The referendum asks – should P.E.I. change its electoral system to a mixed member proportional system? If you don’t want to change, you vote No. If you want to change to an MMP system, you vote Yes. Anyone eligible to vote in the general election is eligible to vote in the referendum. Voting on the referendum will be at the same times and places as the general election.
If the Yes side gets majorities provincially and in 60 per cent of the 27 districts, the government will take steps to implement an MMP system for the next general election.
The electoral system P.E.I. has now is commonly referred to as first-past-the-post (FPTP). Each voter gets one vote for a candidate to represent his or her district. The candidate that gets the most votes wins the seat. The party that wins the most seats usually governs. However, there is no proportionality between the number of votes a party gets in the election and the number of seats it gets. Parties often get more or less seats than their share of the popular vote warrants.
The alternative to FPTP being put forward in the referendum is a mixed member proportional system. MMP does not do away with the FPTP system altogether. It mixes FPTP with proportional representation in a way designed to produce more balanced results than pure FPTP. Under MMP a party that gets 30 per cent of the votes will get about 30 per cent of the seats. MMP can produce a majority government but more often the result will be a minority or coalition.
Under the proposed MMP system there will still be 27 seats in the legislature. However, only 18 of them will be district seats. The other nine will be province-wide party list seats. The 18 districts would be considerably larger than any of the 27 are now.
An MMP ballot will be in two parts, and each voter will have two votes. On the first part of the ballot, a voter would mark an “X” for their preferred district candidate who might represent a party or be an independent. Eighteen district MLAs will be elected this way on a FPTP basis.
The second part of the ballot is strictly for parties and party list candidates. Independents are not allowed. Each party puts forth a list of its candidates for the nine seats available on this part of the ballot. A voter will vote for his or her preferred party by marking an “X” for one of the candidates on that party’s list. Nine province-wide MLAs will come from this part of the ballot.
Under an MMP system, if a party’s list candidates together get 40 per cent of the total validly cast votes on the second part of the ballot, that party will be entitled to 40 per cent (11) of the 27 seats in the legislative assembly. If the party won less than 11 seats at the district level, it would be allocated some of the nine province-wide seats to make up the difference. For example, a party that got 40 per cent of the validly cast votes on the second part of the ballot but only won eight district seats would get three of the nine province-wide list seats. The three seats would be occupied in the legislative assembly by the three highest vote-getters on the party’s list.
If the party that got 40 per cent of the popular vote wins 13 district seats it would not be eligible for any of the nine list seats because it already has more than enough (48 per cent) to reflect its share of the popular vote. However, the party would keep all of the 13 district seats it won. The nine list seats would be allocated among the remaining parties that did not win enough districts to reflect their share of the popular vote.
Gerard Mitchell is the referendum commissioner for P.E.I.