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By Duncan Speight | April 21, 2005
Voters in B.C. are not only electing a new government on May 17. They're
also voting in a referendum on whether to adopt a complicated new proportional
electoral system – the single-transferable vote (BC-STV).
It's a very different way of thinking about your vote, and your participation
Instead of marking an "X" beside one name, voters would number
candidates from most favourite to least favourite (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.).
If you select candidates in order of preference, your ballot may count
towards one or more candidates being elected. The big difference between
BC-STV and the current system is how your vote is counted.
If your first pick doesn't win, or already has more votes than are
needed to be elected, your vote, or a portion of your vote, would be
transferred to your second choice.
The system is designed to work in a voting district that might elect
two or more candidates to the legislature, so your second and third
choices are very important.
No more 'wasted' votes
In its report recommending the new system, the Citizens' Assembly on
Electoral Reform says that by transferring or a portion of your vote
away from a candidate who is either already elected or has been defeated,
your vote is not "wasted." Someone on your preferred list,
even if you ranked them fourth, might get elected.
To win a seat, a candidate would have to attract a minimum number of
votes – called an Electoral Quota – which is based
on the number of votes cast and the number of candidates to be elected
from a riding. (See our Election Dictionary for more details.)
A candidate who received more than the Quota would have their excess
votes redistributed to the next-ranked candidate on each ballot.
If no candidate receives more than the Quota, the candidate with the
fewest votes is eliminated. All of the votes for that person are distributed
to the #2 preference on each ballot.
Electoral map would change
The number of seats in the legislature would remain at 79, but there
would be fewer ridings, each electing between two and seven MLAs. And
because of that, the Assembly says the overall results would better
reflect how people voted.
For example, in our current system a candidate could win their seat
by capturing only 25 per cent of the vote. That means 75 per cent of
the people in the district did not vote for this candidate, but he or
she was elected anyway because the opposition was divided among other
In the BC-STV system, perhaps the top two or three candidates would
be elected in that district, better reflecting how the community actually
The report says that while a majority government is possible, the BC-STV
is more likely to produce a minority government or a coalition of two
or more parties.
The government has said that if B.C. voters approve the new system,
it would take effect in the 2009 provincial election.
Assembly fact sheet on how votes would be counted (pdf)
in (animated) action