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August 2005

President's Message
Discuss Developing Kakaako on July 26 (Pearl Johnson)
Suggest Changes to City Charter (Evangeline Funk & Piilani Kaopuiki)
British Columbia's Grassroots Reform (Dorothy Cornell)
Council Report (Malia Schwartz)
Transit Tax Circus (Charles Carole)

British Columbia's Grassroots Reform

In 1996 in British Columbia one political party received more seats in the Legislative Assembly (and hence formed the government) than the Liberal Party that had received 3% more of the popular vote. This couldn't have happened if there had been some form of Proportional Representation, so when the Liberal Party returned to power in 2002 they, along with a number of grassroots reform organizations, convened a Citizens' Assembly to study if there was a fairer method of allocating votes.

15,800 people were picked at random from the British Columbia voters' list; 200 individuals from each of 79 districts. There were 100 men, 100 women, and the age distribution within each district matched the demographics of the district. These 15,800 got letters of invitation, explaining the responsibilities of the Citizens' Assembly. From the pool of responses, up to 20 were picked at random from each district.

Next came 'Selection Meetings' where there were explanations of the workload, compensation, and other details. Those who were still interested went into the final pool, and one male and one female were chosen from each district. Several dropped out (death, changed mind) and the group was checked for representation of the electorate of B.C. Two aborigines were appointed, and the final group was 159 plus an appointed chair.

For ten months the Assembly studied various methods of counting votes, with speakers from every interested method. They picked a form of proportional representation known as 'Single Transferable Vote,' and in May, 2005 an Initiative was placed on the ballot.

The Initiative had to get 60% of the vote to pass. Not to keep you in suspense, but they only got 57%, In 77 of the districts they got more than half of the votes. The consensus is that the defeat was a combination of the powerful political status quo and limited resources by the reformers.

Why am I bothering you with a tale of losers? The 'British Columbia' model has excited democracy advocates in the U.S. and Canada. Rather than try to convince the voters that "We know what's best for you," many Reform organizations are looking to pick a random selection of citizens to study a problem rationally.

A full description of the Citizens' Assembly can be found at
(written BEFORE the election was held)

Dorothy Cornell
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