ly half the voters in British Columbia know "nothing at all" about a proposal that would radically change the electoral system in the province.
A new poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV indicates that only a small number of people, 10 per cent, think they know "a lot" about the Single Transferable Vote system they will be asked to approve or reject in a referendum on election day, May 17.
The poll, by the Strategic Counsel, says that 42 per cent of respondents know "a little" and 47 per cent know "nothing" about the issue, which they'll decide with a simple, yes or no question: "Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform?"
The poll says that 45 per cent of respondents are undecided on whether to vote for or against the STV system; 27 per cent are in favour and 15 per cent are opposed.
"That's consistent with what other polls are telling us," said Barbara Greeniaus, director of the Referendum Information Office for the provincial government.
"The last poll we had results for asked people if they knew there was going to be a referendum on May 17. And 50 per cent said they didn't know."
Despite the lack of awareness, Ms. Greeniaus said, she is confident British Columbians will be up to speed by election day.
She said her office created a website (http://www.gov.bc.ca/referendum_info/) and has a toll-free phone number (1-800-668-2800), and recently mailed information brochures to 1.7 million households. Full-page newspaper ads also will appear.
"I think we're certainly going to see interest picking up."
Bruce Hallsor, a Victoria lawyer working on a Yes To STV campaign, said the lack of voter knowledge is unfortunate, but he thinks people will know enough by election day.
"We're not too worried about it. We know that people are going to go and vote May 17. We're confident people are going to understand there is a referendum question they are going to have to answer, and we think people are going to find out what they need to know about it by then," Mr. Hallsor said.
The STV system would ask voters to number the candidates on the ballots in order of preference.
By tallying alternative choices, candidates who in the current system might have gone down to defeat could win.
The number of ridings would be reduced and each riding would have more than one MLA.
Under the STV system, if a party received 40 per cent of the votes, it would obtain 40 per cent of the seats in the House.
Under the current first-past-the-post system, parties can win a disproportionate number of seats. In 1996, for example, the NDP received 39.45 per cent of the vote, while the Liberals received 41.82 per cent -- but the NDP won 39 seats to 33 for the Liberals and formed the government despite obtaining fewer overall votes.
In 2003, Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell created the independent Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.
In December, the assembly, which consisted of 161 randomly selected citizens, proposed the STV system.
To win approval, the STV system must receive 60 per cent of the total votes cast provincewide and more than 50 per cent of the votes in at least 48 of the province's 79 electoral districts.
If approved, the system would be in place for the 2009 election.
The Strategic Counsel poll involved 1,000 respondents provincewide. It has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent 19 times out of 20.
The single transferable vote
How the voting is done
On election day British Columbians will vote in referendum on whether to adopt a preferential voting system called the B.C. Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV). Super ridings are created with multiple members.
Here is how it works: Voters mark their preferences, ranking the candidates in order. Voters can choose one candidate, a few or rank them all. Using a complex system (see below) votes would be redistributed from both losing candidates as well as from those who win by large margins. In order to become law for the 2009 election, STV must be approved by 60 per cent of all voters and by more than half the voters in at least 48 ridings.
Do British Columbians understand the STV?
We polled a thousand B.C. residents to see what they knew.
QUESTION: Would you say you know a lot, a little or nothing at all about the STV?
A lot: 10%
A little: 42%
Nothing at all: 47%
QUESTION: Do you intend to vote for or against the proposed changes to the electoral system?
Will not vote: 5%
*DK/NA/Ref: Don't know, No answer, Refused to answer
SOURCE: CITIZENS ASSEMBLY ON ELECTORAL REFORM and THE STRATEGIC COUNSEL