system, while the second will ask voters to express any preference they might have between the three systems on offer. This page summarizes the key considerations for each of these two questions.
Question 1: Proportional Voting vs Status Quo
All three of the voting systems on offer this fall (see next section) will:
- Be strongly proportional – the share of seats will closely reflect votes won
- Elect both government and opposition MLAs in each region of the province
- Preserve the number of MLAs in each region
- Allow voters to vote for individual candidates
Other important comparisons are shown below [key evidence]:
|Proportional Voting||First Past the Post|
|Fair results (40% of vote = 40% of seats)||Yes||No|
|Number of votes that matter (affect outcome)||Almost all||Only half|
|Avoids strategic voting||Yes||No|
|Majority power needs majority of popular vote||Yes||No|
|Elects both government and opposition MLAs in all regions||Yes||No|
|Eliminates safe seats||Yes||No|
|Encourages better voter turnout||Yes – typically 5-10% higher||No|
|Increases transparency, reduces corruption||Yes||No|
|Improves voter satisfaction||Yes||No|
|Promotes stable public policies||Yes||No|
|Promotes lower government debt||Yes||No|
|Increases economic growth||Yes||No|
|Promotes higher performance on UN Human Development Index||Yes||No|
|Improves diversity in legislature||Yes||No|
Fair Voting BC strongly recommends voting for a Proportional Representation Voting System in Question 1.
Question 2: Comparing The Three Options
How do the three proportional voting systems that will appear on this fall’s referendum ballot in BC (Dual Member, Mixed Member, Rural Urban) compare with one another?
As mentioned above, they will all deliver on several key values (proportionality, intra-regional diversity, candidate focus). They differ in how they achieve these goals, and emphasize somewhat different electoral values. The table below summarizes the performance of these options on key aspects of voting systems that various groups or parties have said are important to them. Where there is broad agreement about the desirability of a feature, colour codes indicate relative performance. More purely descriptive features are shown in grey. Brief descriptions of the voting systems and qualities assessed as well as justifications for the scores assigned follow.
Fair Voting BC endorses all three voting systems, and reminds voters that they may opt to not answer the second question – your vote will still count towards Question 1.
|System:||Dual Member||Mixed Member||Rural Urban*||First Past the Post|
|Proportionality (Vote vs Seat Share by Party)||mismatch ~2-4%||mismatch ~3-4%||mismatch ~3-4%||mismatch ~12-20%|
|Direct Representation Score (% of voters with an MLA they specifically voted for)||~60%||~65%||~80-85%||~50%|
|Type of Choice||Pick a local list of 1-2 candidates (same party)||Pick one local, one regional candidate||Rank 1 or more local region candidates (urban); pick one local candidate (rural); (optional) pick one candidate from regional list||Pick one local candidate|
|Choice Within Party||Depends on final rules – could allow a choice between two||One choice from regional list||Yes, by ranking; yes, on regional list||No|
|Choice Across Party||No||Can pick a candidate from a different party on regional list||Yes, by ranking; can pick a candidate from a different party on regional list||No|
||one-part, ~5-6 names||two-part, Local: ~4-5 names
Regional: ~20-30 names
|one-part, ~15 names (urban), ~4-5 names (rural)||one-part, ~4-5 names|
|Temptation for Strategic Voting||Low||Moderate||Low||Strong|
|Prevents Regional Sweeps||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Local Connection (first tier)||~Half the voters support the first MLA in their specific riding; all voters have access to 2 MLAs per paired 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 (urban); half the voters support the MLA in their specific riding (rural)||~Half the voters support the MLA in their riding|
|Regional Connection (top-up seats, if applicable)||2nd MLAs represent regions||~40% of MLAs represent regions (‘top-up’)||~10-15% of MLAs represent regions (‘top-up’); multimember MLAs represent small regions (urban)||N/A|
|Smallest Riding Size||1X (selected rural ridings)||~1.7X everywhere||1-~1.15X (selected rural ridings)||1X|
|Electing Women**||No direct mechanism encouraging balanced slates; some benefit from electing wider range of parties||Top-up system examples up to 50%
Mechanism most effective in opposition parties
|Multi-member system examples up to 67% (urban)
Mechanism most effective in parties running gender-balanced slates
|Electing Independents||If they place 1st or 2nd on ballot||Can collect votes across region on second ballot, but rare in practice||Happens frequently in Ireland under STV (urban)||Rare|
* There are some discrepancies between the Rural Urban model that Fair Voting BC/Fair Vote Canada developed and how it is described in Attorney General’s report. As originally proposed, the top-up MLAs would cover both multi- and single-member areas, but the AG’s report describes it as multi-member in the urban areas and Mixed Member in the rural areas. We are generally presuming the original formulation in our assessment here.
