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Clip and save: The STV voting system, explained

The May 12 provincial election ballot will include a referendum on future elections that, if passed, would completely change the way voters elect their MLAs and their government.

Voters might be wise to start paying attention to the debate on STV -- single transferable vote.

There are many different electoral systems around the world; British Columbia, the federal government and all provinces use the first-past-the post system, also known as single member plurality.

British Columbia's independent Referendum Information Office describes STV as a system designed to produce "a fairly proportional result -- that is, the number of seats a political party wins will be close to its share of the overall popular vote.''

Under the STV system, instead of the 85 separate ridings now in place, B.C. would be divided into 20 constituencies with between two and seven MLAs per constituency, depending on size and population.

It means there could be dozens of names on the ballot in populated ridings with multiple parties vying for seats.

Electors vote by ranking preferences for as many candidates as they wish to support, placing a 1 or a 2 or 3 beside the names, and so on.

Winners secure a seat after they amass a quota of the popular vote. If the winner gets more votes than he or she needs to meet that quota, then his or her surplus ballots are distributed to the voters' second choice until a second candidate meets the threshold, and so on.

That counting continues until all seats in the riding are filled.

The tabulation process is so baffling that STV proponents have put an animated video on YouTube explaining it.

The STV proposal won the overwhelming endorsement before the 2005 election of the Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform, which was comprised of 160 citizens who examined many different voting systems.

The Liberals and NDP are staying neutral on the issue, but the Green party, which stands to gain the most from the change, has declared its support.

If so, British Columbians would be in rarefied company, joining Ireland, Malta, Tasmania and only a few other jurisdictions who have adopted the STV system.

"There is not a big groundswell for this type of system but I think it will pass this time,'' says Doug McArthur, a professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University.

By "this time'' he means that the referendum ballot is coming around in B.C. for the second time.

Although 57.6 per cent of voters endorsed STV in the May 2005 provincial election, it needs 60 per cent of the popular vote and more than 50 per cent of the votes in at least 51 of the province's 85 electoral districts to pass.

Greg Joyce reports for The Canadian Press.

Starting next week, The Tyee will be running a five-part debate between the STV pro and no sides. Stay tuned for a thorough education in electoral reform issues.

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