Prop-rep - who cares?

An advocate for maintaining British Columbia's electoral system as it is questions whether residents really care about reform, given voter turnout figures released on the final day of the referendum campaign.

Elections BC said it had received 41 per cent of eligible ballots by Friday morning in the referendum, which asks voters whether they would prefer to keep the existing first-past-the-post system or move to a form of proportional representation.

Ballots could be returned by mail or in person and those received before a 4:30 p.m. deadline on Friday will be counted.

"Forty-one per cent indicates to me that most British Columbians really don't find proportional representation or our electoral system an extremely important topic," said Bill Tieleman of "Vote No to Pro Rep," adding it's likely that the turnout will remain lower than two previous referendums in 2005 and 2009.

"It kind of indicates what we've said all along – that this referendum wasn't necessary."

In 2005, voter turnout was 61 per cent. About 57 per cent of ballots were cast in favour of proportional representation, which did not meet the threshold of 60 per cent to make it binding on the government.

Four years later, voter turnout was 55 per cent and 61 per cent voted in favour of first past the post.

The latest referendum is binding, and the winner will be declared by a simple majority of votes cast.

Tieleman said if the vote favours proportional representation, he'd question whether the electorate really supports the shift. If turnout remains in the range of 40 per cent and just over half of those votes are for change, that would mean only about 20 per of the electorate voted for proportional representation, while 80 per cent either voted against it or didn't vote at all, he said.

But Green party Leader Andrew Weaver, who supports proportional representation, said the results should be accepted whatever they may be. If civic election results are accepted when turnout is lower than 41 per cent, then so should the referendum results, he said.

"The reality is, this is our democratic system. We are entitled to vote, we can vote if we wish and if we choose not to vote, we make that choice accordingly," Weaver said.

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