Voting Systems Part 3: Proportional Representation
Proportional representation (PR) is any voting system designed to produce a legislature in which each party’s proportion of seats closely reflects the proportion of the vote received by the party.
For example - if a party gets 39% of the national vote they would get roughly 39% of the seats in the legislature.
There are different ways to get proportional representation, and over 90 countries around the world use some type of PR to elect their government.
Here are two common types of PR that could be used in Canada that would enable us to maintain local representation (i.e. representation of a local riding).
Single Transferable Vote (STV)
Single Transferable Vote (STV) is a proportional voting system that allows voters to rank their choices. Ridings would be larger and voters would elect several MPs for each riding.
Example of a ballot using Single Transferable Vote and how it would be counted
District: Multiple MPs per riding
Ballot: Ranked Ballot
How the votes are counted: Several counts, leads to multiple winners in 1 riding
The system also uses a ranked ballot, but is different from Alternative Vote (a winner-takes-all system we explored in another post), in a few ways. Like AV, candidates have to meet a minimum threshold of votes in order to be elected. But with STV, any votes in excess of the threshold get redistributed according to the voter’s next choice, as do the votes of any candidates who get eliminated for being far below the threshold. Votes are counted in multiple rounds until all the seats are filled. Also, in an STV system it's very likely that each party would run multiple candidates per riding, rather than only one per riding as they do now.
Under STV there would be several seats up for grabs per riding, meaning that you will get an MP you actually voted for. For example, if in 1 riding, the NDP receives 33% of the vote, the Liberals receive 36%, and the Greens receive 29%, all three parties could have a seat representing that riding in government, instead of only the Liberal candidate taking the seat (like under FPTP). Under FPTP 62% of the vote (everyone who voted Conservative, Green or NDP) would have been wasted, but STV provides much better representation.
Ridings could be combined into larger ridings in densely populated areas so that we wouldn’t have to increase the amount of MPs elected overall.
Check out this page to watch a video explaining STV in more detail!
Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP)
Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) is a proportional voting system that typically allows voters to have two votes. There are a few variations on this type of system, but we’ll explain the most common one here.
The first vote is for the voter's local representative, (we’ll call them riding MPs) and typically first-past-the-post is used to pick the winner, just like we have now.
The second vote would be for the voter’s preferred party. This vote is used to make Parliament more proportional. Parties who are underrepresented in local riding seats received in the first vote would get compensated with extra seats to make their overall share of the seats closer to their share of the popular vote. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call the MPs who get these seats the ‘list MPs’.
Here’s an example of what two types of MMP ballots would look like:
Example of a ballot using Mixed-Member Proportional with a closed list (on the left) and an example with an open list (on the right)
District: 1 local MP per riding, but there would also be ‘list MPs’ who may or may not represent a geographic area.
Ballot: 2 votes, 1 for local representative, 1 for preferred party
How the votes are counted: local MP elected with FPTP, party seats allocated by proportion of the party vote.
This would mean some MPs would represent ridings the same way they do now, and some MPs would be chosen off a party list to fill the extra seats. The party list is a ranked ordering of who gets the party’s extra seats in the event the party gets extra seats from the party vote. These lists can be ‘open’ (selected by voters) or ‘closed’ (selected by the parties alone). These party list MPs would not represent a riding (though they might still be able to represent a geographic area of some sort). The party list can be a great way to ensure diversity in Parliament. While some countries with MMP use closed lists, many experts recommend an open list system for Canada, because it gives the voter more control over who eventually gets these list seats.
MMP can also include a minimum threshold, which means that a party must win a certain percentage of the popular vote before receiving any seats. This would help prevent very small parties from being able to win seats in Parliament and keep the total number of parties under control.
Check out this page to watch a video explaining MMP in more detail!
The bottom line
In both MMP and STV, we could have election results that look closer (but not exactly) to this:
2015 federal election results under a proportional voting system
Proportional representation is extremely common and is used in over 90 countries around the world. Just take a look at this map:
Canada is unique, but we deserve a fair voting system. We can and should design a voting system that is proportional and encourages diversity, but also enables us to have important features like local representation. Other countries around the world have adapted PR systems to work for their context, and now it’s our turn to vote better.
Still have questions about PR? Check out some of the most common myths about PR here.