More people turnout to vote in PR elections

Dan Mountain / November 21, 2018

The Proportional Representation Electoral Referendum ballots are due back on November 30th, but Elections BC recommends that the ballots are in the mail no later than the 24th to ensure they are received on time. Elections BC says that 25% of ballots have been returned as of Wednesday morning.

PR Referendum ballot returns by city

(Graham Cox / BCIT News)

Research Associate at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, Megan Dias said that proportional representation causes voters to go into the voting booth feeling like their vote could have an impact on the election. Since parties are more likely to receive seats that reflect the number of total votes they received, she said that people are more likely to vote because they feel like their vote is less likely to be wasted.

Voting in ballot box

“When people have more choice and when people can identify with a party and not feel like they’re wasting their vote every time they go to the ballot box, that probably incentivizes people to actually go out and vote more often,” – Megan Dias, Political Science Masters of Comparative Politics

Countries with PR and their voter turnout

The World Atlas statistics on voter turnout supports the idea that citizens in PR countries are more likely to vote. Of the top 20 countries with the highest voter turnouts around the world, three of those countries have laws that require their citizens to vote. However, of the seventeen where voting is voluntary, 14 of them had a system of proportional representation while only 3 were first-past-the-post.

Canada had the third highest voter turnout for non-compulsory FPTP, and the 19th highest in total. The two FPTP countries ahead of Canada were France and the United Kingdom.

Elections BC reports that BC had a 57.7% voter turnout for the 2017 provincial election.

BC’s current system and strategic voting

UBC Political Science Master’s student and researcher for the Democratic Institutions Center, Chuka Ejeckam says that BC’s current FPTP system causes strategic voting. He said that because only one candidate goes to the Legislature per riding, BC voters are more likely to vote for the party they believe has a chance to win instead of their first choice.

For example, he said that BC voters that would prefer to vote for the Green Party as their first choice are often more likely to vote for the NDP because they have a higher chance of winning a seat, while voters that identify with the Conservative Party are more likely to vote for the Liberal Party.

Dias highlighted that this concept of strategic voting often leads to FPTP systems only having two competitive parties. Historically in BC, those parties have been the Liberals and the NDP, but she said that PR could lead to more parties being competitive.

Wasted Votes

Ejeckam said that there are many examples where ridings in FPTP systems have had more than half of that district’s votes not contributing to a representative seat.

He gave an example of the 2015 BC provincial election, where where Gary Holman gained a seat in the Legislature for Saanich North with only 33% of the vote. In this riding, In Saanich North, 33% of voters decided their representative, while the other 67% of votes had no effect on their representation in the Legislature. 33% of voters determined 100% of the district’s representation.

He said that these wasted votes are made possible because of the winner-take-all mentality of FPTP systems, and that the idea that a vote may not count is more likely to dissuade voters from heading to the polls.

PR and why more people vote

In proportional representation for BC, more representatives than one would go to the Legislature per district. This allows for the seats in legislature to more accurately reflect the total percentage of votes for both the province and each riding. Ejeckam said that voters in PR systems are more likely to feel greater degrees of representation.

He said that proportional representation increases democratic participation, voter turnout, and belief in democratic institutions.

“If you survey the systems that exist in the world and review the research, it does indicate pretty consistently that proportional representation tends to increase levels of democratic participation, voter turnout, and levels of democratic belief in the institution that animates society ” – Chuka Ejeckam

With files from Darrian Matassa-Fung and Graham Cox