Ontario allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots in 2018

Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin says ranked ballots will reverse the trend of low voter turnout

Ranked ballots will let voters rank candidates instead of voting for a single person

Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin say Ontario municipalities will have the option of using ranked ballots in the next municipal elections. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Ontario municipalities will have the option of using ranked ballots in the next municipal elections in 2018.

The preferential ballots let voters rank candidates instead of voting for a single person, which will give the winning candidate a much higher percentage of the vote and a broader mandate, Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin said Thursday.

"In the recent municipal election in a ward very close to where we stand today, a councillor was elected with only 17 per cent of the vote," McMeekin said in downtown Toronto.

"That should raise some flags, methinks."

Ranked ballots will also foster more voter engagement, McMeekin said.

"At a time when voter turnout is going down in many communities it's time to look at ideas that can reverse that trend," he said.

Proponents of the voting system believe it can make campaigns more civil, forcing candidates to be more engaged in substantive debate, instead of just trying to get whatever percentage of the vote that will see them win.

The provincial government noted that ranked ballots could be used for votes for both the mayor and councillors or only the mayor, while the rest of council is elected using the current first-past-the-post system. Ranked ballots will not be used to elect school board trustees.

A statement issued by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson's office said he believes residents seek out the candidate and platform best suited to them, not a preferential list of who is most and least acceptable.

"However, he looks forward to having a debate on the issue at council and appreciates the province giving the city the ability to make this decision," the statement said.

Ontario will convene a working group of municipal representatives and ranked ballot advocates to provide advice on how to best implement a new system, and as well is inviting public input until July 27.

The government is also reviewing the Municipal Elections Act to look at changing rules around campaign financing, third-party advertising, accessibility and enforcing municipal election rules.