Non-binding plebiscite in P.E.I. shows support for proportional representation

By The Canadian Press

CHARLOTTETOWN – A non-binding plebiscite on electoral reform in Prince Edward Island has shown voters support a switch to a form of proportional representation.

Mixed member proportional representation was the most popular option, drawing more than half of the votes after ballots were counted and redistributed five times according to the rules of preferential voting.

Islanders were given five options to chose from, including an option to keep the current first-past-the-post system. Voters were asked to rank some or all of the options on a one-to-five scale.

If no electoral system received more than half the votes, the option with the fewest votes was eliminated and those ballots redistributed to their second-choice option.

That process was repeated until one option passed the 50 per cent threshold to achieve majority support.

On the fifth round of counting, mixed member proportional representation obtained 19,418 votes, or more than 52 per cent of the 37,040 valid votes. The existing system received close to 43 per cent of votes in the final round.

Electronic voting began on Oct. 29 at noon and continued until Monday at 7 p.m. local time. Elections P.E.I. says more than 36 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

It says the online and telephone polling effort was the first in Canada to employ electronic voting on a provincewide scale. Paper ballots were also cast at 22 polling stations.

Those age 16 and 17 were eligible to vote — another provincial first.

The five options on the ballot were:

— First-past-the-post, the status quo in which the candidate with the most votes wins the seat.

— First-past-the-post plus leaders, which would also give a seat to the leader of any party that wins 10 per cent of the provincial popular vote.

— Dual member proportional, which assigns half the seats through the current system and the other half based on the provincial popular vote.

— Mixed member proportional, which assigns some seats through first-past-the-post and others based on a party’s share of the popular vote.

— Preferential voting, in which voters rank all the candidates, and the votes of those who picked lower-ranking candidates are redistributed to their next choice until someone wins 50 per cent of the vote.

The province had hoped online voting would boost turnout and will examine whether the option should be included in future provincial elections.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan said in a statement Monday that “Island voters responded at a rate substantially below our well-established voting track record.”

MacLauchlan said his caucus would discuss the plebiscite results Tuesday.

P.E.I.’s new move to re-examine the provincial electoral system comes as Ottawa does the same federally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised last year the 2015 federal election would be the last one conducted under the first-past-the-post system — a commitment later repeated in the speech from the throne.

The Conservatives have been pushing for the question to be decided by a referendum.

A 2005 plebiscite on electoral reform in P.E.I. included only two choices on the ballot — either the status quo or mixed-member proportional representation.

Only 36 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots back then, rejecting change by a 64 per cent margin. British Columbians rejected the single transferable vote system in votes held in 2005 and 2009.

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