If you required a detailed explanation of what ‘ranked ballots’ for municipal elections in Ontario means, watch this conversation hosted by Steve Paikin of TVO with London City Councillor Josh Morgan.
Early this year, London Ontario became, out of 444 municipalities in Ontario, the first to adopt a ranked balloting system to vote for their mayor and city councillors for 2018. This came on the heels of the province passing legislation to allow municipalities to do so.
You might wonder why only one municipality out of so many decided to do this. Some cited complexities with the voting system, or it was an issue with money. I’m disappointed that Mississauga and Brampton decided not to adopt this measure. Mississauga instead chose to adopt a ‘vote anywhere’ system which is more of an IT reform than a voting or democratic reform. But I think the overarching issue, mainly unspoken, is that this system shakes up the status quo, changes the way election campaigns could be conducted, generally becoming a disruptor in municipal politics.
So I would like to take a crack at explaining this in a Mississauga context.
First of all there is a perception that there is a threat to incumbency, which actually isn’t a bad thing if you’re a municipal reformer. But considering that the average vote for an incumbent running for municipal council in Canada’s sixth largest city is north of 65%, whether it’s the traditional first past the post (FPTP) or ranked ballots, Mississauga incumbent councillors have a pretty easy time getting reelected.
Former mayor Hazel McCallion’s administration of this city has left the voting residential public apathetic, uninterested in municipal government, and it may take a few elections in the post Hazel era to get the voter apathy out of local politics. By the time ranked balloting would threaten an incumbent, those who believed in traditional campaigning would have retired by then and hopefully there would be more enlightened people in office.
Second, I would like to push back against the notion that this change is too complicated for voters to understand. We just saw a Conservative Party leadership election that used a ranked ballots system to vote for their new leader broadcast on live TV for all to see. They literally just ranked their preferences, fed their ballots into a machine at the voting station and watch the numbers come in. It baffles me to think how anyone could think that is complicated, unless you’re one of those die hard FPTP fans who will pick and only one choice on a ballot until the day you die. I feel a bit sad for you not be able to learn to try a new thing.
My last argument here is based on the point I made before about disrupting the traditional way of doing politics. The traditional way is to have your campaigns identify your support, narrow that pool so on election day you can concentrate your resources to pulling your vote to ensure victory. Ranked ballots will force candidates to broaden their base to include those that wouldn’t have picked them as first choice but now they might be able to as a second choice on a ranked ballot. You can’t force literally every single candidate to adopt this tactic; there are some who thrive and only want to play smash mouth politics, but a new system would eventually get more people campaigning in a more friendlier fashion which benefits everybody.
With the provincial legislation passed, I am confident that the door is open to debate this matter again down the road, and eventually we will see more municipalities adopt ranked ballot voting after seeing how it works out in London. But until then, it seems that only by using the current system to change the composition of our councils to elect more reform minded people that we can finally see ranked balloting in our municipal elections in Peel Region.
Photo header courtesy of CBC.ca