How BC-STV works. BC’s
Proposed“Single Transferable Vote”.
Why Read This?
The May 17 referendum on BC-STV has the power to radically change the way voting and politics work in
British Columbia. On an issue this important you should NOT vote “YES”simply because you“want change”
or “NO” simply because you “don’t understand the issues.” Understanding how the system works will take
around half an hour of your time.Understanding its impact on our political system will a little longer.
Deciding if that impact is good or bad is a personal choice — one that you can only make once you
understand the system and its ramifications. Let’s get started.
How You Vote.
The ballot will tell you the number of seats in your riding and list the
candidates grouped by party affiliation. In this illustration we will imagine
that you listed Chris as your first choice, and Alice and Andy as your second
and third choices.You could have listed Brenda and Bill as fourth and fifth
choices, but because you do not like the Blueberry party you do not list a
preference for either of these candidates.
Since there are three seats to be filled in the riding and you ranked all but
two candidates it is guaranteed that at least one of the candidates you prefer
will be elected, even if it is not your first choice.Your vote will count.
How Your Vote is Used.
After counting the #1 choices on each ballot,there are four possibile situations. Either Chris wins a seat, Chris
wins with a surplus, Chris is eliminated, or Chris remains in the race.
Possibility 1: Chris Wins a Seat
If it takes 3000 votes to be elected and
3000 people listed Chris as their #1 c hoice,
Chris is elected and your ballot is set aside
— your vote resulted in your #1 choice
Possibility 2: Chris Wins a Seat
If it takes 3000 votes to be elected and
4000 people listed Chris as their #1 choice,
Chris could have won with 3/4 as many
votes. In this case 3/4 of your vote goes to
Chris and 1/4 of your vote goes to your
If Alice has already won a seat (or been
eliminated — see possibility 3) then 1/4 of
your vote goes to your third choice,Andy. If
both Alice and Andy have been elected or
been eliminated,then the remaining 1/4 of
your vote is disregarded since you did not
want it to go to either Brenda or Bill.
Possibility 3: Chris Is
After counting votes and
distributing surpluses, it may
be that not all the seats have
been filled but no candiate
has 3000 votes.The candidate
with fewest votesis eliminated.
If Chris is eliminated in this
way,then your entire vote
goes to Alice, your second
If Alice has already won a seat
or been eliminated,then your
entire vote goes to Andy. If
both Alice and Andy have
been elected or eliminated
then your vote is disregarded
— none of your remaining
choices can use the vote and
you did not want it to go to
either Brenda or Bill.
Possibility 4: Chris
remains in the race
After redistributing the
surplus from winning
candidates and all the votes
from eliminated candidates, it
might be that Chris does not
have enough votes (3000) to
win, nor does Chris have so
few votes as to be eliminated.
In this case some other
candidate (the one with
fewest votes) is eliminated,
their votes are redistributed,
and the process repeats.
Counting the Votes.
Under the proposed “BC-STV” system votes are tallied over
Round 1: After counting the 1st choices Anne has 3000 votes and
wins a seat. She could have won with only 2/3 as many votes,so 1/3
of the votes go to Alex,the second choice listed on those ballots
that listed Anne as #1.
Round 2:Nobody has 2001 votes so Betty, with least votes, is
dropped out.Nobody listed Betty as their 1st choice,so no votes are
Round 3: Alex has least votes and is dropped out. 333 votes each
are transferred to Bob and Charlie, and 333 ballots are set aside as
“exhausted”since they did not list a third preference.
Round 4: There are now two candidates (Bob and Charlie) and one
seat. Bob has more votes than Charlie and so he wins the seat.All
seats have been filled and the election is over.
Even democracy needs an upgrade now and then
They're newly formed, underfunded, in some ways unofficial - and they want
your vote come May.
