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PEI Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal

Between October 29 and November 7, Prince Edward Island held a plebiscite (ie a non-binding referendum) on electoral reform. Voters were asked to rank the following voting systems:

The plebiscite allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote, had a long voting period, and allowed telephone and Internet voting in addition to voting at polling stations.

The plebiscite seemed to be a response to the disastrous 2005 plebiscite on Mixed Member Proportional vs First Past the Post in PEI. As with two of the other three referenda that decade (Ontario in 2007 and BC in 2009) proportional representation got clobbered. There were complaints that the electorate was undereducated and that there were not enough polling stations. Several of the design considerations in this plebiscite tried to compensate for this.

Here were the results of (first-rank) choices in the 2016 plebiscite:

It took four rounds of elimination before any electoral system gained over 50% of the vote. The end result was:

Keen readers will note that the percentages do not add to 100%. This is because 1753 (4.73%) were exhausted, meaning that the preferred selections were dropped from contention and the voters in question did not rank any further options (ie: they did not include either FPTP or MMPR in their rankings, since those were the final systems in contention).

These numbers are taken from the official report on the plebicite.

Voter turnout was 36.46% . Voter turnout for the 2005 plebiscite had been 33%. Provincial elections on the island have voter turnouts that hover around 80%.

Everyone Wins

The funny thing about this plebiscite is that almost everybody can claim victory in one way or another:

Electoral Reform Loses

For two days after the plebiscite results were announced, all the proportional representation activists were thrilled. They had spent the entire summer arguing against referenda, and then crowed that a proportional system had won.

Mind you, they had not exactly spent much time talking about the PEI plebiscite before the results were announced. I vaguely knew it was happening, but I did not follow it closely and I did not blog about it. I received exactly zero mentions of it from either Fair Vote Canada or LeadNow. It was only after MMPR appeared to win that anybody cared.

Then Premier Wade MacLauchlan decided that the plebiscite didn't count because voter turnout was too low : "It is doubtful whether these results can be said to constitute a clear expression of the will of Prince Edward Islanders."

All of a sudden the proportional representation advocates are not so happy any more.

Meanwhile on the federal front, the NDP is caving into Conservative demands for a referendum on electoral reform, possibly motivated by the "success" of the PEI process. This means that federal electoral reform is also dead. There is no way a referendum on electoral reform would pass federally because voter awareness of electoral reform is dismally low. Even if voters somehow did approve proportional representation, the results won't count, just as they did not count for the British Columbia referendum of 2005 or the PEI plebiscite of 2016.

Here is what I know: if the PEI results had been reversed and FPTP had won with 52% support with the same voter turnout, Premier MacLauchlan would be singing a different tune. He would not be calling the results into question.

If the PEI voter turnout had somehow been in the 70-80% range there would have been some other excuse to call the results into question (probably on the basis that FPTP received a plurality of votes).

The game is rigged. There will not be meaningful electoral reform in PEI, or anywhere else in Canada. Here are my predictions, and the confidence I have in them:

If I was a betting person I would be willing to bet money on these predictions. Given my history of political predictions this would be a terrible idea. Nonetheless, if I am still around I will donate $50 to Fair Vote Canada for each prediction I get wrong (or Equal Voice Canada if FVC disbands).

The game is rigged. I am fed up.