When British Columbians head to the polls on May 12, they will get a second chance to make sweeping changes to future electoral systems -- and the very nature of their government.

The proposal is for the BC-STV or single transferable vote, which would:

  • Create fewer but larger ridings across B.C.
  • have multiple representatives for each riding
  • allow voters to rank their preferences on larger ballots

The proposal to change the B.C. electoral system requires 60 per cent approval. Because the 2005 referendum result was a clear majority and close to the threshold (57.69 per cent), the government is offering a second chance for voters to consider replacing the long-standing First-Past-the-Post system.

Current system: One vote, one ballot

British Columbia is divided into 85 ridings in the 2009 election.

The person with the most votes, or First Past the Post, wins and will represent the riding in government.

However, the person with the most votes can win with less -- sometimes far less -- than 50 per cent popular support.

The political party with the most representatives with seats in the legislature forms the government.

Proposed system: BC-STV

If the BC-STV system is selected for future elections, instead of marking an 'X' or check mark next to the choice voters will rank as few or as many preferences as they want: Person 'A' as choice 1, Person 'B' as choice 2, Person 'C' as choice 3, and so on.

Within their riding -- the province would be divided into 20 such ridings -- voters can decide which candidate best represents their interests.

They can also vote for candidates from several different parties, or for an independent.

Currently, one MLA represents a specific riding, but with BC-STV there would be several MLAs for a whole district, such as the Kootenays which would have four MLAs, and the four candidates with the highest number of votes in the Kootenay riding will be the representatives, regardless of the party affiliation.

This system or something similar is currently in use around the world, including in Tasmania, Malta, Scotland, Ireland and for European Parliament representative elections.

History of the BC-STV referendum

In 2004, the B.C. legislature voted unanimously to create a Citizen's Assembly of independent voters to look into voting reform. Representatives were drawn randomly from the voters list. The assembly members spent 11 months researching and speaking to British Columbians about their hopes for the electoral system.

In the end, the majority of representatives decided the STV system was the preferred route to take and their recommendation was added to the May 2005 election as a referendum.

BC-STV was supported by 58 per cent of voters in the referendum, falling just short of the unprecedented 60 per cent threshold.

The closeness of the decision led to the referendum being added to the May 2009 election.

The BC-STV Referendum Question

On election day, May 12, 2009, each voter will be given a referendum slip with the following question:

Which electoral system should British Columbia use to elect members to the provincial Legislative Assembly?

There are two answer choices:

  1. The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)
  2. The single transferable vote electoral system (BC-STV) proposed by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral reform.

Those for the BC-STV system

Proponents say this system gives as many voters as possible a representative in the legislature that they voted for. The pro-BC-STV side says that in the current First-Past-the-Post system, only 40 to 50 per cent of voters have an MLA they voted for. With BC-STV 80 to 90 per cent of voters will get an MLA they voted for.

"In our current system less than half often elect an MLA and the STV, by having multi-member ridings, 80 to 90 per cent of people will have an MLA they elected in Victoria representing them," said Shoni Field of BC-STV, which supports the electoral reform plan.

Click here for the official website of British Columbians for BC-STV

Those against the BC-STV system

Critics say the proposed system is too complicated and confusing, and dispute the level of representation per vote.

Bill Tieleman, the president of No STV, said a BC-STV system would mean that the electorate would never know where their votes went.

"We believe STV creates giant ridings where MLAs would not be responsible to and accountable to voters," he said. "When you have up to seven MLAs and 350,000 voters in these giant ridings it takes away accountability and responsibility."

Click here for the official website of No STV

For more information

If you want more information on British Columbia's 2009 provincial election, check out

Elections B.C.

Elections B.C. page on STV referendum