B.C. voters turn thumbs down on STV

British Columbia's voters have soundly rejected electoral reform, defeating the proposed shift to a proportional representation system by a wide margin.

British Columbia's voters have soundly rejected electoral reform, defeating the proposed shift to a proportional representation system by a wide margin.

In order to pass, the referendum needed to pass in 51 ridings. It succeeded in only a handful. The measure also would have needed to receive 60 per cent of the ballots cast, but got only 39 per cent of the votes.

This form of proportional representation is known as the single-transferable-vote system, which in B.C. has been dubbed BC-STV for short.

Political commentator David Mitchell told CBC News that the defeat of the STV measure would probably kill electoral reform for a generation, not only in British Columbia but also in the rest of Canada. Other provinces have also put forward referendums on proportional representation but none have passed.

This was the second time in four years British Columbians have had a chance to fundamentally transform the way provincial politicians are elected. In the 2005 referendum, nearly 58 per cent voted in favour of adopting the new system. But by law, more than 60 per cent of voters must approve the new system for it to pass.

Because the result was so close last election — but so many people said they did not understand the issue — the government decided to hold the referendum again.

What is STV?

STV is a system of preferential voting aimed at improving proportional representation.

The idea is that the range of opinion in the community should be reflected in the legislative assembly, according to the Citzens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, which in 2004 recommended B.C. switch to a proportional representation system.

Voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference by numbering candidates on the ballot, regardless of their party affiliation. The ballots are then counted in a way that allows the candidates with the highest response to be elected.

The debate

There has been much debate about how well the new system would work and what sort of results it would produce.

Some critics of BC-STV say it is too complicated for people to understand how their ballot will be counted, and therefore it may make the voting process confusing. Others say the BC-STV system is unproven in real-life situations, and other countries with similar systems have had trouble with the results.

On the other hand, critics of the current "first past the post" system say it does not reflect the real wishes of voters.

For example, candidates often win their seat with 40 per cent or fewer of the votes, simply because they have more votes than any of the other candidates.

That means situations arise in which 60 per cent of the people, the majority of voters, did not support the candidate who won the seat.