West Kootenay residents weighed in on electoral reform at Thursday night’s Electoral Reform Town Hall in Castlegar.
The town hall was hosted by MP Richard Cannings, who was gathering information to submit to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) created by the House of Commons on June 7, in keeping with the promise made by the Liberals during the last election. The ERRE’s mandate is “to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting.”
Attendees at the town hall discussed all three of these issues, as well as the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16. Of the 16 people who spoke at the town hall, 14 made it clear they supported some form of proportional representation (PR) electoral system — where the number of seats a party holds in the House is equal to its percentage of the popular vote — while one said he needed more time to consider the different voting systems, and another spoke to voting age and mandatory voting without addressing the voting system issue.
The two most discussed voting systems during the evening were mixed-member proportional (MMP), which is is supported by the NDP, and single transferable vote (STV).
MMP is used in nine countries in the world, including Germany and New Zealand. Voters have two votes per ballot — one vote for a local candidate and the other for a party — and parties can win both constituency seats and list seats. Constituency seats are won using first past the post system, while list seats are used to top up a party’s MPs so that its number of seats matches its percentage of the popular vote. Before the election, parties choose and rank the list candidates, and how many are elected depends on how may top up votes the party gets. There is a minimum threshold of votes that a party needs to hit before it gets a seat.
STV is used in two countries, Ireland and Malta, and is considered semi-proportional, as the results are relatively proportional and grow more so with larger ridings that have more MPs. Voters rank candidates on their ballots, usually voting in more than one MP for their riding. For a candidate to be elected, they have to receive a certain quota, which is calculated based on the number of votes in a riding and how many seats are available. When a candidate reaches the quota, excess ballots are transferred to the voters’ next choice. If no candidate reaches the quota, then the candidate who’s in last place is eliminated, and those votes are transferred to the voters’ second choice. This continues until all seats in the riding are filled. The process of counting votes can’t begin until all votes are in and it may take some time before the results are determined.
There wasn’t much support for mandatory voting at the town hall, but one woman said she’d consider it. Speakers were both in favour of and against online voting. Those for it hoped it would encourage more people to vote, while those against had security concerns. Many were in favour of lowering the voting age to 16.
Those who weren’t able to attend or who have more to say can submit a brief to the ERRE or fill out an online questionnaire by visiting parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE before 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7.