These Councillors Effectively Killed Ranked Ballots in Toronto
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Toronto City Council voted on Wednesday against forming an independent panel to study ranked ballots for 2022, effectively killing the electoral reform effort almost a decade in the making.

The push against ranked ballots was led by rookie councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), who passionately argued in favour of the status quo. The first-past-the-post system is easy to understand, he said, and ranked ballots would not solve any particular problem.

Ranked ballot proponents argue the voting system encourages less divisive campaigns, can act as a safeguard against unpopular incumbents, and offer more political legitimacy, as all candidates need over 50 per cent of the vote after the runoff.

City Council endorsed ranked ballots in June 2013. In October 2015, Di Ciano introduced an on-the-fly motion on the floor of Council to reverse that decision, in part arguing that there was a lack of consultation on the issue. A majority of councillors supported the move, including seven councillors who changed their mind from the previous vote.

Here’s how Council voted on ranked ballots on Wednesday. Councillors in green supported studying the voting system, while those in red opposed the motion, which failed 22–17.

There were two prevailing arguments against ranked ballots at Council: they’re hard to understand, and the existing system works fine.

Incumbents enjoy a tremendous electoral advantage. