All About BC-STV
Q and A
Citizens’ Assembly

Got A Question?

Why we might want it

 

Background

Q:

A:

What exactly is the Citizens' Assembly? What is its mandate?

It is an independent, non-partisan group of 160 British Columbians randomly selected from communities around the province to review our province's electoral system. The mandate is to look specifically at how votes translate into seats in the British Columbia Legislature.

BC-STV

Q:

A:

Which electoral system did the Citizens' Assembly recommend?

The Citizens' Assembly recommends British Columbians adopt the "proportional representation by single-transferable vote" system (PR-STV or STV). After comprehensive research and extensive public input, Assembly members are convinced that a made-in-BC version of STV, branded BC-STV, is the best system for BC. It best addresses British Columbians' electoral values and will best meet this province's needs. The Assembly voted 95% in favour of recommending that the province adopt BC-STV.

 

Q:

A:

The Assembly considered two alternative electoral systems. Which did you support?

There was excellent and thoughtful debate about which of the two alternative systems would better serve the needs of the province. The Assembly voted 80% in support of STV.

Q:

A:

Why did the Citizens' Assembly recommend BC-STV?

It was the Assembly's job to find the best system for all British Columbians. And that is what it did. It listened carefully to the important values expressed by British Columbians all over BC and chose the electoral system which best fits those values.  These three values are: local representation, fairness of representation (or proportionality) and voter choice. So the Assembly created and endorsed a made-for-BC system that met those three values: BC-STV. It is an electoral system that tries to make every vote count. 
 

Q:

A:

How does BC-STV meet those three values ?

The Assembly's decision to recommend BC-STV was based on the way it meets three core values:

•  Fairness of representation - the parties' share of seats in the Legislature reflects their share of the votes

•  Local representation - communities and regions are represented by elected MLAs

•  Voter choice - voters have more options on the ballot, and thus more power

Q:

A:

Which countries currently use STV?

Currently, STV is used in Ireland , Australia and a number of municipalities. Ireland has had STV for most of the last century. Despite attempts by their government to change the system, the Irish have repeatedly voted to keep STV. However, STV tends to be an unpopular system with politicians since it can be seen to give more power to voters and to reduce party control.

Q:

A:

 

How does BC-STV work?

BC would still have 79 MLAs, but ridings would be combined so that some urban ridings would elect as many as seven MLAs and rural constituencies as few as two. But the current ratio of voters to MLAs would not change. The new map of electoral districts would be drawn up by the provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission, with public input.

Under BC-STV, voters still have one single ballot paper that they use to rank the candidates in the order of the voter's preference. Voters rank as many or as few candidates as they wish. A weighting system during ballot-counting ensures candidates with the highest preferences are elected. BC-STV means more choice for voters and fairer results for the entire province.

Q:

A:

How is proportionality achieved under BC-STV?

STV delivers a proportional outcome thanks to a combination of the multi-member ridings and increased number of candidates from each party. STV's success in delivering proportionality is, in practice, higher where the number of seats per constituency is large - preferably at least five seats per riding. But in BC, the Assembly noted, while having districts of five, six and seven members might be acceptable in urban areas, such districts would require geographically gigantic ridings in the sparsely populated areas. The Assembly therefore recommends a compromise: districts of 2-3 members in rural areas, and up to 7 in urban areas. The BC-STV compromise would reduce the degree of proportionality a shade, but it will still result in each party's share of seats reflecting as closely as possible its share of the popular vote. 

Here's an example: Suppose in a current riding, and its four neighbouring constituencies, voter support is divided 40% for the Apple party, 40% for the Pear party, 12% for the Peach party, and 8% for other parties and independents. Under the current system, chances are the Apples and Pears will win all five seats, and that the Peaches and others are shut out, despite having 20% of the vote.  Imagine now that the ridings have been combined under STV into one which will elect five MLAs.  Chances are that the Apples will win two seats, the Pears two and the Peaches one a more proportional result.

Q:

A:

What's wrong with our current system?

While many British Columbians believe our First Past the Post electoral system works very well, others have expressed concerns. The Assembly carefully examined the pluses and minuses of both our current system and other electoral systems. One common concern with our current system is that it is not proportional; a party's share of seats in the legislature does not necessarily reflect its level of voter support. This has meant, for example, majority governments that got well over half of the seats in the House, but with much less than half of the popular vote. We believe the fair and proportional BC-STV system best satisfies the needs of all British Columbians.

Q:

A:

Isn't BC-STV too complicated?

For the voter, STV is straightforward. Voters choose their favourite candidates, and then rank them in the order voters choose. The Irish have been using STV for over 80 years, and British Columbians are certainly as capable as the Irish! The counting system behind the scenes is involved, true, but properly trained Elections BC officials will manage the counting of ballots, as they always have.

Q:

A:

Does the Assembly's proposal serve the Lower Mainland at the expense of remote areas?

