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Prince Edward Island voters to cast verdict on new electoral system

Proportional representation advocate Leo Cheverie poses for a portrait in Charlottetown, P.E.I., on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Canadians are expected to learn late Tuesday whether the cradle of Confederation is going to give birth to the country's first version of proportional representation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Rochford

CHARLOTTETOWN — Canadians are expected to learn late Tuesday whether the cradle of Confederation is going to give birth to the country’s first version of proportional representation.

Alongside an election to pick a provincial government, voters will be asked to answer the question: “Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?”

The winning side must receive more than 50 per cent of the votes cast and win a majority of votes in at least 60 per cent of the ridings.

A “No” vote would mean the continuation of the 27-seat legislature chosen by the first-past-the-post system.

A “Yes” vote would lead to a switch where voters choose 18 legislators in redrawn electoral districts, while also casting ballots for nine other legislators from lists the parties create.

These “party list” seats would then be assigned proportionately based on the popular vote each party received on the second part of the ballots.

Political scientist Don Desserud says it’s extremely difficult to guess which side has the upper hand going to the polls, because the referendum has been overshadowed by the wider provincial campaign.

He says there’s a risk that many voters in the general election may find themselves making up their minds on the referendum without having carefully considered the issue.

The University of Prince Edward Island professor says that may play out in favour of the “Yes” side if there’s a general mood for change, but it may also benefit the “No” campaign if people feel uncertain and decide to opt for the status quo.

The Canadian Press