** 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 systems presented in the table above are the three that will be on the ballot in the fall in BC:
- Dual Member – this system has recently been proposed for use in Prince Edward Island and appeared on the ballot there in their 2016 referendum. The key idea behind Dual Member is that adjacent ridings would be paired and each paired riding would elect both the local winner and a second MLA to ensure a close correspondence between vote share and seat share by party.
- Mixed Member – 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.
- Rural Urban – 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. 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%). This was proposed by Fair Voting BC and Fair Vote Canada during the federal Electoral Reform process and called the Rural-Urban PR model. A similar system was used in both Alberta and Manitoba over several decades in the 20th century (multi-member districts in the cities, single-member ridings in more rural areas), but without the top-up MLAs.
We note that other voting systems have been proposed (e.g., 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), but we have not assessed these alternatives here because they will not be on the ballot in BC this fall.
|Party Proportionality (Vote vs Seat Share by Party)||‘Party proportionality’ (the correspondence between vote share and seat share by party) is the measure most frequently used to compare proportional voting systems. A completely proportional system would have a mismatch of zero. Our current system tends to have a score in the high teens, while highly proportional systems tend to have values below about 5%.|
|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. Systems where voters rank candidates in multimember districts can have scores closer to 100%.|
|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). All three systems on BC’s ballot will allow voters to vote for specific candidates.|
|Choice Within Party||Some systems offer voters the ability to choose between candidates from the same party.|
|Choice Across Party||Some systems offer voters the ability to choose between candidates from different parties.|
|Ballot||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).|
|Temptation 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 engage 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. The three proportional options all provide ways of tying MLAs to local ridings.|
|Regional Connection (top-up seats, as applicable)||Top-up seats are used in all three options. Top-up MLAs in all three models will (or could, in the case of Dual Member) be elected based on votes in regions that are likely to be on the order of 8-15 current ridings.|
|Smallest Riding Size||Some people, most notably those in more rural ridings, 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.|
|Electing Women||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 to:
|Electing Independents||Many people would like our voting system to enable (or even encourage) more independent MLAs. This is encouraged by lower election thresholds (fraction of the vote required to win a seat) and by candidate-centric / party-agnostic systems.|
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) so the numbers we report represent likely values we might expect over multiple election cycles. We regard Dual Member as similar to Mixed Member and have generally presumed that both will have roughly equal region sizes, though if the top-ups for Dual Member are computed province-wide, its score may be a bit better (lower) than for Mixed Member. We also presume that the regions used for compensation in Rural Urban will be similar to those used for Mixed Member.
Direct Representation: With our current voting system, only about half the votes go directly to an elected MLA; the rest are ignored.
- Mixed Member: about half 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 regional (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.
- Dual Member: similar to Mixed Member, except that there is no regional list, so fewer voters will have explicitly voted for the elected 2nd candidates in each paired riding.
- Rural Urban: a high percentage of the voters in the multimember districts will have voted for the MLAs elected there (>90%, depending on district size). In the more rural areas, it will be similar to Mixed Member. If top-ups cover the multi-member districts, a few more voters there will win direct representation at the regional level. We estimate this averages out at ~80-85+%.
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 Mixed Member, we have assumed a 60-40 split between local and regional seats. The Dual Member system can allow for a few rural ridings to remain their current size, with most ridings paired. The Rural Urban model can allow for a few rural ridings to remain single member, but ~10-15% of seats would likely be reserved for top-up seats.
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.
