Ranked Ballots Go to Queen's Park
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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.