Island Voices: Dual-member proportional representation is a fair system

Over the next month, British Columbians will decide if they want to change their voting system to a form of proportional representation. One of the systems in the referendum is called dual member proportional.

I developed DMP in 2013 with grant funding from the University of Alberta. Despite its recent appearance in the electoral-reform discussion, DMP became the first Canadian-invented proportional voting system to be put to a public vote when it was included in Prince Edward Island’s 2016 plebiscite. The significant attention DMP has garnered is due to its simple but powerful design.

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DMP works by creating two-member districts where parties can nominate up to two candidates. The first seat in each of the two-member districts is filled by the candidate who placed first locally, just as under the current system. The second seats are filled to create a proportional result across the province by electing the top candidates from each party until they have received their fair share of seats in the legislature.

This makes it a highly competitive system, as candidates are competing not only to have the most votes locally but also to have the highest vote share among the other candidates from their party across the province.

It is also worth mentioning that DMP would be fair to voters who choose to support independent candidates. Any independent candidate who places first or second in their district would be elected. Party affiliation would not be a requirement to win any of the seats under DMP.

As a result of its innovative design, B.C. would see three primary benefits from adopting DMP.

First, DMP would preserve what many B.C. voters like about first-past-the-post. Just like the current system, DMP features a straightforward, single-vote ballot and highly localized representation. However, DMP wouldn’t just retain the status quo. Instead, it would enhance the quality of local representation experienced under FPTP, as most British Columbians could expect to be represented by two MLAs from different parties, likely one from the government and one from the opposition.

Second, DMP would work with, rather than against, B.C.’s geography. The question of how to adopt proportional representation while accommodating sparsely populated rural areas received significant attention in the B.C. government’s consultation process and was featured heavily in the attorney general’s How We Vote report.

One of the reasons DMP has been included in this referendum is that it provides a substantial amount of flexibility to accommodate rural communities and bring the benefits of proportional representation to rural voters. For instance, my recommendation to leave B.C.’s largest districts as single-member ridings was accepted. Even though these exceptional districts would be left in their current form, their voters would still see the benefits of proportional representation. That’s because every vote would help determine the share of seats each party receives in the legislature.

Finally, and most importantly, DMP would be inclusive of all voters by ensuring that every vote matters. As someone who grew up in a northern Canadian community, I was not satisfied with systems that would ensure people in large urban centres would be able to cast a meaningful vote while those in rural communities would be left with partial fixes to FPTP.

Where a person lives, whether it is in Fort Nelson or downtown Vancouver, should have no bearing on the importance of their vote. This idea that everyone should have an effective vote guided the development of DMP.

At a fundamental level, B.C.’s referendum on electoral reform is about fairness. Under FPTP, a candidate who receives a quarter of the votes in their district can be elected while the remaining three-quarters of voters are left empty-handed. Moreover, a party can win a majority of the seats in the legislature with far less than a majority of the provincewide vote. Perhaps the most perplexing feature of FPTP is that a party can win the most seats, a majority even, without securing the most votes. Based on these properties alone, I would argue that FPTP fails to live up to the meaning of fairness.

While all of the alternative voting systems put forward in this referendum would be an improvement over FPTP, DMP best embodies the principle of fairness. It is the only system that would fully include rural British Columbians while at the same time preserving the current boundaries of B.C.’s largest ridings.

Sean Graham is the inventor of the dual member proportional voting system. More information about DMP can be found at DMPforCanada.com.

This short video explains how dual member proportional works by using the 2015 federal election results in Alberta as an example. 

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