- Dual Member: This ballot would be most like our current ballot, except that some parties may choose to run a second candidate in a paired riding.
- Mixed Member: This would normally be a two-part ballot (though it is possible to use exactly the same ballot we currently use if the top-up candidates are the best runners-up). If a two-part ballot is used, the second ballot would normally contain all the names of all candidates in the region, and voters would be asked to pick one name from that combined list.
- Rural Urban: This would use the same ballot as we currently use in the rural areas (with the possible addition of the Mixed Member second ballot, if desired). In urban areas, parties could run more than one candidate (typically up to two or three, depending on the riding size). Voters would be asked to rank candidates, at least in the urban districts.
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. Multimember systems such as STV are 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. Mixed Member 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].
With the Dual Member system, voters mark a single choice that is interpreted as simultaneously a vote for a candidate and their party. The only significant strategic consideration is #2 above – if the party is unlikely to meet the threshold, a voter might consider voting for their second choice instead.
In summary, our current system is notorious for encouraging strategic voting. Multi-member systems are considered most resistant. With the Dual Member system, there is only a very limited situation in which a voter might decide not to vote sincerely. Mixed Member reduces the need for strategic voting due to the second vote.
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], the following features can help:
- proportional voting in general, if it would elect more MLAs from parties with equity policies (e.g., 46% of the NDP’s MLAs in BC were women, vs 33% for the Liberal Party)
- voting systems that encourage parties to put forward gender-balanced slates visible to voters (e.g., the Urban ballots in the Rural Urban system or the open list second ballot in the Mixed Member system). Note that, although the Dual Member system encourages larger parties to put forward two candidates, the second candidate is rarely elected, so, unless voters are free to choose between the two candidates, this feature is unlikely to encourage election of more women.
Below, we show the percentage of women elected under some multi-member (STV) and Mixed Member systems elsewhere in the world (ranked from highest to lowest):
- Multi-Member (STV):
- Maltese European Union MEPs: 67% (4 of 6)
- Irish European Union MEPs: 55% (6 of 11)
- Australian Capital Territory: 52% (2016, 13 of 25)
- 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
- Mixed Member:
- 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), 31% (2017)
- 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 Mixed Member 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 Mixed Member offers a warning for Canada – in the last parliament prior to adopting Mixed Member, women held 21% of the seats, but in the first election under Mixed Member, 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 some of the Australian STV elections (as marked with an asterisk), voters may choose a party list rather than ranking individual candidates. In these situations, more women might have been elected than otherwise if (a) parties placed women relatively high on the list and (b) voters would otherwise have been less likely to vote for women. In BC, there is little or no evidence that voters are biased against women candidates, so we do not anticipate that this would be a significant factor here.
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 Mixed Member 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 Mixed Member (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 Mixed Member 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).
Electing Independent Candidates: Some people are interested in whether or not a voting system would encourage the election of more independent candidates. In practice, our current system is relatively hostile towards independents – to win a seat, an independent candidate needs to be the plurality winner, which means they typically need to win a minimum of about 35-40% of the vote in a riding. This rarely happens.
With Mixed Member systems, an independent is as unlikely to win a local constituency seat as with our current system (though it does happen occasionally – twice in Scotland, to our knowledge). It is in principle possible to win a regional seat with 5% of the vote if independents are allowed to be listed on the regional ballot (this has also happened twice in Scotland).
It is a little harder to predict how Dual Member would affect the chances of electing independents. Since it behaves similarly to our current system for the first seat in a riding, we would expect no significant change there. There is also no equivalent of the Mixed Member regional ballot, so an independent candidate can’t collect votes from outside their riding. However, it does have a rule that states that if an independent candidate comes second in a riding, they will be elected there. This may make it slightly easier to elect independents.
The urban ridings of the Rural Urban model are likely most friendly to independent candidates – experience from Ireland shows that the combination of reduced threshold and relatively contained size of urban multimember districts is conducive to electing independent candidates. In 2017, independent candidates won 11% of the votes and 8% of the seats there [link]. The viability of independent candidates under this system provides a meaningful counter to the power of the parties and allows for some voices to emerge in the political system that are not as ‘whipped’ as most parties are.