Even before the Citizen's Assembly delivered their final report on electoral
reform to the provincial government, a grass roots campaign formed to
Drawing from all walks of life and a wide range of political ideologies, the
movement aiming to secure a "yes" result in May's referendum numbers
thousands of volunteers across the province, according to local organizer
In simple terms, the proposed new single transferable vote (STV) electoral
process would allow a voter to vote for more than one candidate, and each
district would elect several MLAs. It's a vital tool to eliminate the power
of the current party-run system, Schulmann argues: no longer could those
seeking to govern the province simply target specific ridings to guarantee a
majority in the legislature.
"Most elections, before election day - in 60 of 79 ridings it's clear who's
going to win," says Schulmann of the current system.
While many hold up the 2001 Liberal Party landslide as a reason to consider
STV, Schulmann - who returned to Victoria after a lengthy stint in the
Interior - goes back to 1996, when the NDP earned a second term in office
despite the Liberals' edge in the popular vote.
STV, he argues, will favour MLAs that pass legislation to affect local
communities, and may perhaps favour the more "maverick" MLAs. Since most
ridings exhibit a reasonable balance of political results, individual impact
counts more than political affiliation, he contends.
If passed, STV would necessitate a reconfiguration of riding size and
boundaries: Schulmann figures the Capital Region would likely end up as one
big riding with six candidates.
That, in turn, leads to a need to connect to the voters: there's no way the
Capital Region would end up represented by six members of one party, as it
"If you're running in Greater Victoria and you're a Liberal - if you as a
Liberal are not more popular than the other three Liberals, you're going to
lose," he explains.
A well-known candidate that doesn't adhere to the established party
structure may also win out on popularity, he adds.
Hence, STV "gives you real choice at the ballot box."
That, he says, is the fundamental appeal of a grass roots movement that's
already attracted some 700 supporters in the Capital Region alone.
"Saanich and the Islands has as many people involved as many campaigns," he
notes. "It's got significant potential to be a grassroots movement that
suddenly takes off and surprises political analysts."
He likens it to the movement that swept the country in advance of the 1993
Charlottetown Accord referendum.
Schulmann estimates that two-thirds of the current "yes" campaign have never
been involved in party politics or campaigns, nor do they subscribe to a
particular political ideology.
"Our representation spans the political spectrum in such a way that if
people were sitting down in a room and we weren't talking about (political
reform) they'd kill each other," quips Schulmann.
Around the province, backers of both the NDP and Liberals, former Socreds,
and Greens have all expressed support. In fairness, criticism of the system
has come from all political perspectives as well.
Veteran political analyst and UVic political science professor Norman Ruff
senses potential for success within the grass roots movement.
"There is a populous appeal to the 'yes' campaign," he says.
That appeal may grow should established party power brokers such as former
NDP MLA and lobbyist David Schreck continue to publicly decry the system.
"When people see established party elites attacking it, it makes people stop
and think that maybe the system gives power to the voter," Ruff suggests.
There is power in the "yes" movement, providing they can educate the voter
as to the essence of the proposal and its merits, Ruff declares.
"The main thing opponents are throwing at it is that it's too complicated.
Around the world, whenever there's a proposal to change the system, it's the
first thing opponents say.
Again drawing similarities to the 1993 Charlotteown Accord backlash, Ruff
suggests that the more opposition voiced to STV, the more likely a "yes"
"The opposition - they underestimate the intelligence of the voter, both in
terms of the referendum and in terms of their ability to understand the
Local entrepreneur Steve Burtch explains his reasons for signing on with the
The proposed new voting plan gives voters a wider range of choice, reduces
the number of "wasted" votes and takes power away from political parties and
returns it to the taxpayer.
Further, argues Burtch, it may even defuse the excessive polarity of the
current two-party system and its "unstable mood swings between Liberal and
As proof that STV gives power to the people, not the parties, Burtch - like
Ruff - points out some of the proposed system's main detractors.
"The most vocal opponents to STV so far, Norman Spector, Bill Tieleman and
David Schreck, are current or former political party (supporters). It's the
party backroom boys who have most to lose with STV, and they are squawking
the loudest about it," he says.
The main point, Burtch says, is that "the current system is a joke and we
need to fix it."
"As someone in the software industry, I like to put it thus: 'Even democracy
needs an upgrade now and then.'"