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News release - Weekend wrapup
26th September, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
Assembly building electoral models
Members of the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform began on the weekend in Vancouver to design "ideal models" of potential new electoral systems that they think could suit British Columbia.
After designing some alternative model systems, the members will pick what they see as the best, and then compare its pluses and minuses with those of the current "First Past the Post" electoral system.
And on the weekend of October 23-24, they expect to settle on their recommendation to the B.C. public: Vote on a new system, or stick with the one we have.
Members brainstormed on the weekend a Single Transferable Vote (STV) model, re-engineering a system used in Ireland. They will shift in the next meetings (in Vancouver October 16-17) to mixed systems, of which several varieties are used throughout the world.
As chair Jack Blaney put it: "Nothing is decided until everything is decided."
STV aims to make the legislature more "proportional", with each party's share of seats roughly reflecting its share of the popular vote. If STV were adopted, geographical constituencies in B.C. would be larger, but with two or more MLAs per riding.
Voters would rank candidates in the voters’ order of preference by numbering the candidates on the STV ballot (1, 2, 3, etc.) The ballots are then counted in a way that aims to ensure that the candidates with the highest preferences are elected.
By consensus, the Assembly members proposed 2-3 MLAs for Northern and remote ridings, and as many as seven in dense urban areas. Riding boundaries would have to be redrawn by a provincial boundaries commission.
Some Northern Assembly members expressed strong concern about their already large ridings becoming even bigger, and said this could further weaken local representation by MLAs. Some other members suggested that having two or more MLAs could actually improve local representation, as voters would have more regional members to call about concerns and issues.
One proposal aired was for a hybrid system, with STV in more populated multi-member ridings, and a simpler system in single-member rural ridings. A majority of members turned thumbs down on that, with several objecting that it would "create two classes of voters".
What would STV ballots look like? Members said candidates' names should be grouped under party labels, but that the names would be in random order rather than alphabetical. And the random order would rotate, so that no candidate would always get the favoured No. 1 spot on the ballot. The idea means that more than one version of the ballot paper would have to be printed for each riding.
STV systems vary in how many candidates the voter must rank. The Assembly members' model would mean you could vote for one or more. (Some systems require the voter to rank every candidate on the ballot, or have the ballot treated as spoiled.)
And what if a vacancy for an MLA arose between general elections? Assembly members decided that byelections should be held (rather than going back to the original votes and re-counting voters' preferences).
Such byelections should use an Alternative Vote (AV) system, members said. In this, voters also rank candidates numerically. But then, if no candidate gains more than 50% of votes on the first count, the second preferences listed on the ballots of the least successful candidate are distributed among the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes.
If in late October members do recommend a new electoral system, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election. The provincial government says that if voters approve a change, it would go into effect for the 2009 BC election. If Assembly members opt to stay with the current system, then there would be no referendum.
The Citizens' Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly selected British Columbians, plus chair Jack Blaney. They have a deadline of December 15 to report to British Columbians on their decision, its implications, and their reasons. Then the Assembly will disband.
Details of the Assembly's schedule and work are at www.citizensassembly.bc.ca.