The 2018 BC Electoral Reform Referendum

DMP Gets on the Ballot

On February 1, 2018, Sean Graham made a submission to the BC Attorney General outlining how DMP could work in the province and why it offered the best path forward for electoral reform. Four weeks later, the BC Symposium on Proportional Representation published a joint submission recommending that BC consider five proportional voting systems, one of which was DMP.

The BC Attorney General released the How We Vote report on May 30, 2018, which recommended that DMP appear as one of three proportional systems in the 2018 referendum on electoral reform. Of the Attorney General’s DMP specific recommendations, four were particularly important:

  1. That the province-wide vote be used to determine each party’s seat allotment.
  2. That the geographically largest rural districts remain as single-member districts and that votes cast in these districts contribute to the province-wide total (which would ensure that every vote counts).
  3. That independent candidates be elected if they place first or second locally.
  4. That a province-wide threshold be used and set at 5%.

These key recommendations ensured that DMP would produce highly proportional results at the provincial level, address the concerns of rural British Columbians around district size, and be fair to independent candidates.

The BC Government’s acceptance of the How We Vote report marked the second time DMP was included in a province wide vote on electoral reform. After the adoption of the report, Elections BC produced educational material to help voters make an informed decision. This included a Voter’s Guide and videos that explain each system that appeared on the ballot (the video for DMP has been included below).

The referendum campaign started on July 1, 2018. During the campaign, Sean Graham participated in multiple interviews. The most extensive of these was for the July 12, 2018 edition of the PolitiCoast podcast, which can be heard below. He also published a guest article in the Times Colonist explaining why DMP was the best choice to improve democracy in BC.

PolitiCoast Episode 94: Sean Graham’s Dual Member Proportional

Referendum Results

Voting for the referendum ended on December 7, 2018. Initial results were released a couple of weeks later on December 20, 2018. On the first question, 61% voted against adopting one of the three proportional systems included in the second question. As a result, the BC Government did not move forward with changing the electoral system.

In the first round of counting for the second question, none of the systems had a majority of the vote. Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP) was eliminated, and its votes were transferred to the other two systems. In the final round of counting, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) secured a majority with 63% of the vote, while DMP finished with 37%.

This was a significant result for DMP. For every 10 voters that selected MMP as their first choice, 7 gave their support to DMP. Moreover, by the final round of counting, DMP had received the support of over a quarter of a million British Columbians.

On May 23, 2019, Elections BC released more detailed results from the 2018 vote, which permit a more nuanced look at the outcome of the referendum. The tables below separate the results of the second question into three groups: pro-PR voters, pro-FPTP voters, and undecided voters. The pro-PR voters table looks at the ballots that supported adopting a proportional voting system, the pro-FPTP voters table analyzes the ballots cast in favour of keeping the current FPTP system, and the undecided voters table summarizes the results for the ballots without a valid vote on the first question.

Pro-PR Voters
System First Round Second Round
DMP 103,628 21% Eliminated
MMP 230,195 46% 290,282 60%
RUP 169,769 34% 191,608 40%
Pro-FPTP Voters
System First Round Second Round DMP Versus RUP
DMP 136,751 43% 150,155 52% 176,272 63%
MMP 109,522 34% 139,976 48% N/A
RUP 71,686 23% Eliminated 103,888 37%
Undecided Voters
System First Round Second Round DMP Versus RUP
DMP 4,594 45% 5,001 52% 5,884 64%
MMP 3,321 33% 4,617 48% N/A
RUP 2,294 22% Eliminated 3,293 36%

None of these groups preferred RUP, and MMP was only the favourite among pro-PR voters. MMP received a sizable plurality in this group and achieved a majority of votes in the second round.

While DMP came in third among PR supporters, it was the top choice of pro-FPTP and undecided voters. It had a large plurality in the first round of counting within each group and secured a majority of the vote against MMP in the second round. When DMP and RUP are compared in a head-to-head match-up, DMP receives an even larger majority.

The results of the 2018 referendum demonstrate that DMP has broader appeal than both MMP and RUP among those who are hesitant to change the voting system. This evidence of DMP’s broad appeal is consistent with the historic results from PEI’s 2016 plebiscite, where DMP became the first Canadian developed proportional voting system to be preferred over FPTP in a province-wide vote.

DMP was designed to be a consensus voting system—one both reform advocates and skeptics might support—that also provides every Canadian, including those in rural communities, with the full benefits of proportional representation.  While there is more work to do to expand support for adopting a proportional voting system in BC, the referendum results suggest that DMP is best positioned to build the consensus needed to achieve voting system reform in that province and in the rest of Canada.