Electoral reform: A look at two possible voting systems
Voters in the Nova Scotia riding of Halifax West line up to vote in the 2011 Canadian General Election on Monday, May 2, 2011. (Mike Dembeck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, June 2, 2016 8:18PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 6, 2016 6:49PM EDT
The Liberals have promised that last October's election would be the last under the first-past-the-post system, which allows so-called “false” majorities even when a party gets nowhere near half of the country's votes.
For example, in the 2015 election the Liberals got a majority of seats (184) despite getting only 39.5 per cent of the vote. The NDP got about 13 per cent of the seats, despite having nearly 20 per cent of the vote.
The government moved closer to making electoral reform a reality by announcing it would support an NDP motion to create the parliamentary committee that will choose the next system. The Conservatives are calling for a referendum.
So what exactly are the alternatives to first-past-the-post? Here’s a look at two voting systems that have been studied in Canada, as explained by Andrew Heard, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University.
Single transferable vote (STV)
In this system, the country or province is divided into regions, and multiple members are elected from each region, raising the possibility that the parties’ shares of seats in the legislature will proportionally reflect the overall vote totals.
In this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference and candidates need to reach a minimum threshold, or quota, to gain a seat.
Let’s say there are three seats to be filled in a region and 100,000 valid votes are cast. In this case, the quota to win a seat has been set at 25,001 votes.
To figure out who gets the seats, all the first-preference votes are counted up.
In this example, two candidates get at least 25,001 first-preference votes, so they each get a seat.
In order to fill the third seat, the person with the fewest first-preference votes is dropped from the race and the second-preference votes are counted on the ballots originally cast.
The second-preference vote totals are then added to the first-preference vote totals of the other candidates. If that brings a candidate up to at least 25,001, he or she gets the third seat. If no one meets the threshold, the process repeats with third-preference votes, and so on.
British Columbians have voted on switching to an STV system twice. In 2005, 57 per cent of voters supported the system -- just short of the 60 per cent required for the results to be binding. In 2009, only 39 per cent supported the proposal.
Mixed-member proportional systems (MMP)
Under these systems voters get more than one vote, usually one for a local candidate and a second for a national party. The legislature is then made up of the local candidates plus a certain number of members from “party lists,” so that each party’s caucus better reflects the popular vote, while still allowing people to vote on local representatives.
MMP systems vary, however, with different proportions of seats allocated to the party list and local candidate seats.
In Germany and New Zealand, for example, the seats are split almost evenly between the two. This allows enough party list seats to be distributed to ensure that the overall number of seats a party is allocated is proportional to their share of the party votes. For example, if a party wins 20 per cent of the popular vote but only 15 per cent of the local member seats, the local MPs would be topped up with MPs from the party lists until the party’s members make up 20 per cent of the legislature.
In 2004, the Law Commission of Canada proposed an MMP system that had more emphasis on local representation. Two-thirds of the MPs would be elected locally and the remaining one-third from provincial or territorial party lists. This would bring the parties' shares of seats closer into alignment to their shares of the overall votes, but the result wouldn’t be completely proportional, as it is in Germany and New Zealand.
Ontario voters resoundingly rejected a proposed MMP system in a 2007 referendum, with 63 per cent opposed. Prince Edward Island voters rejected MMP in 2005, also with 63 per cent opposed.