This is one of the most common complaints about the referendum on Proportional Representation. It’s to be expected. However, it is important to note from whom those comments are coming. Are they coming from voters? Yes. And that’s fair; it’s a complicated question. If a voter finds a political concept too complicated, then it’s up to those presenting the idea to make it less complicated. Politicians. Journalists. I intend to do exactly that in this article.
But I find the majority of people coming out with the “It’s too complicated,” complaint are journalists and politicians. And you have to stop and think. Are these supposedly experienced and intelligent people really finding these relatively simple concepts too complicated? I think not. And that makes me suspicious. Why are they saying this?
If you think a question is too complicated to answer, then you should be suspicious that someone is counting on you to be frightened, credulous or lazy enough to keep believing exactly that. You should worry that someone is about to benefit from your weakness.
“I know the contract is too complicated. Don’t worry, I read it all the way through, and you’ll be just fine.” If you hear that from a lawyer you hired to help you through the process of spending your life savings on a house, that’s just fine.
If it’s coming from the guy who is selling you the house, I would hope the alarm bells would start ringing. Someone is telling you what you want to hear. “Look, if all those important people are saying it’s too complicated, then I must be right. Right? That means I can ignore it.”
Wrong. The people telling you it’s too complicated are the ones who have always benefitted from the old paternalistic system. Paternalism is based on “Daddy knows best,” keeping the voters believing that the system is too complicated for them, and the politicians are the only ones who can be trusted to get anything done.
These are the people who will lose power under the new system. And where will that power go? Well, get ready for something you really want to hear. It goes to the voters. Remember, the great benefit of proportional representation is that it makes your vote count more in every election. Nobody argues that.
Trying Too Hard to Seem Fair
I’m afraid the proponents of the Proportional system have done themselves a disservice by trying to present all the possibilities at once. This may be fair and balanced, but it gives the impression that the whole thing is just too complicated.
In fact, once any given system is chosen, it will be pretty easy to see how it works.
How It Will Work
So I am going to simplify this for you. Let’s see how MMP might work in a two-seat riding.
Two former ridings are grouped together and given two MLAs.
There are two parts to the ballot:
- The first part lists the candidate from each party. Voters choose one. Sound familiar? That’s the present system.
- The second part lists several candidates from each party, listed by the half of the new riding they come from and their party. Voters select one of these as well.
Counting the vote:
- From the first part of the ballot, the candidate with the most votes becomes an MLA. Simple. Just like in the old system.
- The second candidate is chosen by the second part of the ballot. This will result in a larger cross-section of the population getting their candidate elected. But what cross-section?
Now Come the Choices
The second part of the ballot is where the specific version of the system counts.
- If the objective is to spread representation over the area of the riding, then the second candidate would be the winner in the other half of the riding.
- If the objective is to balance the representation of the different parties across the whole riding, then the second candidate would be chosen by the percentage of the total vote his or her party got in both ridings.
- There could be other objectives, achieved by other ways of counting the votes. Once we tell them we want change, the government is going to have to decide which one we will use. But that’s a more complicated choice.
Is it Binding?
Well, sort of. The Elections BC website states:
“Referendum results are usually binding on government. If more than 50% of the validly cast ballots vote the same way on a question stated, that result is binding on the government that initiated the referendum.”
This means that 50% + 1 votes on the first half of the ballot will be binding, because there are only two choices. Nothing complicated there.
Since there are three choices on the second part, there is a much smaller chance of a clear winner. Therefore the government has set themselves some wiggle room. If no choice gets a clear win, the government can choose. Very smart.
But the important choice is not complicated at all. If you want to see our province run under an election system that can give people like Doug Ford and Donald Trump complete control of our government with only 40% of the vote, or if you’re one of the few people who are benefitting from this state of affairs, then go ahead and vote for FPTP.
If you want your vote to count, no matter what riding you are in or what party you vote for, vote for Proportional Representation.
If you want to make an informed selection on the second half of the ballot, go to,
If you’re a real masochist, try,
And if you’re still having trouble, wait for my next post, which is called “Who Can You Trust.” (The answer, of course, is a qualified, ‘nobody, not even me.’ When it comes to political decisions, you have to get the information and trust only yourself.)