File photo.

File photo.

First Past the Post vs. Proportional Representation

The Free Press breaks down your referendum options

Starting next week, registered voters will get a voting package in the mail from Elections BC on how the B.C. voting system works.

Those residents looking to vote, but who aren’t registered, can call 1-800-661-8683 or visit

The first question will ask voters “Which system should British Columbia use for provincial elections? (Vote for only one.),” with the options “The current First Past the Post voting system” and “A proportional representation voting system).” A second question will read, “If British Columbia adopts a proportional representation voting system, which of the following voting systems do you prefer? (Rank in order of preference. You may choose to support one, two or all three of the systems.)” with the options “Dual Member Proportional (DMP),” “Mixed Member Proportional (MMP),” and “Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP)” (see image for further clarification of the ballot).

Voters can choose to answer only one question and for the second question can choose to support only one system. If a majority of voters choose to keep First Past the Post (FPTP), the second question won’t come into play. If the majority of voters choose a proportional representation (PR) system, the system that receives the most support in the second question will be used.

How the systems work

First Past the Post

87 MLAs, riding size stays the same

This is the system voters are currently using. The candidate with the most votes in each riding is elected.

Dual Member Proportional

Between 87 to 95 MLAs, urban and semi-urban ridings combined

Ridings will be combined with one nearby riding. This means ridings will be larger but have two MLAs per riding instead of one. The largest rural ridings will not be combined and continue to have one MLA. In ridings with two MLAs (most of them), parties would select a primary and secondary candidate. On the ballot, voters would be asked to mark a single party (with both the primary and secondary candidate of that party listed). The first MLA seat would be awarded to the party with the most votes. If a party has two candidates, it will be awarded to the primary candidate.

“The second seat is won by a party based on its share of the popular vote province-wide and their performance in each district,” according to Elections BC. Parties would need at least 5 per cent of the province-wide vote to get any second seats and an independent candidate would get a seat if they win the first or second seat.

Mixed Member Proportional

87 to 95 MLAs, larger and fewer ridings

MLAs would be elected under an FPTP system. However, there would also be second a group of regional MLAs covering multiple ridings. These MLAs would be elected from a party list so that each party’s share of the seats roughly matches its share of the province-wide vote. It’s not clear yet whether the ballot will have two voting options (one for your local MLA and one for regional MLAs) or if one vote will count for both.

Rural-Urban Proportional

87 to 95 MLAs, larger and fewer ridings

Multiple ridings would be combined together (i.e. five) and have multiple MLAs. Voters would be asked to rank candidates in order of preference on the ballot. Each district would have a vote-quota to win a seat. Any candidate who reaches that quota is elected. If a candidate exceeds the quota, the exceeding votes are transferred to the next candidate using the voter’s next choice. If no candidates have enough, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are transferred to other candidates according to voter’s next selection. Rural districts would use an MMP system instead to keep riding sizes from becoming exceedingly large.

The arguments for and against

The ACE Knowledge Network, comprised of various international (non-partisan) organizations, including Elections Canada, lists various advantages and disadvantages of the available options.

FPTP advantages

Most cited advantages:

  • It provides a clear-cut choice for voters between two main parties
  • It gives rise to single-party governments
  • It gives rise to a coherent opposition in the legislature
  • It excludes extremist parties from representation in the legislature
  • It promotes a link between constituents and their representatives
  • It allows voters to choose between people rather than just between parties
  • It gives a chance for popular independent candidates to be elected
  • Finally, FPTP systems are particularly praised for being simple to use and understand

FPTP criticism

Most cited criticism:

  • It excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation
  • It excludes minorities from fair representation
  • It excludes women from the legislature
  • It can encourage the development of political parties based on clan, ethnicity or region
  • It exaggerates the phenomenon of ‘regional fiefdoms’ where one party wins all the seats in a province or area
  • It leaves a large number of wasted votes which do not go towards the election of any candidate
  • It can cause vote-splitting
  • It may be unresponsive to changes in public opinion
  • Finally, FPTP systems are dependent on the drawing of electoral boundaries

PR advantages

Most cited advantages:

  • Faithfully translate votes cast into seats won, and thus avoid some of the more destabilizing and ‘unfair’ results thrown up by plurality/majority electoral systems
  • Encourage or require the formation of political parties or groups of like-minded candidates to put forward lists
  • Give rise to very few wasted votes
  • Facilitate minority parties’ access to representation
  • Encourage parties to campaign beyond the districts in which they are strong or where the results are expected to be close
  • Restrict the growth of ‘regional fiefdoms’
  • Lead to greater continuity and stability of policy
  • Make power-sharing between parties and interest groups more visible

PR criticism

Most cited criticism:

  • Coalition governments, which in turn lead to legislative gridlock and consequent inability to carry out coherent policies
  • A destabilizing fragmentation of the party system
  • A platform for extremist parties
  • Governing coalitions which have insufficient common ground
  • Small parties getting a disproportionately large amount of power
  • The inability of the voter to enforce accountability by throwing a party out of power or a particular candidate out of office
  • Difficulties either for voters to understand or for the electoral administration to implement the sometimes complex rules of the system

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