Case study: The British Columbia Electoral Reform Referendum

A referendum on electoral reform took place by mail-in ballot between October 22 and December 7, 2018, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. 61.3 percent of British Columbians voted in favour of maintaining the first-past-the-post voting system rather than switching to a proportional representation voting system, which was supported by 38.7 percent of voters.

This was British Columbia's third referendum on electoral reform, following ones in 2005 and 2009.

Voters were asked two questions: first, what electoral system should be used to determine election results—the existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or a proportional representation (PR) system; and second, what type of proportional voting system should be used if PR were chosen. In the second question, voters were asked to rank three proportional representation voting systems: dual-member proportional representation, mixed-member proportional representation, and rural–urban proportional representation.

The referendum fulfilled an election commitment by the British Columbia New Democratic Party (NDP) during the 2017 election. Their platform promised a referendum and that the government would actively campaign for electoral reform.

On December 20, 2018, Elections BC announced that 61.3% of ballots were cast to maintain the first-past-the-post voting system.

A total of 1,391,423 ballots were considered. There were 1,378,753 valid votes for Question 1, and 831,760 valid votes for Question 2. 2,461 ballots were rejected


  • There was a marked generational divide with 70 per cent support for proportional representation in the under-35 age group. However older voters favoured the status quo and voted in larger numbers

  • None of the suggested PR systems had much appeal and were not widely understood. The systems on offer were seen as enhancing party control.

  • The governing party of DC was seen as using the issue to keep a coalition with the Green Party intact and stay in power.

  • The argument that FPTP produces stringer and more accountable governments was popular.