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The Yukon Government is forming a non-partisan commission to study electoral reform in the Yukon. 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.

Preferential Ridings Proportional System (PRP), a type of Mixed Member Proportional, (MMP), was designed by former Yukon Federal Returning Officer, Dave Brekke. 

In PRP, existing constituencies are paired to reduce the number of constituency seats.  The new constituencies are grouped into electoral regions. Each electoral region would have Proportional Representative, (PR) seats and constituency seats.

Two small, remote areas have been given their own constituencies to accommodate their unique circumstances.

Elections Yukon recently increased the size of our legislature to twenty seats. Using this number, Brekke has divided the Yukon into three electoral regions with corresponding constituency seats and PR seats:

  • South Centre and East Yukon Electoral Region has two PR seats and three constituency seats:
    • Mount Lorne — Marsh Lake and Copperbelt South
    • Watson Lake — Ross River — Carcross — Tagish — Teslin
    • Carmacks-Faro-Ross River — *Limited
  • Whitehorse Electoral Region has five proportional seats and five constituency seats
    • Riverdale South and Riverdale North
    • Copperbelt North and Whitehorse West
    • Porter Creek North and Tahkini-Kopper King
    • Porter Creek South and Whistle Bend
    • Whitehorse Centre and Mountain View
  • West and North Yukon Electoral Region has two proportional seats and three constituency seats:
    • Kluane and Lake Laberge
    • Klondike — Mayo — Carmacks — Faro
    • Vuntut Gwichin *Limited

* Runner ups from “Limited” constituencies may not become PR representatives for their region.

The ballot has two parts. On the first part, voters rank their preference for constituency representatives with one for their first choice, two for second choice and so on. If there are four candidates, then the first choice is worth three points, second choice is worth two points, third choice is worth one point and fourth choice is zero. The candidate with the most points wins their constituency seat.

On the second part of the ballot, voters choose one political party for their region. The number of PR seats won by each political party is determined by the percentage of support received. PR representatives are chosen from the candidates who did not win a constituency seat but were ranked second highest amongst their party colleagues in their region.

Say Party A won 20% of the PR vote in Region Balderdash, which entitles them to two seats.  Having already won one constituency seat, Party A receives an additional PR seat. Candidate Dooley, a member of Party A, ran and came a close second in one of the five constituencies within that region. Dooley ranked second highest amongst his party colleagues in his region. Therefore, he would automatically become a Party A proportional MLA for Region Balderdash. While not specifically representing his constituency, is from the area, thereby adding an additional layer of regional representation.

What happens if one party wins more constituency seats than is reflected in their proportional vote?  Constituency seat wins must be honoured. In other MMP electoral systems, extra seats, called over-hang seats, may be added to ensure proportionality. So how does PRP work without over-hang seats?  Not perfectly. With PRP, the remaining, seats would be distributed amongst the other parties according to their proportionate vote. Brekke agrees that this eventuality would skew election results but contends that this is an unlikely scenario. I think otherwise. Nevertheless, the effects of losing perfect proportionality are small. And it would give political parties added incentive to recruit worthy candidates instead of relying on brand loyalty.

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 PRP would work in the Yukon.

  1. With PRP, at least 90% of votes would have some effect on composition of the Legislature. Ranked ballots used for the constituency vote add a layer of fairness lacking in other MMP systems which use FPTP. The MLAs sitting in the proportional seats would have had to demonstrate general support within their region. Political parties could not install partisan hacks into PR seats, as happens in other PR systems. Vote splitting and the necessity of strategic voting would be eliminated.
  2. PRP would result in some thinning of regional representation for the communities.  
  3. The number of seats in the legislature would remain the same. But it would be at the cost of perfect proportionality, in some cases.
  4. Electoral costs may increase slightly due to printing two ballots and the costs of calculating electoral results.
  5. With PRP, 90% of the electorate would have influence on electoral results. It wouldn’t be easy to profit from wedge issues, bread and butter to narrow interest groups, in this scenario.
  6. Two ballots aren’t a stretch for most people. Understanding the calculations that determine election results would be extremely challenging.  
  7. With PRP, it would be very difficult for powerful unions, religious groups and corporations to profit from boutique political party shopping.

PRP would likely result in minority governments, leading to the kind of collaborations that gave us Medicare and our flag. In addition, PRP is immune from many of the currently-used political shenanigans. Although PRP does not provide perfect regional representation and perfect proportionality, it does a fair job. Brekke has come very close to his stated goal of making every vote count.

Preferential Riding Proportional is, on the whole, a fair electoral system that could work well in the Yukon. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Linda Leon

Linda Leon is an artist and writer living in Whitehorse.