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Ranked Ballots Go to Queen’s Park

If private member's bill succeeds, the days of strategic voting could be numbered.

Photo by asianz, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

If all goes well for Bill 166 at Queen’s Park on Thursday, Torontonians could be a step closer to eliminating the need for strategic voting when it comes to voting for mayor and city councillors. The private member’s bill from Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough–Guildwood) proposes an amendment to the City of Toronto Act that would allow the municipality to adopt a ranked ballot voting system to elect members of council. If passed, the bill—which is at the second reading stage—would go to committee for further review.

If it is eventually enacted into law, the legislation would go into effect January 1, 2015, which means ranked ballots would not be available until the 2018 election. City council would still have to opt in to the legislation and hold public consultations; in June 2013, it asked the province for the power to allow ranked ballots, a vote that passed 25-16.

Otherwise known as instant runoff voting, ranked ballots offer voters a way to rank their preferred candidates for election: if a voter’s first choice for office does not meet a certain vote threshold, he or she will be dropped off the ballot, and the next choice from those ballots will be transferred to the remaining candidates in the race. This process then continues until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the votes.

The ranked ballot system means that voters can, without fear of “wasting” their ballots, choose candidates who might not be frontrunners. Supporters also argue that the system expands voter choices, more accurately reflects public sentiment, and encourages candidates to attack each other less—because they hope to become the second choice of rival candidates’ supporters. Some critics, though, have argued that the proposed voting system, which would replace first past the post, is too complicated for the average voter.

At the political level, ranked ballots are also supported by NDP MPP Jonah Schein (Davenport), who has his own bill on the matter, and Premier Kathleen Wynne. But caucus support is not universal, and a free vote on the bill could see MPPs from across party lines on either side of the issue. To highlight the cause as something all parties should support, Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) has promoted its diverse political endorsements, including conservative voices like Andrew Coyne, Sue-Ann Levy, and Jerry Agar. Other endorsements have come from the Toronto Star editorial board, MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina), Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), and musician Sarah Harmer.

Ranked balloting is already used by a number of cities, including San Francisco; Memphis; Oakland; Minneapolis; and London, England.

Queen’s Park will vote on the item at 4:00, following a debate that will begin around 3:30. You can follow the proceedings by watching the live stream.


  • Canadianskeezix

    While I welcome ranked ballots, I am sad to see such a timid approach to implementing them. This proposal has been on the electoral reform agenda for far too long. Toronto Council endorsed the proposal last year, so why are ranked ballots not in place for October 2014? Honestly, my former councillor won his ward last time with 27% (!!!) of the vote, and yet we will have reform no sooner than 2018? And, frankly, municipalities should not have the ability to choose whether they want to opt in. Municipal politicians in this province have a terrible record of picking election rules to favour sitting incumbents instead of the electorate. Every municipality above a certain population threshold should be using ranked ballots in October 2014.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Every municipality, period, and provincial elections, should be using it.

      • Canadianskeezix

        I agree with you on the provincial elections part, but a lot of fans of proportional representation are not fond of ranked ballots in a party system, and some would tar and feather you for making the suggestion.

        I have some qualms about “every municipality” part, simply due to the fact that municipalities in Ontario range considerably in size, governance and administrative sophistication. What ought to have been adopted some time ago in places like Toronto, Ottawa, Oakville, Windsor, etc. might not work that well in the Township of Burpee and Mills. I’d do all the big municipalities for October 2014, and then review the others to see where it can be implemented for 2018.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          Walk me through this – wouldn’t all the benefits of ranked ballot in a non-party system apply in a party system? People might actually vote for the Greens, for example, and it would open the door to smaller and as-yet-non-existent parties to emerge.

          • Canadianskeezix

            In my opinion, yes. But PR purists often think ranked ballots are worse than the current first-past-the-post system (i.e. they see ranked ballots as half a reform that will delay meaningful reform). Last year there was a bit of a PR jihad against some of the people in RaBIT. Nasty stuff. I’ll try and find some links.

          • Canadianskeezix
          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            This is an interesting read, but “AV” isn’t the solution to winner-takes-all representative democracy (and isn’t proposed as such). Short of everyone voting directly on every issue (as we should, though it will never even happen), that’s always going to be a problem – whether or not parties are involved. As long as there are representatives there will be people represented by someone they didn’t vote for.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Yes. Agreed. But it gives you a flavour for some of the debate. For fun, post comments in favour of ranked ballots in an online discussion about PR. What the fireworks.

        • Sarah_Arr

          Please be aware that bill language is general and allows for both single and multiseat ranked ballots. Multiseat ranked balloting is a form or PR often called Single Transferable Vote. There is similar language to Mitzie Hunter’s bill in both Bay Area and Minneapolis legislation and in Minneapolis they use both single and multiseat ranked ballots in local elections.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Don’t care. The legislation overly complicates it. Allow ranked ballots in the province’s largest cities in accordance with the ward systems they already have. Leave discussions about STV and other electoral reform for another day. it’s crap like this why we never get electoral reform, because some times supporters can’t help but muddy the waters.

          • Sarah_Arr

            I agree with you that we leave discussions about what to implement in Toronto to another day. But I do think it’s important to note that broad ranked ballot language is inclusive and leaves enough room for Toronto or other municipalities (should the wording be adopted province-wide) the room to decide for themselves between single seat IRV or STV. Some of the PR purists could in fact turn some of the folks we need to vote for the bill against it on the province level due to the misunderstanding that the language is overly prescriptive which would be a shame.

            Relatedly, I personally would not advocate for STV – multimember districts in Toronto – my assessment is that we wont’ get any electoral reform passed if we tried to get the city to chance to multi-member districts in addition to adding ranked ballots. Plus, I don’t even think larger, multimember wards are a good idea in Toronto. I like I relatively small wards – compared to our huge federal and provincial ridings here in Toronto. But others may differ and they have should have the right to campaign for that if they want.

      • Sarah_Arr

        I endorse ranked ballots for municipalities that want them, but not for the provincial level. In a party system like we have provincially, a mixed member proportional rep system would be much more fair, and frankly, works better with the system we already have. Similarly, single member ranked ballots would be the electoral reform that would work best with the non-partisan system we currently have in Toronto.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Who are these people who think it’s “too complicated for voters”?

    • dsmithhfx


      Edit: except Og, of course.

      • OgtheDim

        thanks :-)

        During the PR vote, ALL the main stream media came out against it, as did the NDP.

        Those who make money off the horse race approach all shot it down.

        It was dispiriting seeing all those people line up like they did during the Constitutional referendum and tell us all what’s best for us. Needed a Trudeau type to passionately fight for it.

        Still does, truth be known.

  • Sarah_Arr

    It passed! Very happy to see the possibility of more fair and friendly elections in Toronto. We have some work ahead of us to move this quickly through the committee process to 3rd reading-final vote, but it can be done.