Primer on all four voting systems for electoral reform referendum

Time is running out to compete your referendum ballot on electoral change. You can decided whether to keep the first past the post system currently in use in British Columbia, or move to a proportional representation system. There are three proportional representation styles to choose from. Still not sure? Here’s a primer on all four voting systems, courtesy of Elections BC. Ballots have to be returned to Elections BC by 4:30 p.m. Friday, November 30.

What is the First Past the Post voting system?


First Past the Post (FPTP) is British Columbia’s current voting system. In FPTP the province is divided into electoral districts and each district is represented by one Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Voters mark their ballot for one candidate. The candidate with the most votes in the district wins and represents the district in the legislature.

First Past the Post

A sample FPTP ballot.

The number of seats a party gets in the legislature equals the number of districts its candidates win. This system tends to elect candidates from large parties and result in single-party majority governments.

FPTP is used in a number of countries at the national or sub-national level, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Characteristics of First Past the Post (FPTP)


Voting Voters vote for one candidate on the ballot
Counting The candidate with the most votes in the district wins and represents the district in the legislature
Results The number of seats a party wins in the legislature equals the number of districts the party’s candidates win in the province
Representation
  • 87 MLAs in the province
  • British Columbians have one MLA that represents their district
Electoral districts Same size as currently
 

What is the Dual Member Proportional voting system?


In Dual Member Proportional (DMP), most electoral districts are combined with a neighbouring district and represented by two Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). The largest rural districts continue to have one MLA elected by getting the most votes. The graphic below illustrates how districts would be combined in an example jurisdiction.

First Past the Post

In two-MLA districts, parties can have one or two candidates on the ballot. Parties decide which of their candidates is listed first on the ballot and which is listed second, shown on the example ballot below as “primary candidate” and “secondary candidate”. Voters vote for a candidate or pair of candidates by marking the ballot once.

DMP ballot

The first seat in a district is won by the candidate with the most votes. For parties that run two candidates, this seat is filled by the candidate the party listed first on the ballot.

Second seats go to parties so that each party’s share of seats in the legislature roughly matches its share of the province-wide popular vote. A party’s second seats are filled in districts where its candidates did particularly well. Parties need at least five percent of the vote to get any second seats.

DMP was recently developed in Canada and is not currently in use.

Characteristics of Dual Member Proportional (DMP)


Voting
  • Parties nominate up to two candidates per district
  • Parties specify their first and second candidates on the ballot
  • Voters vote for one option on the ballot – a party’s candidate, candidates, or an independent candidate
Counting Urban and Semi-Urban Districts

  • The first candidate of the party with the most votes in the district wins the first seat
  • The second seat is won by a party based on its share of the popular vote province-wide and their performance in each district
  • Independent candidates win a seat if they place first or second in the district
  • A party must get at least 5 percent of the vote province-wide to get any second seats

Large Rural Districts

  • The candidate with the most votes wins
Results
  • Results are proportional at the provincial level
  • The candidate in second place may not win the second seat, because second seats are allocated to parties to get a proportional outcome
Representation
  • Between 87 and 95 MLAs
  • British Columbians in urban and semi-urban areas have two MLAs representing their district. These districts are likely to be represented by MLAs from different political parties.
  • British Columbians in large rural districts have one MLA representing their district
Electoral districts
  • Urban and semi-urban districts are combined with a neighbouring district
  • Boundaries of the largest rural districts stay the same
  • If DMP is adopted, an independent electoral boundaries commission will decide after the referendum which districts will stay the same and which will be combined

What is the Mixed Member Proportional voting system?


 

In Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) there are two types of MLAs. District MLAs represent electoral districts and are elected using First Past the Post. Regional MLAs represent groups of electoral districts called regions. They are elected from a party list so that each party’s share of seats in the legislature roughly matches its share of the province-wide popular vote.

Mixed Member Proportional

Regional seats are allocated to parties within defined regions, not the province as a whole. District seats and regional seats – added together – roughly match the party’s share of the vote. A party must get at least five percent of the vote to get any regional seats.

