British Columbia

Know your voting systems: three types of electoral reform on B.C.'s ballot

We'll go into more detail on the three alternatives in the weeks ahead, but here's a basic summary of each.

A quick summary of Dual Member, Mixed Member, and Rural-Urban proportional voting systems

Whether B.C. voters cast ballots in the future for individuals, political parties, or a mix will be determined in November's mail-in referendum. (CBC)

This fall, B.C. will choose whether to keep our current first-past-the-post electoral system, or change to a system of proportional representation.

If a majority of people are in favour of proportional representation (PR), then one of three systems — which voters will rank in order of preference in a second question on the ballot — will be adopted for any future provincial election. 

We'll go into more detail on the three alternatives in the weeks ahead, but here's a basic summary of each.

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Option 1: Dual Member

Voting would remain exactly the same in rural ridings in B.C.'s north and Interior.

Everywhere else, the electoral districts would double in size.

Two people would be elected in each of these districts, but you would still only cast one vote. On your ballot, you'd cast a vote for a party listing two candidates, which we'll call "primary candidate" and "secondary candidate."

The primary candidate from the party that gets the most votes in these bigger ridings is elected. 

But who gets the second seat?

Another candidate is chosen from each of these double-sized ridings to ensure that a party gets the same percentage of seats as votes — provided they get at least five per cent of the provincewide vote. 

We won't get into the math here, but for the second seat, this system would favour primary candidates from the party that finished second in a riding. 

However, sometimes, a secondary candidate from a winning party would get in if the party did both really well in that riding and across the province generally.  

As for independents, they would be elected if they had the most or second most votes in the riding. 

Option Two: Mixed Member  

In this scenario, ridings would generally increase in size by around 50 to 100 per cent. People would vote for one candidate from one party and the person with the most votes would get elected, same as right now.

However, in each region of the province, there would be a combination of regular ridings and extra PR MLAs, allocated by how well the party did in that region overall.

As an example, in the last election the B.C. Liberals got just under 30 per cent of the vote on Vancouver Island, but won only one of the 15 seats.

In this system, that scenario would have given the Liberals more seats – between a quarter and a third of the PR MLAs allocated to the Island – regardless of how many ridings they won.

This is the only one of the three systems that is used in other jurisdictions, but has the most amount of detail that would be left up to a legislative committee — including whether people could vote for both a candidate and the party they want in power, or which individuals are chosen as PR MLAs.

Option Three: Rural-Urban

Here, the rural regions of the province would keep that Mixed Member system we talked about — bigger ridings, but a mix of direct representatives and proportional representation MLAs.

But in the urban areas of the province, people would use the single-transferrable vote – the system B.C. had a referendum on in 2005 and 2009. Both failed.

It would mean mega ridings with between two and seven MLAs, which means there could be anywhere from five or six candidates on the ballot to over 20.

But you could rank as many of the candidates as you wanted, and everyone's overall preferences would determine who would get elected.

In all of the systems, there's a lot that wouldn't be decided until after it was approved – including the exact number of MLAs, or what the riding maps would look like.

But the government believes with three options on the table, we'll get the specific system that British Columbians like best.

Of course, that will only happen if a majority of voters actually want to change our current system.


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.