There will be a referendum held in conjunction with the next provincial general election.
A referendum is a direct vote by the entire electorate to decide an important political issue.
The Referendum will be about whether to change the PEI’s system for electing Members of its legislative assembly.
The referendum will give PEI voters a direct say in whether to change the province’s electoral system for MLAs from First Past the Post (FPTP) to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).
The referendum will be conducted according to the Electoral System Referendum Act and the Election Act.
At present, PEI uses an FPTP to elect all members of the Legislative Assembly. This system awards seats on a winner-takes-all basis.
The referendum question will ask voters to say whether PEI should change to an MMP voting system for electing members of the Legislative Assembly.
In an MMP system, some seats are awarded according to the proportionate share of the popular vote a party receives.
Those who want the change vote “Yes” those who do not want to change vote “No”. Thus the referendum will feature a contest between a Yes side and a No side. A sample ballot is set out in schedule 1 of the Electoral System Referendum Act.
Anyone entitled to vote in the general election will be entitled to vote in the referendum. That means anyone can vote who on election day is a Canadian citizen, is at least 18 years old and, has been ordinarily resident in the province for the previous 6 months.
A person is ordinarily resident in the place where they live and to which they intend to return when away.
Voting on the referendum will take place on the same day as the general election and voting will be at the same polling stations as the general election.
The Province’s Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for the conduct of the referendum vote and the counting of the referendum votes.
The result of the vote will be binding if either the No or the Yes side wins a majority of the valid votes Island-wide plus a majority of the valid votes in 60% of the 27 individual districts.
If the Yes side prevails in the referendum, the MMP system should be in place for the next following general election.
The proposed MMP system is to be substantially as described in schedule 2 of the Electoral System Referendum Act.
It is important for voters to understand what a change from the FPTP system to the MMP system would entail.
Nowadays, it is common to have 3 or 4 candidates running in each district.
Currently, there are 27 members in the Legislative Assembly. Each of those members represents one of the Province’s 27 electoral districts. All 27 members are elected on an FPTP basis. Each voter in a district has one vote.
Under the FPTP system, the candidate who receives the most votes wins the district seat even though the total of his or her votes is often less than a majority of the total votes cast in the district.
Under FPTP a party can get elected and form government even though a majority of voters do not support it. On the other hand, a party that receives a significant percentage of votes may end up with few seats to show for it.
Under the MMP System described in schedule 2 of the Electoral System Referendum Act, some things would change and some things would remain the same.
This MMP system would feature a mix of an FPTP system and a proportional system.
MMP systems already operate in several democratic countries around the world including New Zealand, Bolivia, and Germany.
Under the MMP model described in schedule 2 of the Election System Referendum Act, there will still be 27 seats in the Assembly. However, only 18 of them would be district seats. The other 9 would be province-wide seats.
Each of the 18 districts would be considerably larger than any of the 27 under the current system. [Compare the maps contained in the reports of the Electoral Boundaries Commission dated May 5, 2017 and March 13, 2018]
The increased size of the districts is necessary to accommodate the province-wide seats without adding more MLAs then the 27 we have now.
Under the MMP system members representing the 18 electoral districts would continue to be elected on an FPTP basis.
In addition to the 18 district members, there would be 9 province-wide members elected by voters from a list of candidates put forward by the registered political parties. These 9 seats will be allotted to political parties according to their share of the popular vote.
An MMP ballot will be in two parts. In the first part, using the First Past The Post system, a voter would mark a single ‘X’ for their preferred candidate. Two-thirds of the MLAs will be elected this way and will become a representative for a district. On the second part of the ballot, a voter would mark a single ‘X’ for their preferred party by voting for a candidate on a party list. One-third of the MLAs would be elected this way. The result of the second part of the ballot determines the percentage of popular vote for each party.
This second vote assigns seats to parties by attempting to make up for any difference in what a party would be assigned proportionally and the number of seats won through First Past The Post. List candidates would represent the entire province.
Based on results in other countries like Scotland, Germany and New Zealand, proportional systems often result in minority or coalition governments, while majority governments are possible.
If a strict application of the percentage of the popular vote would result in parties being entitled to a fraction of a seat the 9 province-wide seats would be allotted to the parties according to the D’Hondt method which is a mathematical process designed to award seats in as proportional a manner as possible.