In some forms of MMP, voters have two separate votes: one for a district candidate and one for a party. In other forms, voters cast one vote for a candidate that also counts for the candidate’s party. If MMP is adopted, a legislative committee will decide after the referendum if voters have one vote or two.

MMP ballot

A sample MMP ballot assuming a two-vote model and closed party list

MMP is used in a number of countries at the national or sub-national level, including Germany, New Zealand and Scotland.

Characteristics of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)


Voting There are two possibilities:

  • Voters have two votes – one for a candidate and one for a party
  • Voters have one vote and vote for a candidate. This vote counts for the candidate and the candidate’s party.

In both cases, the regional member is elected from a list of candidates prepared by the party. There are three possible types of party list:

  • Closed list – voters vote for a party’s list of candidates
  • Open list – voters vote for an individual candidate on the party’s list
  • Open list with party option – voters vote for a candidate or endorse a party’s list of candidates

If MMP is adopted, a legislative committee will decide whether voters have one vote or two and what type of party list is used

Counting
  • The total number of seats a party gets is based on its share of the popular vote province-wide
  • The candidate with the most votes in the district wins the district seat
  • District seats are “topped-up” by regional seats so that the total number of seats a party gets roughly matches its share of the popular vote province-wide
  • A party must get at least five percent of the vote to get any regional seats.
Results
  • Results are largely proportional at the provincial level
  • Regional seats are allocated within defined regions
Representation
  • Between 87 and 95 MLAs
  • British Columbians have one MLA representing their electoral district and several MLAs representing their region
  • If MMP is adopted, at least 60 percent of MLAs would be district MLAs, but the exact ratio of district MLAs to regional MLAs would be decided by a legislative committee after the referendum
Electoral districts
  • Districts would be larger than they are now and there would be fewer of them
  • If MMP is adopted, a legislative committee will determine the number of MLAs in each region after the referendum
  • If MMP is adopted, an independent electoral boundaries commission will determine district and regional boundaries

What is the Rural-Urban Proportional voting system?


 

Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP) combines two different proportional voting systems: Single Transferable Vote (STV) and Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

Voters in urban and semi-urban districts use STV to elect multiple MLAs for their larger electoral district.

Rural-Urban Proportional

STV districts are larger and have more than one MLA

Parties can run multiple candidates in a district and voters rank their preferred candidates on the ballot (1, 2, 3, etc.). Voters can rank as many candidates as they wish.

Rural-Urban Proportional ballot

See the Counting section in the table below for how candidates are elected in urban and semi-urban districts.

In rural districts voters use MMP to elect district and regional MLAs (see MMP).

Provincial results are likely to be generally proportional.

RUP is not used anywhere as a single system, though MMP and STV are used in several countries at the national or sub-national level. MMP is used in Germany, New Zealand, and Scotland. STV is used in Ireland, Australia and Malta.

Characteristics of Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP)


Voting Urban and Semi-Urban Districts (STV)

  • Voters rank candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3…)
  • Voters can rank as many candidates as they wish
  • Parties can run multiple candidates in a district (up to the number of seats in the district)

Rural Districts

Counting Urban and Semi-Urban Districts (STV)

  • Several rounds of counting are usually required
  • Each district has a minimum number of votes needed to win one seat in the district. This number is called the quota and varies in each district depending on how many votes and how many seats there are.
  • Any candidate who reaches the quota is elected
  • If an elected candidate has more votes than the quota, their extra votes are transferred to other candidates using the voter’s next choice
  • Candidates with the fewest votes are dropped and their votes are transferred to other candidates using the voter’s next choice
  • Counting continues in this way until all seats in the district are filled

Rural Districts

Results
  • Overall provincial results are likely to be generally proportional
Representation
  • Between 87 and 95 MLAs
  • British Columbians in urban and semi-urban areas have multiple MLAs representing their larger electoral district
  • British Columbians in rural areas have one MLA representing their electoral district and other MLAs representing their region
Electoral districts
  • Electoral districts would be larger than they are now and there would be fewer of them
  • If RUP is adopted, an independent electoral boundaries commission will determine the MMP districts, the MMP regions, and the STV districts