Stick with the status quo, or pick a different voting system altogether?
A ballot with that question will likely hit British Columbians’ mailboxes by the end of the year, after the NDP government recommended four options to consider as part of its electoral reform platform: the current system – known as first-past-the-post – or not one, but three versions of proportional representation.
It’s tough for even seasoned political observers to navigate.
Greg Millard, a political science professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, said people shouldn’t concentrate so much on the complexities of each system, but on how each one can affect their voice and what matters to them.
“Are you really worried and bothered by the fact you can get a party with 40 per cent of the popular vote that ends up with 60 per cent of the seats in the legislature, and has complete control of the government even though majority of citizens didn’t vote for it?” Millard said.
“How troubled are you by the fact small parties can be way underrepresented in the legislature relative to their popular vote? If you’re really bothered by that, then you should seriously look at voting for electoral reform.”
Proportional representation equalizes the stake each political party can claim, based on the number of ballots, Millard said.
Under the current first-past-the-post system, you don’t need a majority number of votes – or more than 50 per cent – to win. You just need more votes than the other candidates.
“So you can win a riding with 30 per cent if all the other candidates divide that support so they have less than 30 per cent,” he said. “The result, though, is that 70 per cent of the riding didn’t vote for you, and that creates some distortions once you start to aggregate all the ridings together in the legislature.”
Under proportional representation, he said, the number of MLAs representing a party with a seat in the legislature would more equally represent the popular vote.
Millard said British Columbians also need to ask themselves how they feel about minority governments.
“Proportional systems will almost always produce minority governments,” he said, which leads to coalitions as different parties cooperate to form government.
“That’s a big change, and a change under the current configuration would probably empower certain parties more than others.”
As a result, minority governments may water down their priorities, he said, and take too long to get things done. On the other hand, different parties can be forced to cooperate to create policies and reform.
Either way, he said, when the ballot arrives, it’s best to take the time and vote.
“This is a pretty technical question that does tend to discourage people who aren’t already committed one way or another, but it is important,” Millard said. “The electoral system is the mechanism whereby we translate voter preference into seats in the legislature…
“Staying home or failing to mail your ballot simply surrenders your say over the shape of our future elections.”