Under BC-STV, districts with two MLAs, such as those anticipated in northern BC, would still be smaller than federal electoral districts that have only one MP. Under BC-STV, all areas in British Columbia will have strong and identifiable local representation . For remote areas, this means amalgamating no more than two or three electoral districts. There would be no reduction in the number of MLAs representing rural areas. These two or three member districts would be more effective at representing the popular vote than the current system meeting the need of the many British Columbians who want greater proportionality.

Q:

A:

Who will decide the boundaries of the new, amalgamated electoral districts?

The Assembly has included guidelines for the new boundaries in its Final Report that encourage a balance of proportional electoral outcomes - and a preference for larger rather than smaller numbers of MLAs per district - and keeping the districts in sparsely populated areas to a reasonable size. An independent electoral boundary commission would draw the new electoral districts. The commission would hold hearings in all parts of the province and take into account the interests of local communities.

Voting

Q:

A:

How do I vote in a BC-STV election ?

In a BC-STV election, voters use a preferential ballot where they rank the candidates (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Voters can rank as many or as few candidates as they choose. Voters can cast all their preferences for candidates of the same party, or assign their rankings to candidates from a variety of parties and/or independents. On the ballot, candidates are grouped by party affiliation. For maximum fairness, the ballots will be printed in more than one random format, so that no candidate or party always gets the favoured top spot on the ballot paper.

Q:

A:

How is voting different in a BC-STV election ?

The voter would see two key changes from the current system:

  • First, instead of writing on the ballot a single "X" for a single candidate, the voter would be able to rank candidates (1, 2, 3 and so on) according to the voter's personal preferences.
  • Second, BC's constituencies would no longer be single-MLA electoral districts as now. There would be larger ridings, each with more than one MLA. The legislature would remain at 79 seats, though, so the ratio of MLAs to population would be the same as now.

Q:

A:

Does changing the voting system lead to more spoiled ballots?

A change in voting system or ballot form does not have a large impact on spoiled ballots. For example, when elections for the parliament of Tasmania switched from First Past The Post (FPTP - our current electoral system) to STV (the recommended system) the rate of spoiled ballots was 1.2% in 1906 (under FPTP) and 2.9% in 1909 (under STV). Another example of this marginal impact is when the House of Representatives in Australia went from marking crosses on the ballot to listing numbers, the rate of spoiled ballots changed 1.2%.

You may have heard that New Zealand had a problem with counting STV votes in its municipal elections. That was a problem with its computers, not with the STV system. The Assembly has designed BC-STV so the count can be done either by hand or by computer.

Q:

A:

Are votes "wasted" under BC-STV?

STV virtually eliminates "wasted" votes. For example, in a three seat riding, even if a voter's #1 preferred candidate is not elected, there is a good chance their ballot will help their #2 and #3 preferred candidates win a seat. Only about 16% of ballots don't contribute to electing a candidate.

Counting Ballots

Q:

A:

What happens to ballots after the polls close?

Elections BC staff will oversee the ballot counting, as they do today. After the polls close, the minimum number of preferences needed to win a seat is determined for each district; this depends, for a start, on how many ballots were cast. Then the voters' first-choice preferences are counted.

If a candidate reaches the required threshold, he or she is declared elected. If he/she has more first choices than necessary to be elected, his/her "surplus" ballots are redistributed, based on those voters' second preferences. To be fair though, all the voters who helped that candidate win have their second preferences redistributed at a discounted value (rather than just pulling the surplus votes out of a barrel).

If the seats are not all filled after that, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his/her votes are transferred to the remaining candidates according to the voters' preferences indicated on those ballots. This process is repeated until all available MLA seats in the constituency are filled.

Q:

A:

How are voter preferences transferred during the counting process?

The counting process ensures that every ballot goes to elect a candidate of the voter's choice. The voter's first preference is the most important; other preferences will only be used to support another candidate if the voter's first choice has no chance of getting elected or has more than enough support to get elected.

Q:

A:

Which counting process will BC-STV use?

The weighted inclusive Gregory method.

Q:

A:

How many votes does a candidate need to be elected? 

The minimum number of votes needed to be elected varies from riding to riding. This number is dependant on the total number of seats available in a constituency and the total number of valid votes cast. The formula for determining this number is known as the Droop Quota.

Q:

A:

Are the winning candidates those who end up with the lowest score?

BC-STV is not a system where numbers are added to determine the winners, but is instead a system where preferences are allocated.  A voter assigns 1, 2, 3, etc. to the candidates on the ballot to indicate his or her preferences. If a voter's first choice has no chance of getting elected or has more than enough support to get elected, other preferences may be used to support another candidate

Q:

A:

Will BC-STV be counted with a computer?

The Assembly has designed BC-STV so the count can be done by hand, if preferred. However, counting the results could be also be done via computer voting or machine-readable, paper ballots.

Impacts on Government

Q:

A:

Won't this new system lead to unstable minority or coalition governments?

BC-STV can produce majority or minority governments - depending on the will of the voters. The Assembly believes that minority and coalition governments can, in practice, be a strength because they encourage MLAs to work together. Germany , one of the more successful democracies in the world, has had only one single-party majority government since 1949.

