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Ideas for Change in Prince Edward Island

Finding a Balance: Exploring A New Model of Electoral Reform

Electoral systems are composed of three elements, each with several options:

1. The basic voting system, or how votes are translated into seats:

  • A plurality system (winner take all or first past the post), in which the candidate with the largest number of votes wins, even if he or she has less than half the votes

  • A majority system, in which the candidate must gain at least 50% plus one of the votes to win

  • A proportional representation system, where the overall shares of votes in the district or province or country are converted into shares of the seat total and distributed via party lists or other means

2. The size of electoral districts, in terms of both geographical size and number of candidates:

  • Smaller single-member constituencies, Prince Edward Island’s current system

  • Larger districts or regions with two or more candidates per party, the system used in Prince Edward Island with dual member constituencies from 1893 to 1994

  • The whole jurisdiction with candidates presented via party lists

3. The structure of the ballot, or the way in which voters mark their preferences:
  • One choice for a single candidate, PEI’s current system

  • Two or more choices, such as voting for two or more representatives in a district, or voting for a candidate and separately for a party (this latter system is often used in proportional representation systems)

  • Ranked choices of two or more competing candidates from most to least preferred, orthe so-called “preferential ballot”.

These elements can be combined into an enormous number of variants, making the choices for the electorate complicated. For example, the mixed member proportional representation systems so widely rejected by voters in British Columbia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island generally involved a combination of a first-past-the-post and proportional representation voting systems and an element of large multi-member districts.

In this context, it is worthwhile to explore whether practical, straightforward alternatives can be found that offer options to improve our system in a way that sustains what we value and that is acceptable to a majority of Islanders. These ideas recognize that there is no perfect system, and that every system seeks workable steps that can be implemented. They also recognize that our Island history, for two centuries, has been one of gradual adaptation to a changing society and a changing world.

The model put forward in this White Paper particularly draws on Prince Edward Island’s history of dual member ridings and on the longstanding approach widely used in PEI and elsewhere to nominate candidates and party leaders. It proposes a modern update.

The new elements of this model include:

  • a combination of four large districts aligned with our four federal ridings, and six small singlemember ridings within each of those districts, yielding a total of 28 Members of the Legislative Assembly; and

  • a move to a preferential ballot system in both types of district to ensure that every candidatemust win the support of at least half their constituents to gain elected office.

Also discussed are measures to encourage greater diversity and representativeness in all candidates.

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