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Ontario Liberals are thinking about letting cities ditch first-past-the-post voting

(Image: RaBIT logo: Courtesy of RaBIT; Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook)

(Image: RaBIT logo: Courtesy of RaBIT; Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook)

In what seems like a perfect—albeit belated—Valentine’s Day gift to Toronto election-reform activists, premier Kathleen Wynne is apparently seriously considering giving cities across Ontario the power to use ranked ballots in municipal elections.

Ranked ballots replace the classic “check-box-next-to-someone’s-name” style of voting with a numbered list. A voter ranks his or her favourite candidates. If a voter’s first choice loses the election, then their second choice is counted; if their second choice loses, then their third choice is counted, and so on. Vote splitting is no longer as much of a concern, because everyone votes for multiple candidates. As an added benefit, people who want to vote for fringe candidates can do so without feeling as though they’ve wasted their ballots, because they can always rank mainstream politicians as their second or third choices.

According to the Globe, it’s not clear exactly when Wynne’s government will attempt to table a ranked-ballot bill. At the moment, first-past-the-post is the only allowable voting system, and a number of laws would have to be rewritten to accommodate the new style of balloting. Even if Queen’s Park does manage to make the change, it will be up to individual city governments to decide whether to implement ranked ballots locally. It’s likely that Toronto wouldn’t be able to make the switch before 2018.

Timing issues aside, the mere fact that Wynne would be willing to entertain such an idea is a huge victory for RaBIT, a local advocacy group that has spent the past few years trying to galvanize Toronto’s leadership behind the move. City council lent its support to the idea in June.

The broad political support is a little surprising, considering the fact that a move to ranked ballots could shake up Toronto’s elections in unpredictable ways. Had ranked ballots been available during the 2010 municipal election, for instance, Rob Ford might not have won. His two closest competitors, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone, together captured slightly more of the popular vote than he did. Under a ranked system, voters might have ranked Smitherman and Pantalone together, allowing one of them to win a majority.

  • amugsgame

    Really appreciate the article, but a couple of clarifications:

    – “If a voter’s first choice loses the election…” should read “If a voter’s first choice finishes last place in a round of voting…” and so on.

    – “Vote splitting is no longer as much of a concern” should read “Vote splitting is completely eliminated. It is no longer a concern at all.”

    – Yes, the outcome of the 2010 election may have been different, but it’s a mugs game to try and re-run the voting results from a FPTP election through a ranked ballots system. Reason being, the ranked ballots system changes the nature of the election before the election even starts. Since there is no vote splitting, a more diverse array of candidates can run, and the tone and quality of the debate is raised by the fact that candidates must find some common ground in order to garner 2nd and 3rd choice votes. Would this have hurt Rob Ford’s divisive, negative “gravy train” campaign? Theoretically, yes. But whose to say who would have actually run under such a system? For example, Rossi wouldn’t have dropped out, and neither would Thompson. And perhaps Ford would have run a different campaign — one with broader appeal downtown.

  • amugsgame

    P.S. Please head over to this website for more information about what RaBIT is proposing:

    Also, it’s worth noting a couple more things:

    1) This campaign started during the Miller years and is a non-partisan effort to improve democracy.
    2) The province is not forcing a new system on any municipalities. It is merely responding to an official Toronto City Council motion to allow the City the option of changing systems.

  • Sarah_Arr

    Ranked choice voting is the way to go in Toronto. Let’s hope this bill gets passed. Would love to see more fair, less divisive and more diverse elections. That’s what the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) saw when they went to observe the Minneapolis elections last November. They asked local voters what a ranked ballot election was like, and this is what they said:

  • ScottyonDenman

    Don’t know if this will ultimately save ink: FPTP could be written SMP which stands for the proper name of this system, Single Member Plurality.