Glossary of Canadian electoral reform terms

  1. Alternative Vote (AV) (also known as preferential voting): On the ballot, voters rank the candidates running in their riding in order of their preference. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the eligible votes cast. Should no candidate get a majority on the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped, and the second preferences on those ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate receives the necessary majority. [Library of Parliament (LoP)]
  2. Block Vote: In essence, this system is First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) but with multi-member constituencies where voters can elect more than one representative. In each constituency, voters can cast as many votes as there are seats. For example, if 10 seats are available in a riding, the 10 candidates with the most votes will be awarded seats, even if they do not have a majority of the vote. [LoP]
  3. Cabinet: The Cabinet consists of all Ministers who are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, usually from among the members of the House of Commons. The Cabinet decides the Government's priorities and policies, determines the legislation that will be presented to Parliament, and raises and spends revenues. [Glossary of Parliamentary Terms for Intermediate Students]
  4. Candidate: A person who seeks election to public office. A candidate running in a federal election or by-election is trying to be elected a Member of Parliament. [Elections Canada (EC)]
  5. Chief Electoral Officer: The officer of Parliament responsible for overseeing the administrative conduct of all federal elections and referenda. [Glossary of Parliamentary Terms for Intermediate Students]
  6. Constituency: A geographical area represented by a member of the House of Commons; often called a riding or constituency. [EC] [See also “Electoral district”]
  7. Democracy: A country that is governed by people who are elected by its citizens to make decisions on their behalf. [Glossary of Parliamentary Terms for Younger Students]
  8. Election: The process of choosing a representative by vote. [Glossary of Parliamentary Terms for Intermediate Students]
  9. Elector: Every person who is a Canadian citizen and is 18 years of age or older on polling day is qualified as an elector. [Canada Elections Act (CEA)]
  10. Electoral district: a place or territorial area that is represented by a member in the House of Commons. [CEA]
  11. First-Past-the-Post (FPTP): Under FPTP, an elector casts a single vote for a candidate to represent the electoral district in which the voter resides. The winning candidate must gain a plurality of votes to be elected. [LoP]
  12. Franchise: The right to vote. [EC]
  13. Government: The political party with the most elected members in the House of Commons usually forms the Government. Within the federal Government, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet determine priorities and policies, ensure their implementation and guide the Government's legislation through the House of Commons. An important feature of our system is that the Cabinet is responsible to Parliament. If the Government loses a major vote in the House, the Cabinet resigns. [Glossary of Parliamentary Terms for Intermediate Students]
  14. House of Commons: The elected Lower House of Parliament is composed of 338 Members representing all the ridings across Canada. Most of the laws passed by Parliament originate in the House of Commons. Members' duties include representing constituents' concerns, serving on committees, proposing legislation, participating in Commons debates and discussing and amending bills. [Glossary of Parliamentary Terms for Intermediate Students]
  15. List Proportional Representation (List PR): Prior to election day, each political party draws up a ranked list of its candidates running in each constituency. Constituencies are larger (for example, province-wide) and each riding has multiple representatives. Citizens vote for a political party, not a specific candidate. Once all votes are counted, each political party is awarded seats in proportion to its share of the popular vote in each constituency. The winning candidates are chosen according to their placement on the political party list. This electoral system is very flexible and has many adaptations. For example, some countries use “open lists” in which voters can select candidates from their preferred party’s list, determining the order of the candidates who are awarded seats. [LoP]
  16. Mandatory Voting: Requires citizens to register as voters and to present themselves at their polling stations on election day. Those who refuse to do so are usually subject to a fine (unless they have an acceptable explanation, such as illness). Although it is known as “mandatory voting,” this practice does not actually require citizens to vote. They must register and present themselves at their polling stations; however, those who do not wish to vote may still exercise the option of spoiling their ballots or registering an abstention. In fact, several countries provide a box on the ballot for those who wish to mark their vote for “None of the candidates.” [LoP]
  17. Member of Parliament (MP): In common usage the term refers to a person elected to a seat in the House of Commons (an MP), who serves as a representative of one of the 338 ridings into which Canada is divided.
  18. Mixed Electoral Systems: Combine elements of a plurality or majority system with proportional representation. Citizens in a riding cast two votes: one to directly elect an individual member to serve as their representative, and a second for a political party or parties to fill seats in the legislature allocated according to the proportion of the vote share they receive. [LoP]
  19. Mixed Member Majority (MMM): Citizens in single-member ridings cast two votes: one for a candidate to represent their riding according to the FPTP system, and one for a political party. Each political party presents a previously established list of candidates, similar to the List PR system. A predetermined portion of the legislature’s seats are filled using the plurality vote, while the remaining seats are filled by the political party list vote. The two votes under MMM are fully independent of one another; the political party seats will not fully compensate for a disproportionate result in the constituency elections. Possible adaptions include the use of “open lists” (see List Proportional Representation). [LoP]
  20. Mixed Member Proportional (MMP): The system operates in the same way as MMM, except a citizen’s second vote, which allocates seats to political parties according to List PR, attempts to compensate for any disproportionate results in the FPTP constituency elections. Additional seats are awarded to qualifying political parties where the number of constituency seats won by a political party fails to reflect overall voter support. There are variations among the various MMP systems in how this allocation is made. Other possible adaptions include the use of “open lists” (see List Proportional Representation). [LoP]
  21. Plurality: This refers to having the highest number of votes in a riding, regardless of whether that represents a majority of the votes cast in the riding or not.
  22. Proportional Representation Systems (PR): Seek to closely match a political party’s vote share with its seat allocation in the legislature. [LoP]
  23. Registered party: A political party that runs at least one candidate in a general election or by-election and complies with the requirements of the Canada Elections Act may be registered. Benefits of registering with the Chief Electoral Officer include having the political party name appear on the ballot, the right to issue tax receipts for monetary contributions, and partial reimbursement of election expenses. Registered political parties must disclose their contributions received, election spending and other financial information. [EC]
  24. Responsible government: A system of government in which members of the executive (that is, Cabinet ministers) are responsible to the elected members of the legislature, who are in turn responsible to the people. [EC]
  25. Single Non-Transferable Vote: Citizens in multi-member ridings are given only one vote. The candidates with the highest vote totals are elected. For example, in a constituency where 20 candidates are vying for 10 available seats, the top 10 candidates will all be elected.
  26. Single Transferable Vote (STV): Citizens in multi-member ridings rank candidates on the ballot. They may rank as few or as many candidates as they wish. Winners are declared by first determining the total number of valid votes cast, and establishing a vote quota (or a minimum number of votes garnered); candidates must meet or exceed the quota in order to be elected. Candidates who receive the number of first-preference votes needed to satisfy the quota are elected. Any remaining votes for these candidates (that is, first-preference votes in excess of the quota) are redistributed to the second choices on those ballots. Once these votes are redistributed, if there are still seats available after the second count, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is dropped and the second-preference votes for that candidate are redistributed. This process continues until enough candidates achieve the quota to fill all available seats.
  27. Special Committee: A committee of Members of Parliament or of Senators appointed to study a specific matter. Once it has presented its final report, the committee ceases to exist.
  28. Two-Round System (also known as the run-off system): Elections have not one but two election days, generally held weeks apart. The system used for the first round of voting is largely similar to FPTP, except to win a candidate must take a majority of the votes cast and not simply a plurality. Should no candidate garner a majority after the first round of voting, a second election is held with only the top two candidates from the first election results. The candidate with the higher number of votes in the second round is elected.

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