This is the second of three posts concerning the the Ontario Citizensâ€™ Assembly on Electoral Reformâ€™s recommendation that Ontario vote yes to adopt a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system in the October 10, 2007 referendum. The first outlined the need for change; the next will refute some common arguments from the â€œnoâ€ side.
Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is a “best of both words” voting system. It will allow us in Ontario to keep the parts of our current system that we like (for example, that our MPPs represent our specific geographic area) while adding on some extra features, the most notable of which is proportional representation. MMP is used in some other countries including Germany and New Zealand, but the specific system we’ll be voting on was designed by Ontarians for Ontario.
So, how would this system work? First, voters would cast two votes: one for their preferred local candidate, and one for the party they support over all. It’s up to voters if they want to place their candidate vote and their party vote with the same party or not. This new system removes the obligation of having to vote for a candidate you dislike to elect your party of choice, or vice versa.
Next, the candidate votes are counted the old fashioned way; whichever candidate gets the most votes in each riding wins, same as before.
That’s when MMP’s extra features kick in. After all the candidate votes are counted and all of those seats have been allocated, we get to take a step back and see if we’ve elected Members with proportionality to the party vote–that second vote you cast. Proportionality means that the number of Members elected from a party should be roughly equivalent to the percentage of the vote that party gets. That’s what people mean when they talk about proportional representation.
That’s accomplished through another group of seats–the party vote seats–that can be distributed to compensate for discrepancies in proportionality (eg, party X got 10% of the vote but no seats, while party Y got 40% of the vote but 60% of the seats). These “top-up” seats are filled with Members from lists that are supplied by the parties.
(It’s important to note that not only do parties have to make these lists public well before the election, for the sake of transparency they also have to make public the process by which the lists were generated. In other countries where MMP is used, parties often chose to “zipper” the lists so that they alternate male/female, ensuring greater gender parity. Also, only parties that receive at least 3% of the vote will qualify to elect list seats, so only parties with clear support will be elected to the legislature.)
At the end of the day we end up with a legislature that more closely reflects the diverse makeup of the province, and more accurately reflects the will of the electorate. By its nature, MMP also forces parties to be more cooperative, which leads to stable coalition governments (as opposed to the negative and combative minority governments our current system has been giving us at the federal level).
Still don’t get it or have other questions? Let me know by commenting below. I’m going to continually improve this post with your feedback as we move towards the referendum on October 10th. Also, some more technical details about MMP in Ontario are available here, and in the Citizens’ Assembly’s report, due May 15th.