Ranked ballot supporters renew push for electoral change at city hall

The Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto hopes to convince Toronto councillors to adopt a ranked ballot model instead of first-past-the-post.

Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto hopes city will adopt new model by 2022

The Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto is hoping to mobilize Toronto voters and change the city's electoral system. (John Rieti/CBC)

Ranked ballot supporters are renewing their push for electoral change at city hall, with the goal of having a new system in place for the 2022 election.

The Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, or RaBIT, is hosting a Town Hall on Monday night in hopes of mobilizing Toronto voters and sparking discussion about a potential switch from the current first-past-the-post system.

"The real goal now is to get ranked ballots for 2022," said Michael Urban, co-chair of RaBIT. 

Urban said the switch would give more power to voters and help ensure city council is more representative of the city it serves by potentially increasing the diversity of councillors at the table.

Michael Urban, co-chair of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, says the group is hosting a town hall on Monday night. (Submitted by Michael Urban)

Ranked ballots now allowed in Ontario

Toronto has come down on both sides of the debate. Back in 2013, city council voted to ask the province to bring in the option of ranked ballots for municipalities. But in October 2015, councillors voted again, saying no to the idea.

"Make it a ballot question," Coun. Justin Di Ciano told CBC Toronto at that time. Di Ciano, who is skeptical about ranked ballots, was the councillor behind the last minute motion to reverse the 2013 vote. He insisted public consultations on ranked ballots are more important now than ever.

However, back in June 2016, the province passed legislation giving Ontario municipalities the option of using ranked ballots in the next municipal elections in 2018.

But while that means Toronto now has the option, city council voted against investigating the creation of a citizen's reference panel, an independent body to study ranked ballots, back in December.

Urban said that was merely a setback. 

"Now that we've managed to convince the province to change the law ... we need to make it an issue to move votes," said Urban.


How the systems work

  • In the current first-past-the-post system, voters tick just one box. 
  • In contrast, with a ranked ballot system, voters would mark their first, second and third choice of candidates. If no candidate wins a majority, the person with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. The second-place choices of those who voted for that candidate are then counted — and so on — until one candidate wins a majority.

A problem that doesn't exist?

Ward 31 Coun. Janet Davis supports the change.

"I think we need to look at how we can provide greater representation and diversity in our electoral system," she said, but added that implementing the new system will take time. 

"The thing that was very clear as well from our staff side was that there was no way that they could implement those changes for the 2018 election," she said.

"To implement an effective and defendable election, they must have the time to put in place all of the provisions to do that."

Others are skeptical about the value of such a switch. 

"I used to be a supporter of ranked balloting and changed my mind," Ward 38 Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said, he said citing the United States, where he says ranked balloting unfairly impacted poorer neighbourhoods.

Peter John Loewen, director of the School of Public Policy and Governance  at the University of Toronto, says the main strike against ranked ballots is that it they can be difficult to use when there are a large number of candidates.

"The fear here is that voters who simply randomly number candidates will have some influence on the election," he said. "But this can be overcome by allowing for partial rankings, for example."

De Baeremaeker says he sees no problem with the current system.

"I think people want to fix a problem that doesn't exist."

"We have a democratic system. Everybody knows the rules. Everybody puts their name on a ballot, we all run and somebody's going to win. Very simple system, seems to work," De Baeremaeker said.

So which is better?

For Loewen, that depends on you define "better."

"If our standard is a candidate who is more likely to be preferred by a majority of voters, than ranked ballots work much better than a single vote. And that is a reasonable standard."

With files from John Rieti, Shanifa Nasser