Monday, October 09, 2017

A weird way to do electoral reform

When New Zealanders voted for electoral reform in 1993, we knew exactly what we were voting for. A royal commission had looked at the alternatives. An initial referendum had narrowed the choice down to MMP. And Parliament had already passed the law enabling the new electoral system to come into force if people voted for change, so we knew exactly how many MP's we'd be getting and the rough shape of electoral boundaries.

They do things differently in Canada. In 2017, voters in British Colombia elected (under FPP) an NDP-Green coalition government. That government has just announced a referendum on proportional representation, the third in the province's history. But while they've decided everything about the referendum - a postal vote, with 50%-plus-one required for success, and no turnout requirement, they haven't actually decided what form of proportional representation they'll be voting on. The actual referendum question will be decided later, by regulation. And the referendum won't be binding - instead, if it passes, the legislation will have to be passed (and new electoral boundaries decided) before the next election.

This isn't the first time British Colombia has been here. In 2005 and 2009 they voted on adopting STV. In 2005 it won a majority, but the government had strapped the chicken by requiring 60% support, ensuring the continuation of first-past-the-post. In 2009, STV failed, largely because the lack of information of electoral boundaries allowed real fears about representation of rural areas (which would have required multi-member districts larger than some countries). While the current British Colombia government apparently favours MMP - they've been paying attention to how it works in New Zealand - failing to nail down the details of the system could leave them with the same result.