Saturday, March 21, 2009

Proponent of voting change speaks up -- By Jennifer Smith

So many people are turned off politics.

Part of the reason, according to an advocate for change, is because the current voting system is “kind of like a funhouse mirror, it distorts the outcome.”

But the chance to change how your vote counts in politics is coming May 12.

Coinciding with the provincial election, there will be a referendum vote to change the voting system.

The system B.C. voters currently use is the single member plurality (SMP) system. The single transferable vote system (BC-STV) is what is proposed.

The highlight of STV is proportionality.

“Basically, if a party gets 40 per cent of the votes they should get 40 per cent of the seats in the legislature,” said Harley Nyen, speaking to Vernon voters Wednesday.

With the current SMP, that proportionality isn’t translating, said Nyen.

“If you get 40 per cent of the votes, you get 60 per cent of the seats and you get 100 per cent of the power.”

Nyen is one of the 160 randomly selected B.C. voters who formed the Citizen’s Assembly in 2004 (which includes the member who refers to the current voting system as a funhouse mirror). They spent months studying different voting systems and questioning the public on what they wanted.

Based on three main things B.C. voters said they wanted, the Citizens Assembly has recommended BC-STV. Those three components were proportional representation, local representation and voter choice.

BC-STV was voted on in the 2005 election and needed 60 per cent of the ‘yes’ vote to be implemented. It received 58 per cent.

Therefore voters have a second chance May 12 to decide if they would like to stick with the status quo or move to a new system.

With the new system, candidates are ranked. So instead of one ‘x’, voters rank each candidate 1,2,3,4 and so on. They can rank as many or as few candidates as they like.

There is also the opportunity for more candidates on the ballot since the electoral area boundaries would change.

The Okanagan-Vernon riding would become Okanagan-Shuswap, incorporating Greater Kelowna, Greater Vernon, Westside north of Fintry, Falkland, Chase, Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Edgewood, Cherryville and Lumby.

And instead of one MLA, the new region would have four.

It would also give the parties the opportunity to have more candidates running.

“Realistically, you’re going to see 10 to 12 candidates,” said Nyen.

Based on typical voting for the area, the one voted in would need 20,001 votes. That would make them the first one elected.

Any votes that candidate received above and beyond 20,001 would then be distributed to the next popular candidates. That should bring another candidates votes up to the 20,001 threshold, who would be the next one elected to represent the area. Any votes above and beyond are again distributed. The candidate with the fewest votes is also eliminated and has their votes distributed to the others.

There is a computer system in place to make all this possible. While it may seem complicated, Nyen says the system is transparent, it has been studied and the Citizen’s Assembly is confident it is the best fit for B.C.

“The mathematics of it and the fairness of it is there.”

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I have been a resident of Coldstream since 1976. I have had 15 years of experience on Council, 3 years as Mayor. As a current Councillor I am working to achieve fair water and sewer rates and to ensure that taxpayers get fair treatment. The current direction regarding water supply is unsustainable and I am doing all I can to get the most cost effective water supply possible.