FOULDS: Amid questions, referendum appears to be a dead heat

Three phone calls this week to my direct line here at KTW were from people asking specific questions about the referendum on electoral reform.

Each of the three callers had received the envelope from Elections BC in the mail.

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Each had opened the envelope and looked at the information.

And each had called to ask if I could answer a question regarding what they saw as a bewildering ballot.

One caller was determined to vote in favour of proportional representation, but could not understand where Kamloops would fall under the rural-urban option.

Nor could I, so I directed her to Fair Vote Kamloops for clarity.

It turns out we don’t know how we in Kamloops would vote under a rural-urban PR system as the decision as to which regions are considered urban and which are considered rural will not be made until after the referendum.

If a person truly likes the sound of the urban part of rural-urban (MLAs elected under an STV counting system), but is not so warm to the rural part of rural-urban (MLAs elected under a mixed member system), how are they to mark their ballots?

Granted, voters need not choose one of the three options; they can simply check first past the post or proportional representation and mail the ballot.

But there are those — including the lady on the phone — who want to pick an option, but remain confused about how that option will be implemented.

I could answer the second question, but the third question — regarding the specifics of mixed member proportional representation — left both of us scratching our heads.

If you have read the voter information pamphlet that landed in your mailbox, mixed member is one of three proportional representation options in which both first past the post and PR is used.

District MLAs (for example, the Kamloops MLA) would be elected under FPTP, but regional MLAs would be selected from political party lists, with the total number of MLAs allocated based on the party’s share of the popular vote.

But we won’t know until after the referendum whether we will cast two ballots (one for a candidate and one for a party) or one ballot for both. Nor do we know whether the regional MLAs will come from an open party list, a closed party list or some other form of a list.

First past the post has its warts, the primary one being that it does not completely reflect voters’ choices via seats in the legislature.

But this particular referendum is indeed confusing, a fact highlighted by the calls to my office, emails received and general conversation with various people.

To say the rollout of this referendum has been messy would be accurate, but the deed has been done and ballots will be counted after Nov. 30.

As of Thursday, only about one per cent of ballots had been returned to Elections BC, but that means nothing.

The same stats were reported during the 2011 HST referendum mail-out period, yet the final voter turnout was 53 per cent — about 20 points higher than the participation rate in a Kamloops civic election.

According to Mainstreet Research poll released on Thursday, the referendum is a toss-up, with the firm saying this is shaping up to be the closest referendum in B.C. history.

Its survey data has 50.5 per cent of respondents in favour of keeping first past the post and 49.5 per cent siding with a proportional representation system.

Perhaps Thursday night’s televised debate between Premier John Horgan and B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson moved those numbers.
Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds

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