What’s wrong with our current voting system in BC?
BC uses a voting system based on a “winner-take-all” principle. In recent elections, upwards of half of all voters cast ballots which elect no-one. As a result, many voters feel that their votes do not matter. About 68% of ridings in BC are “safe seats”.
With first-past-the-post, voters often feel compelled to “plug their nose” and vote for a candidate which is not their first choice, to prevent a candidate they dislike from winning. Because each riding is a zero-sum game with one winner, parties with many policies in common run overly adversarial campaigns against each other.
Because almost half the votes cast do not count towards representation, “majority” governments consisting of a single party with 100% of the power are often formed with the support of only 40% of the electorate. 15/17 governments in BC since 1956 have been “false majorities.”
We need a modern, proportional voting system that will respect voter intention, make every vote count, deliver fair results, and help us elect a legislature that reflects the preferences of all British Columbians.ite space
What is proportional representation?
Proportional representation is based on the principle that the seats a party has in a legislature should reflect the percentage of votes cast for that party. So if a party earns 39% of the votes, it should get roughly 39% of the seats. Almost every voter will cast a ballot which helps elect an MLA.
Made-in-BC proportional systems meet our unique needs, such as ensuring that voters can elect local representatives.
How many countries use proportional representation?
The US, the UK and Canada are the main outliers still using first-past-the-post for national elections (within the UK, however, voters in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London use PR systems).
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What are the benefits of proportional systems?
Does proportional representation hurt rural voters?
Does proportional representation cause “instability”?
Will PR lead to an explosion of “fringe parties”?
When we look at models for BC, which are locally and regionally based, the natural threshold to get a seat can range between 5 and 16%, depending on the design of the system and how it is implemented in each region.
In the last three federal elections, all 15-20 “fringe” parties put together didn’t get 1% of the vote.
Will small parties have “too much power”?
Coalitions – or more informal cooperation agreements to deliver a policy agenda – are the most common form of government among our peers. Coalitions are based on shared priorities.
If a larger parties gives in to a demand of a smaller party that is not supported by a large portion of the electorate or their own voters, they will be punished at the ballot box.
In countries with proportional systems, practical experience shows that if a smaller party’s views are too far outside the mainstream, the other parties will just refuse to work with them. Those voters will have representation, but no power in government. We see that today in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Only with a winner-take-all electoral system can one party with the support of 39% of the voters gain 100% of the power.
Will “extremists” get elected?
People with extreme views exist in all western democracies. Only with a winner-take-all electoral system can a they gain 100% of the power with a minority of the vote.
In a first-past-the-post electoral system, those with “extreme” views exist within the big tent parties which form government, where they can exert considerable influence behind the scenes.
With proportional systems, sometimes smaller parties do form to reflect those views. This creates transparency where voters can see who they are, and the big parties are publicly accountable for how they respond to those views.
When the small party’s views are unacceptable to most others, the parties who do form government will often refuse to consider inviting that small party into a coalition. This has happened in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. In this way, those voters receive representation, but their party has no power.
The existence of a small party with an “extremist” view does not make voters more likely to support those views. Contrary to what opponents suggest, research shows that voters in countries with majoritarian systems are more likely to vote for “far right” parties.
As previously noted, with the moderately proportional systems recommended for Canada, the number of parties may not be significantly different from what we experience now because it is not easy to create and sustain a new party that would only appeal to a small percentage of the electorate.
Proportional representation fairly reflects the diverse voices of the voters, while protecting a country from the risk of a party and leader with an “extreme” view from governing alone with less than 50% of the popular vote.
Will our MLAs be accountable to voters or will they be appointed party hacks?
With a mixed member system, the regional MPs would be elected on an open list – meaning voters pick the individuals.
With a multi-member system, voters directly choose the most popular individuals.
Nobody is appointed or gets a free ride.
Whereas with first-past-the-post, 68% of the MLAs in BC are in “safe seats”, with proportional representation, seats in every region will become competitive. You will also have more choice of candidates from the same party.
Will there be “paralysis” in government – will anything get done?
Some of the most groundbreaking work on this issue was done by Arend Lijphart, who compared 36 countries over two 25-year periods. Proportional countries outperformed winner-take-all countries on 16/17 measures.
Countries with proportional systems, on average, are ahead of countries with winner-take-all systems on numerous measures, including:
- Lower income inequality
- Better environmental performance
- Higher voter turnout
- Higher satisfaction with democracy
- More women elected
When government is cooperative, the policies passed are usually supported by parties representing a genuine majority of voters. This means better decision making.
Rather than each government reversing the policies of the previous government (“policy lurch”), there is more continuity between governments, and therefore more progress on long term issues. Research has also shown that countries with PR are more innovative.
See Fair Vote Canada’s Why Proportional Representation: A Look at the Evidence.