Why John Tory Should Push for Ranked Ballots
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Why John Tory Should Push for Ranked Ballots

An analysis of the 2014 election results suggests it would be in his own best interests—and in the best interests of voters.

Map by Corbin Smith

Results for the 2014 mayoral election. Colours associated with single candidates represent how a ward would be would be shaded had a candidate won 100 per cent of the vote. Map by Corbin Smith.

John Tory won the mayoral election in a race that was closer than expected. Just over 40 per cent of Toronto voters chose Tory, while just under 34 per cent opted for Doug Ford—a result that was good for second place. Some voters in this past election who preferred Olivia Chow but wanted to prevent a Doug Ford mayoralty felt compelled to cast their ballot for John Tory. That’s the kind of choice our first-past-the-post (FPP) voting system often makes unavoidable.

But that could all change in time for the 2018 election. Last year, activist Dave Meslin and his colleagues at Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT ) persuaded city council to pass a resolution asking the province to allow municipalities to switch to ranked ballot elections.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has since ordered an amendment to the Municipal Act that “provides municipalities with the option of using ranked ballots in future elections, starting in 2018 as an alternative to first-past-the-post (FPP).” As soon as the province passes the necessary legislation, Tory would be in a position to ask Toronto city council for a vote to introduce the new system for the 2018 election.

San Francisco, Minneapolis, and London, England already use ranked ballots to elect their mayors. Voters in these cities can therefore list candidates in order of preference—and also have the option of choosing just one candidate.

In a ranked ballot system, a candidate who wins 50 per cent or more of first-choice ballots is declared the winner. In that particular case, the outcome is the same as in the existing FPP system. But, if no one wins a majority of first-choice ballots, the count is redone under ranked ballots. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is dropped, and the second-choice votes on the dropped candidate’s ballots are reallocated to the surviving contestants. This process of reassigning ballots based on preference ranks continues until a candidate wins at least 50 per cent of valid ballots.

Ranked balloting would allow Torontonians to give their first-choice votes to their favourite candidates. Strategic voting would be relegated to ranking other candidates second, third, and so on. For example, voters who supported Chow but voted Tory under FPP to stop Ford could have picked Chow as their first choice for mayor and then listed Tory as their second choice on a ranked ballot. Ranked balloting might not have substantially altered the outcome of the election, but would have produced a more accurate representation of the public’s preference—and perhaps informed Tory’s mayoral mandate.

Thanks to a published survey of Torontonians’ second choices for mayor, it’s possible to create a rough simulation of how the election might have turned out with ranked ballots. According to the Ipsos-Reid poll, Olivia Chow’s first-choice supporters picked John Tory as their second choice over Doug Ford by a margin of nearly 4.5-to-1. In a final round of counting with ranked ballots, it can be estimated that Tory would have defeated Ford by 59 per cent to 41 per cent.

Photo by asianz from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by asianz from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

No one can forecast precisely how voting reform would change elections. For one thing, candidates would likely campaign differently if voters’ second choices mattered. Attack advertising against opponents could backfire by reducing the attacker’s second-choice votes. It’s possible a less confrontational approach would fit a new ranked ballot voting system much better than a take-no-prisoners campaigning style.

If a new voting system were in place for the 2018 election, a hypothetical Ford candidate would have a much harder time overcoming an 18-point Tory advantage under ranked ballots. To win under ranked ballots, a Ford campaign would have to attract both first-choice votes from disaffected former Tory voters and second-choice votes from those backing a “NDP/Liberal left” candidate.

Ranked ballots would also, naturally, have an impact on city council races. Rob Ford was one of 29 councillors elected with more than 50 per cent of total votes. Councillors with majority first-choice support would be elected in any voting system.

However, 15 councillors were elected with minority mandates below 50 per cent. Christin Carmichael Greb, for example, won Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence) by finishing first with just over 17 per cent of the vote. Eight other candidates in that race received more than five per cent each. For the next four years, critics of Carmichael Greb will be able to grouse that more than 82 per cent of her constituents voted against her.

Ranked ballots could have identified the candidate with majority support from Eglinton-Lawrence voters. It’s possible Carmichael Greb would have been that candidate—former Ward 16 councillor Karen Stintz and John Tory, who won 75 per cent of that ward, endorsed Carmichael Greb. But Carmichael Greb would carry more weight as a rookie councillor if her 17 per cent first-choice support in Eglinton-Lawrence had been backed up by a ranked-ballot majority. Without voting reform, we will never know if Carmichael Greb and other councillors with a minority of first-choice votes really command majority support in their wards.

John Tory will have the option to spur change in the electoral process—and it could well be in his political best interests to do so. Winning re-election in four years could be a tougher task. Tory will have a record to defend in 2018. Either Doug or Rob Ford may run for mayor in 2018—and Ford Nation voters are loyal. The Fords’ promises to lower taxes, build subways, and battle elites will always be popular. Doug Ford’s one-third vote share in 2014 may represent the bare minimum that a Ford candidate could expect to win four years from now.

So if Tory intends to return to City Hall for a second term (and aims to do so with more than a 6.5-percentage-point margin of victory), he would do well to consider the advantages of voting reform—and Toronto would be the better for it.