Ranked ballots would add $3.5M to Ottawa's 2018 election costs, report finds

In the unlikely event Ottawa decides to adopt ranked ballots for the next municipal election in 2018, it would cost an extra $3.5 million, according to a new report.

Finance committee to discuss implementing ranked ballots at meeting next week

Changes to municipal election rules means Ottawa city council could vote to adopt ranked-ballot voting. (CBC)

After changes to the municipal election rules last June, Ottawa city council is free to adopt ranked-ballot voting for the next election in 2018.

But in the unlikely event it does, it'll cost an additional $3.5 million, according to report to council's finance and economic development committee.

The report is "for information," so councillors aren't being asked to vote on anything in particular. But they will be expected to discuss the issue of ranked ballots at the committee meeting next Tuesday.

In a ranked-ballot system, voters literally rank their preferred candidates — first, second, third and so on. If a voter's first choice comes in last after the first ballot count, their vote is transferred to their second choice.

This process would continue until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote. (The counting is usually done automatically by computers — there aren't separate rounds of voting.)

Proponents of ranked ballots argue that it encourages more people to run, reduces strategic voting and negative campaigning as candidates are vying to be the second choice of their opponents' supporters.

City sees 'challenges'

It's not really clear that Ottawa residents are up for changing their voting strategy, although activist group Ottawa 123 has worked for years to sell local votes on ranked ballots.

According to the city staff report, not only would moving to a new voting system cost more, but there would be "challenges with respect to public awareness, technology and election administration."

The report also notes that moving to ranked ballots would present other logistical challenges. While the new ranked system could be used to elect council members, school board trustees would have to be elected on a first-past-the-post system, so election staff would have to run two separate processes at the same time.

The report goes on to say that "no government at any level in Canada conducts ranked ballot elections, meaning there is no Canadian experience with respect to conducting a bilingual, accessible, ranked ballot election."

And it would be "an overarching challenge" to implement ranked ballots in time for the 2018 election, says the report, considering there are other mandatory changes that need to be made by then.

For example, the province's new accessibility rules in elections requires the city to identify, remove and prevent any barriers that affect voters and candidates with disabilities.