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Is Dual Member Proportional an electoral system that could make every vote count?

The Yukon Government is forming a non-partisan commission to study electoral reform in the Yukon. In response to that welcome initiative, I am writing a series of articles examining an array of existing electoral systems worldwide, as well as some unique, new systems as yet untried.

Dual Member Proportional Representation, DMP, was invented by mathematician Sean Graham, with funding from the University of Alberta, in 2013. It was designed to provide proportional representation while retaining the simplicity of the First Past the Post ballot. It has never been tested.

However, it is one of three options British Columbians will be asked to consider in this fall’s referendum on electoral reform.  It was also considered as an option in the PEI referendum in 2016.

Here is how DMP works. Ridings, traditionally having one representative, are combined into larger constituencies with two representatives. The ballot lists the parties and any independents. A party may have a primary and a secondary candidate.  The voter marks their ballot with a single X for one candidate(s)/party. 

The primary candidate from the party with the most votes wins a seat in their constituency.

Now comes the proportional part of the process. At the constituency level, any candidate/party who attracted less than five percent of the vote is eliminated. The secondary candidates of winning parties are allotted 50 percent of the votes. (If the votes for the secondary candidate’s party are large enough, they also stand a chance of also becoming an MLA.)

After examining the voting pattern as a whole, the proportion of seats that each party should hold is calculated. The second seat in each constituency is determined by the percentage of the popular vote each party has won. The seats that each party has won already are subtracted from the number of proportional seats they are entitled to. The extra seats are then distributed in the constituencies where that party has the second largest numbers of votes.

Here is how it would work in Yukon. Say the new electoral constituency of Riverdale, created from Riverdale North and Riverdale South, has 2000 voters. And the NDP win the most votes at 800. Jane, the primary candidate for the NDP in Riverdale, automatically becomes one of the two MLAs for Riverdale. In Riverdale, the Liberals win 750 votes, the Yukon Party win 300 votes and the Greens win 150 votes.

In this scenario, the Liberals win 35 per cent support and are entitled to seven seats in the legislature. Since they have won four primary seats in other ridings, the Liberals are gain three additional seats. And because their support in Riverdale was the second highest, their primary candidate, Sara, becomes the second MLA for Riverdale.

Had we had used DMP in the 2016 election, we would have had seven Liberal MLAs, six Yukon Party MLAs and five NDP MLAs.

The downside of using Dual Member Proportional Representation in the Yukon is the weakening of regional representation.  A combined constituency of Vuntut Gwitchin-Klondike would have two MLAs. Because of the difference in population size between Old Crow and Dawson, it is likely that both seats would be filled by Dawsonites. With DMP, the second seat could potentially be from another region of Yukon. But it would be to the future benefit of that party to make sure their candidate is from the same region.

Another consequence of DMP is the likelihood of coalition governments. This is true of all of the proportional electoral systems. However, many successful modern countries, such as Germany, function quite well with coalition governments.

Here is the list of criteria for an effective and fair electoral system gleaned from exchanges with Yukoners.

  1. Make all, or most, votes to count.
  2. Maintain regional representation.
  3. Do not significantly increase the number of seats in parliament or legislature.
  4. Do not significantly increase the costs of elections.
  5. Keep extremists out.
  6. Have an electoral system that people can understand when they go to the polls.
  7. Resistance to undo influence by power groups.

Here is how using DMP would work in Yukon.

  1. What we see in our legislature would reflect the proportional support received by political parties. It is very close to making every vote count.
  2. Regional representation within Yukon would be weak.
  3. The size of our legislature would remain exactly the same. DMP offers proportionality and fairness without over-hang seats. This is why this system is so well supported in other jurisdictions
  4. The costs of elections would not significantly increase.
  5. With DMP, candidates representing extreme views would not be able to win seats through vote splitting. 
  6. The DMP ballot is very easy. Calculating election results would be challenging.  We would all have to learn sophisticated arithmetic.
  7. With DMP, corporations, unions or religions would have to spread their influence dollars quite thin. Expect negative campaigning from corporations when confronted with the possibility of any kind of proportional electoral system. 

Here is a link to a video that explains DMP using animation.  

Now would be a good time to write your MLA and Premier to tell them how important electoral reform is for Yukoners wishing for a fair and democratic electoral system.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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