What Is MMP?

This is the second of three posts concerning the the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform’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 “no” 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.

14 thoughts on “What Is MMP?

  1. Thanks Chris for the nice summary. Sounds like a great system for electoral reform. Although we here in BC botched our chances a few years back, I truly hope Ontarians pass the bill allowing our country to finally move towards a more modern democratic system.

    Thanks Paul! But let’s not forget that a 58% yes vote in 97% of districts (which is what happened in BC’s referendum on electoral reform) is pretty clear. You didn’t botch an opportunity to say yes, your government botched an opportunity to listen to the people on the fundamental issue of democracy. (That being said, let’s get 60% here in Ontario anyway. ;-)) -CT

  2. Actually the party vote is the first vote, not the second. The CA agreed this past weekend to agree with Scotland, which started out using the party vote as the second vote, but found this caused confusion. In fact it’s your first vote — the party vote — which determines the makeup of the legislature and the government.

  3. Thank you SOOO much for this summary! I have checked some other websites for more information on this referendum, but this summary is definately the best and is more clear than the others I’ve read so far :). Now that I have more info, I will consider this system.

  4. I believe that MMP is the way to go and I hope the Fed’s go this way, but I have a couple of questions. 1. Is there additional seats being designated for the proportionate candidates? If so how many? 2. Do the lists that each party puts out have an order of priority for who gets the nod first, second etc. and who decides the order of priority?

  5. Basically, my question pertains to the 60% figure that is being bandied about. Does that refer to 60% of the eligible electorate in the riding, or 60% of those who vote in the riding. Or does the figure refer to the overall eligible electorate of the province, or those who actually do bother to cast ballots. Getting 60% of the actual votes in a riding is easier than getting 60% of those eligible to vote … see my meaning and my question?

    The 60% threshold is province-wide, and refers to 60% of the ballots cast. There’s a second threshold–that MMP must receive 50% of the vote in 60% of the ridings, but that threshold is less important since, if the first is achieved, it’s almost mathematically impossible for the second to not also be true. -CT

  6. Hello Chris:

    I have some serious accounting issues with the proposed MMP system.

    Having additional members appointed by political parties that have no mandate (vote) from the taxpayers is the first.

    That doesn’t accurately describe MMP. Parties nominate candidates (not appoint them), and they’re only elected if they get votes from citizens.

    Paying additional salaries (cost) for more members is the second.

    And yet the “No MMP” folks also complain that there are fewer regional representatives….which is it? Do you want more representation, or less?

    Doubling the votes of the participating electorate. This means giving a double whammy to usually about only half of the eligible population is the third.

    You don’t think the people who bother showing up to vote deserve to have their votes counted, because that’s not fair to the people who stayed home? I can’t agree. And what about those people who stayed home because they were in a “safe” riding and knew their vote wouldn’t count anyway?

    Accurate accounting of the double votes is the fourth.

    I will not vote an approval of this rendition of new government structure.

    I might vote for a system that uses the present number of seats and adjusts the voting power of the representatives by a factor of their party’s percentage of the popular vote.

    This would adjust the policy making potential of given political parties to better reflect the “will of the people” as witnessed from the overall percentages of the popular vote.

    Of course, MMP does this as well, but in a much simpler way. “Simplicity and Practicality” were two of the things the Citizens’ Assembly deemed important in a voting system, and they designed MMP with that in mind. It’s all well and good for us to come up with our own suggestions of how we would have solved the problem, but the time for that was during their lengthy public consultation process. Now, we have a clear choice to make between two options.

    Government reform should never deviate from having the members directly accountable to their voters. Anything less is not democratic.

    I agree. Fortunately, under MMP, all representatives remain elected and accountable. See this post.

    Carpe Diem,

  7. Hello Chris:

    Nominated or Appointed additional representatives; are the voters actually voting for the persons nominated, or are they votes for a political party without knowledge of the “appointed member” that they may end up giving a job to?

    A good and honest question. The parties are required not only to publish who is on their list, but also how those individuals ended up on the list (what was the process). That way you’ll never have to vote for a party without knowing who you’re voting to elect. Also, unlike the current system, you know if the party’s candidates were nominated democratically or appointed in back rooms.

    So far, I am a “No MMP” guy and I am not complaining about any lack of representation. I have not witnessed any argument or explanation that successfully demonstrates a true need for more representatives. From a practical viewpoint, it seems that we would be wasting more taxpayer money on salaries for members that we do not need.

    Here are some of the things wrong with our current system, if you’re interested. It’s interesting to note that no new democracy choses the voting system we use–they all chose some kind of more advanced system like MMP.

    And yes, LESS is almost always an improvement when considering government!

    Your misinterpretation of my statement regarding the “double whammy” is hilarious! Of course everyone who votes should have their vote counted. I just take exception to increasing the amount of votes per individual. Increasing the categories as well may confuse and may lead to errors. I like one vote for each person. Keep it as simple as possible.

    I don’t think you’re giving voters much credit here. Voting once for a party and once for a candidate is a pretty simple concept. If we can’t figure that out, then we probably don’t deserve to be picking governments in the first place.

    In terms of simplicity, clarity, and cost, I don’t see much of a contest here.

    This is another helpful line of thinking: you should certainly be asking yourself what you value in a voting system, and then deciding which voting system best reflects your values. The Citizens’ Assembly also placed a high value on what they called “simplicity and practicality” when designing this system. The three things they decided were the most important in a voting system were voter choice, fair results, and strong representation. While other things (like cost) are important as well, the question is are they more important, in a democracy, than those three things.

    If MMP gets approved I will be very surprised and disappointed.

    The more people know about MMP, the more they support it. We know this both because of public opinion polling, and also because the Citizens’ Assembly, which was randomly selected and representative of Ontario, voted 94-8 in favour of it, even knowing all of its faults. Have you visited voteformmp.ca, or read the CA’s report [pdf]?

    Carpe Diem

    Indeed, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to seize the day and make democracy better.


  8. Excellent Chris! Thanks for all the thought and hard work behind the scenes.

    I agree that given enough time to properly educate our voters to the point that they can make an informed decision is vital [as always]

    My opinion is that most, not all will choose this welcome change once so informed.

    Information vacuums by accident, design or neglect merely leave the door open for peoples worst fears of the unknown to rule the day.

    Even with time so short you have done us all a great service sir.

    Regards from Kingston,

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