Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mayrand Doubts Ranked Ballot Referendum on Electoral Reform Options Doable

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mayrand Doubts Ranked Ballot Referendum on Electoral Reform Options Doable

Article excerpt

Time running out for electoral reform referendum


OTTAWA - Canada's chief electoral officer warns that time is running out to organize a national referendum on electoral reform if the voting system is to be changed in time for the next federal election in October 2019, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised.

And that's if a straightforward referendum question is asked, requiring a simple Yes or No answer.

Marc Mayrand doubts there'd be enough time to organize a more complicated referendum that gives Canadians multiple voting systems to choose from and asks them to rank their preferences -- as was done in Prince Edward Island's recent plebiscite on electoral reform.

"Administratively, I must say it would be difficult. Let's be very clear on that," Mayrand said in an interview marking the imminent end of his 10-year tenure at the helm of Elections Canada.

"We don't have the technology in place to manage a ranked ballot. A ranked ballot requires technology to compute the results. By hand, you'll be at it for a long, long time."

Mayrand's warning comes as an all-party committee is expected to recommend holding a referendum to determine how -- or if -- Canadians want to change the current first-past-the-post voting system. The committee, which has been exploring alternative voting systems, is scheduled to issue its report on Thursday.

It is expected to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of witnesses who testified before the committee favoured a proportional system, in which a party's share of the seats in the House of Commons reflects its share of the popular vote. But the committee is not expected to recommend a precise model.

Nor is it expected to spell out the details of the recommended referendum.

NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen, who is credited with breaking an impasse at the committee by dropping his party's opposition to a referendum, has said he would prefer following the P.E.I. model.

But while a ranked ballot was possible on the Island, with its tiny population, Mayrand said: "It would be a daunting challenge at the federal level to do it in such a short time."

Cullen acknowledged Mayrand's concerns but said in an interview that it "wouldn't be the end of the world" if it took a week or so to count ranked referendum ballots by hand. Unlike an election, where Canadians expect to know the results within hours, he doubted many would object to a delay in finding out the winning voting system.

In a ranked ballot, if no option receives majority support, the option with the least support is dropped and its supporters' second ranked choices are counted and so on until one option emerges with more than 50 per cent of the vote.

In P.E.I., a form of proportional representation called mixed member proportional emerged as the winner after four rounds of voting on a ranked ballot that offered Islanders five different options. …

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