So what’s this brand new voting system they’re talking about in Prince Edward Island?

Public consultations are underway to decide on a plebiscite question that could change the way MLAs are elected in the province of Prince Edward Island.

To help get things started, the Government of PEI released a video. It informs Islanders about 5 voting systems under consideration:

  • First-Past-The-Post
  • First-Past-The-Post-Plus
  • Dual-Member Mixed Proportional (DMP)
  • Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  • Preferential Voting

Of the 5 options, the most original by far is the brand new voting system in the middle, DMP. For a quick overview of DMP, check out the following half-minute clip from the video:

Okay, so what are the main points?

D for Dual-Member. Instead of having one MLA per riding, Islanders would have two. Does that mean there would be twice as many MLAs in the legislature? Not at all. The ridings would double size so that the total number of MLAs remains roughly the same.

M for Mixed. The system mixes the tried-and-true First Past the Post way of doing things with something we don’t see much in Canada…proportionality.

P for Proportional. Yes, this is a form of proportional representation. But it’s different from all the other proportional systems you’ve heard of. One difference is the ballot. Let’s continue with the video:

Did you catch that? The ballot is the same as under the current system. Voters mark one ‘X’. That’s it.

Well…there is one small difference. Under the current system, each party has a single candidate on the ballot. With DMP, each party may have two candidates. The two candidates are grouped together, so a vote for a party is vote for both of its candidates.

Here’s an example of a DMP ballot:

Again, a voter just marks one ‘X’. It’s as easy as under the current system.

The next segment of the video deals with how votes are translated into seats:

So we just heard 4 important points.

  1. One seat in every riding goes to the local candidate with the most votes, similar to First Past the Post.
  2. The other seat in every riding is assigned in such a way that the overall distribution of seats is proportional to the popular vote.
  3. Those 2nd seats are won by candidates who receive a relatively large number of local votes. In fact, it is often the 2nd-place finisher who becomes an MLA, alongside the winner of the riding.
  4. A riding’s two MLAs will typically be affiliated with different parties.

Let’s continue with the video. We’ll see a map of PEI based on the current electoral system, and another that shows how the ridings might look under DMP:

Did you understand that last part about “1st-listed” candidates and “2nd-listed” candidates? He’s referring to the names on the ballot. Let’s take another look at the example ballot we saw earlier.

The 1st-listed candidates are Ashlee, Jena, Gus, and Aaron. Any two of them could become the MLAs for this hypothetical riding. It could be Ashlee and Gus. It could be Jena and Aaron. It could be Ashlee and Jena. In all of these cases, a party-affiliated MLA’s local work will be conducted across party lines or with an independent.

The 2nd-listed candidates are Quintin, Darlene, and Zoe. Each of these candidates can only be elected if his/her higher-ranking teammate is also elected. For example, if the Yellow Party wins the riding by a large margin, it is possible that both Jena and Darlene will be elected. In that case, the riding would be represented by two MLAs from the same party.

Now, if you happen to be familiar with a voting system called Mixed Member Proportional, also known as MMP, you may be thinking that MMP and DMP are quite similar. The video explains the main difference:

MMP is well regarded by experts, and used in several countries such as Germany and New Zealand. But PEI voted against MMP in a 2005 referendum, and so did Ontario two years later. Many Canadians worry that under MMP, the “top-up party list representatives” would serve only the interests of their parties, since they are not dedicated to specific ridings.

As emphasized in the video, DMP ensures that every MLA is tied to the riding which elected her. If a candidate wins a riding, she becomes an MLA regardless of how well her party fared province wide. If a candidate does not win the riding, her chances of being elected depend on how many local votes she personally received and how many votes her party received across the province.

To summarize, DMP would introduce proportionality into PEI’s provincial legislature by switching to dual-member ridings. Yet similar to the existing system, every candidate would require local votes to be elected, and every MLA would serve the riding that elected her.

Want to learn more about DMP? A PEI resident named Anna Keenan prepared an excellent PowerPoint presentation. For a full description of this brand new voting system, visit

To follow the official discussions on electoral reform in PEI, refer to the Government of PEI’s webpage on democratic renewal. Here’s the full-length version of their video:

Comments are welcome.

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