Dual-member mixed proportional best system for P.E.I.

By Sean Graham (guest opinion)

Published on February 22, 2016

Last November, the Special Committee on Democratic Renewal announced that it was moving forward with consultations on four alternative electoral systems for possible inclusion in a plebiscite at the end of this year. One of these alternatives is called Dual-Member Mixed Proportional, or DMP. I developed this new system in 2013 with research funding from the University of Alberta.

My objective was to design a new electoral system that would address the shortcomings of the Single Member Plurality (SMP) voting system in the Canadian context while avoiding the scale of change required by previously considered alternatives, such as Single Transferable Vote (STV) and Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). With the aforementioned consultations now underway, it seems like the appropriate time to explain why DMP is the alternative system most suited to P.E.I.

DMP retains local representation, achieves proportionality, and, from the voter’s perspective, looks nearly identical to SMP.  It works by creating two-member districts where the first candidate is elected by plurality (that is, the candidate with the most votes wins) and the second candidate is elected by a process that produces province wide proportionality.

More specifically, proportionality is achieved by using the provincial voting results to determine the number of seats each party deserves and the individual district results to determine where each party will win its seats. As a result, DMP simultaneously respects the principles of provincial and local accountability.

The unique two-member district structure of DMP holds important advantages for rural areas and small parties.  Unlike systems that require large multi-member districts, DMP has the flexibility to incorporate rural communities without excluding them from any of the benefits of electoral system reform. Since small parties rarely receive a plurality of votes, they would only need one candidate in each district.

Therefore, small parties would see a 50 per cent reduction in the number of candidates they require to contest an election. Such a large reduction in their recruitment workload would allow small parties to put more effort into nominating high quality candidates.  

By electing all candidates within two-member districts, DMP also addresses two key complaints made against proportional systems like MMP: that mixed systems create two tiers of representatives and that proportional systems require the use of long party lists which hinder the electorate’s ability to hold candidates accountable.

Furthermore, unlike MMP where independents are unable to win the top-up seats, DMP places no seats off limits to independent candidates.  If an independent places first or second within their district, they will be elected.

Since the White Paper on Democratic Renewal suggested using the Alternative Vote, or AV, it is worth giving a brief comparison of this system with DMP. Like AV, DMP would enable P.E.I. to return to its tradition of using two-member districts, to balance rural and urban representation, and to protect linguistic minorities.

 However, that’s where the similarities end. Whereas DMP would always, and only, count the first choice preferences of Islanders, AV would only give a subset of the electorate this privilege. Many voters would have to settle for one of their lower ranked candidates, while others wouldn’t see their vote count at all. Together, these flaws would lead to election outcomes just as distorted as those manufactured by SMP.  

This is in stark contrast to the kind of results that would be realized with DMP. For instance, had DMP been used to determine the outcome of the last election, the legislature would have looked as P.E.I. voters wanted. Moreover, an overwhelming majority – in fact, possibly all – of the districts would have been represented by two different parties.

This would significantly increase the number of people in each district who are represented by a party they support. Indeed, in simulations of the past six elections, the average number of voters that would have elected a candidate from their preferred party in their district never dropped below 70 per cent and, in most cases, this number was above 85 per cent.  

DMP has been designed to look and feel as much like SMP as possible while correcting its flaws. As a result, minimal changes would be required to ballot and district design. Vote counting procedures and party nomination processes would also not require any significant changes. Even the individual district results would be identical to those that would be produced by plurality voting in 80-90 per cent of the cases in most elections.

However, despite requiring few alterations to the current system, DMP would make strategic voting unnecessary, render gerrymandering a practical impossibility, and, most importantly, ensure that every voter’s first choice is reflected in election outcomes. In a nutshell, DMP would allow Islanders to make everyone’s vote count without having to get used to a new system that looks substantially different from the old one.

 

- Sean Graham is an expert in Canadian electoral systems and holds two Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Alberta.

For more information go to: https://dmpforcanada.wordpress.com/