Greener ridings see higher turnout in PR vote

It’s still too early to nail down the voter turnout for B.C.’s referendum on proportional representation – but some patterns have already emerged.

As of Wednesday, Elections BC was reporting a ballot return rate of about 41 per cent of eligible voters. The percentage of screened ballots, however, was only 38.1.

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Elections BC officials estimate that about two per cent of ballots will be disqualified due to some form of ineligibility, so that means the final turnout numbers could be in the 39 per cent range.

A riding-by-riding comparison of the screened ballots to date shows a stark contrast. In general, the ridings with the highest turnouts were conspicuously Greener than the ridings with the lowest.

Topping the list with a 53.2 per cent turnout was Saanich North and the Islands, represented by MLA Adam Olsen, one of the three Greens elected to the legislature last year. Third highest at 50.5 per cent was Green Party leader Andrew Weaver’s Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding.

The ridings with the second and fifth highest turnouts – Parksville-Qualicum (52.4 per cent) and Powell River-Sunshine Coast (46.9 per cent) – both had significantly higher than average Green support in the 2017 election, and the same goes for seven of the 10 ridings with the highest turnouts in the referendum.

At the other end of the spectrum, ridings with the lowest turnouts – Surrey-Whalley (23.2 per cent), Surrey-Green Timbers (24.3 per cent) and North Coast (25.5 per cent) – are NDP strongholds where the Greens performed dismally in last year’s election.

What these trends suggest is that Greens were the most motivated voters in the referendum, while New Democrats were less and perhaps least motivated. The first point is not surprising but the second one is, since the NDP was also supporting pro-rep. Or so they’ve been saying.

The official line is that if the Yes side receives 50 per cent plus one, the voting system will change for the next election if it is called on or after July 1, 2021. But there is already an out for the NDP: a turnout of 39 or 40 per cent is not impressive. And it’s a far cry from the 61.5 per cent turnout in the 2005 referendum or the 55 per cent in 2009 when the single transferable vote system was soundly defeated.

A Yes win could mean 20 to 25 per cent of eligible B.C. voters supported PR, with as few as 10 to 12 per cent choosing the most popular of the three options presented on the ballot.

Ten to 12 per cent. Wouldn’t B.C.ers balk at the idea of such a small fraction of the population, heavily associated with the Greens, being given the power to select the voting system of the future? Wouldn’t it be seen as the very antithesis of the mantra that every vote counts?

And wouldn’t it open the door for Premier John Horgan to “listen to the people” and change the plan to include the preferred PR option on the ballot in the next election?

Something to ponder as we wait merrily for the results.

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