Study applies different voting systems to B.C.

NANAIMO – Ever wonder if a different voting system would impact the results of B.C.'s provincial election?

Ever wonder if a different voting system would impact the results of B.C.’s provincial election?

Voters can find out by participating in an online study that asks people to reflect on how they would vote in the current B.C. election under three different voting systems – first-past-the-post, proportional representation and single-transferable vote – and participate in a simulation of the vote under each system.

The Votes B.C. study, conducted by researchers at the University of B.C. and Laval University, has two objectives: to provide information to the general public, as well as answer such questions as: does the electoral system have an impact on who gets elected? Are the different systems really different? Is there a better system?

“Voting is one of the most important aspects of a modern democracy,” said Allan Craigie, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in UBC’s Department of Political Science and member of Votes B.C. research team. “It’s quite surprising … we don’t think more about the electoral system. We assume a lot about how people vote and why people vote, but as an academic, I feel there is a lot of information that is simply unknown.”

The site, www.votesbc.org, uses the actual provincial electoral ridings and the official list of candidates from Elections B.C. for the voting simulations.

The Votes B.C. project is part of an international study called Making Electoral Democracy Work, which aims to gain a better understanding of the impact of electoral rules on the functioning of democracy.

The umbrella study, looking at 26 elections in five countries, is paid for by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

In first-past-the-post – the system that B.C. and Canada currently uses – people only vote for one candidate and the person with the most votes wins.

The single-transferrable vote system allows voters to rank candidates by order of preference in multi-seat constituencies. Two referendums were held in B.C. on changing to the STV system, one in 2005 and one in 2009, both of which were unsuccessful.

In the proportional representation system, people cast a ballot for the party of their choice and seats are distributed in the legislative assembly based on the party’s share of total votes – if a party gets 30 per cent of the votes, it will get about 30 per cent of the seats in the legislature.

Craigie said each system has its strengths and weaknesses and researchers are simply trying to provide the information needed to make informed decisions.