By: Lucy Morkunas
The main reason for the Community Forum hosted by the Special Committee on Democratic Renewal is to get feedback on the design of the plebiscite question. A green survey sheet is handed out at each Forum. Participants are asked to complete the form and pass it back by the end. There are four design options to choose from as well as a comments box. People are encouraged to ask questions and to make suggestions. The survey is also available at the Legislative Committee website until the end of March.
The last Community Forum takes place on Tuesday March 1st at 7pm at the Murphy’s Community Centre on Richmond Street in downtown Charlottetown.
Below are real-life examples of referendum ballots that correspond to the different options described on the survey.
1. A general one part question assessing the desire for change from, or retention of, the current system
Ballot from the 2014 Scottish Referendum
Part of a sample ballot included in the Guide to the 1992 New Zealand Electoral Reform Referendum
2. A specific one part question with a choice between the current system and one other option
1999 Australian Republic Referendum/2005 British Columbia Referendum on Electoral Reform
3. A two part question with a list of options (Part 1 to assess the desire for change or retention; and Part 2 where one preference is chosen from a list)
Sample ballot included in the Guide to the 1992 New Zealand Electoral Reform Referendum
2011 Referendum on New Zealand’s Voting System
4. A two part question with a list of options to be ranked (Part 1 to assess the desire for change or retention; and Part 2 where options on a list are ranked in order of preference)
The structure of the question is as important as the question itself. Single answer questions like Options 1 and 2 provide one piece of information. Yet there are times when a simple yes/no answer is not enough. On the other hand, a list of voting system choices can make it impossible for one system to gather 50% support so the plebiscite will not succeed. The secret is to design a question that will adequately reflect the will of the residents of Prince Edward Island.I have not been able to find an example of a ballot using option 4 as a referendum question, but it would probably be similar to the New Zealand ballot in option 3 except that instead of ticking off one box, the different choices are ranked from 1 to 4.
Michael Wheeler writes in The Classics of Polling that
“the best way to test a question…is to see whether you would feel completely comfortable answering it yourself. If you find yourself saying “yes, but” or “no, except,” then you must disregard the poll”. (p. 202)
You can help make sure that this November’s plebiscite question on changing the voting system passes the ‘Wheeler’ test.
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