Q:

A:

Will BC-STV be more expensive?

The cost of elections should remain in the same ballpark. As for the cost of government, it's not the electoral system that sets a provincial budget; the elected politicians do that. Some people say that coalition governments may tend to spend more than majority governments, but there is no definitive evidence one way or the other on that. Either way, it's up to your elected representatives, and their election is driven by the voter. The Assembly believes that because BC-STV governments are more proportional, their spending will more accurately reflect the will of citizens.

Q:

A:

Who would be the Premier under this system?

Under both the current system and the STV system, an MLA is asked by the Governor General to form a government and, if he or she is successful in doing this, the MLA is appointed Premier. This MLA could be the leader of the party with the most MLAs, as is current practice, or could be a person who will best lead a coalition.

Impacts on Political Parties

Q:

A:

Are parties less important under BC-STV?

Under BC-STV, governments will usually continue to be formed by large parties, though perhaps in coalition with another party or parties. During elections, candidates are grouped by party on the STV ballot paper to aid people in selecting their preferences. A key difference in a BC-STV election is that the system is candidate-based, rather than party-based. This means that voters choose which of the party's candidates they prefer to represent them.

Q:

A:

Are parties restricted to running a certain number of candidates in a constituency?

Under the BC-STV system, parties will likely run only the number of candidates they expect to win in a riding. The reason for this conservative approach is that votes will be split among party candidates and the party would not want to spread its voter support too thin. (For example, if a riding had five seats and Party A ran five candidates, voters who support Party A could end up distributing their first preferences amongst all those candidates, giving a candidate from another party, which ran fewer candidates, a larger number of first preferences.)

Q:

A:

How do candidates get on the ballot?

Candidates representing a political party would appear on the ballot via the current party nomination process. The only change would be that more than one candidate per party may run in a district. Independents would also follow current procedures.

BC's Previous Electoral Reforms

Q:

A:

Didn't British Columbia use STV in the past?

STV is sometimes mistaken for the system known as Alternative Vote (AV), which was used in BC in 1952 and 1953. But AV - which, like STV, uses the preferential ballot - relied on single-member, rather than multi-member districts, so - unlike STV - it did not deliver proportionality.

Q:

A:

Why are we going back to multi-member ridings?

Multi-member ridings help produce proportionality. They also increase voter choice. And supporters of STV say multi-member ridings can improve local representation by giving residents more than just one MLA to whom they can go with problems, concerns and issues.

British Columbia used both single and multimember districts between 1871 and 1991. By increasing or decreasing the number of seats in a district, the electoral system was able to respond to population shifts without redrawing district boundaries.

Public Involvement

Q:

A:

How can British Columbians learn more about the recommendation?

The Citizens' Assembly website is also a great resource. A non-partisan information office has been established to provide information resources on BC-STV and the current electoral system .

Q:

A:

Will there be Yes and No campaigns?

Yes and No campaigns are arising, adding to a vigorous and important debate on this issue. I hope everyone will be part of this discussion. If voters are to make an informed decision, we all need to discuss this issue and to participate in the vote on May 17, 2005 .

Q:

A:

Why did the Assembly ignore MMP, which was supported by a majority of the submissions?

The Assembly carefully considered all the public input we received in this process. It received 1,600 submissions, and held 50 public hearings that were attended by almost 3,000 people. The Assembly's role, though, was to do more than just tally up submissions. Its job was to listen, learn and thoughtfully evaluate. It especially paid attention to people's underlying values and the outcomes they wanted from an electoral system. The values most frequently expressed were voter choice, proportionality and local representation. The Assembly believes BC-STV best addresses these values and will produce the best outcomes for BC.

Referendum

Q:

A:

What happens now that the Citizens' Assembly has recommended a new electoral system?

The question will be put to all the voters in BC as a referendum question at the next provincial election on May 17, 2005 . If the voters clearly endorse the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation, the government has promised it will introduce legislation so that the new electoral system could be in place for the following provincial election, in May 2009.

Q:

A:

Will there be a chance to vote for more than one alternative electoral system?

The Assembly's mandate states that the referendum will offer only two options: the current system or the Assembly's recommended system, BC-STV.

Q:

A:

How much support does the Assembly's recommendation need to pass in a referendum?

In order for the referendum to pass, there needs to be 60% voter support throughout the province as well as majority support (over 50%) in 48 of the 79 (60%) of the province's ridings.

Q:

A:

Isn't the 60/60 double majority too high?

The intention of this referendum requirement is to be sure that all parts of the province support this important change. Also, there is nothing stopping the government from introducing legislation that would enable the new system to go into effect even if support for the Assembly's recommendation does not quite pass the 60% threshold.

Q:

A:

If the referendum doesn't pass, won't this have been a waste of time and taxpayer money?

Our voting system is absolutely central to our democracy. If British Columbians decide against BC-STV, then we will still have given our voting system a thorough review and examination - a valuable check-up on its state of health.

How BC-STV works
Letter
Problems

Against BC-STV?

E-mail

All About BC-STV's History © 2000-2019 www.bc-stv.ca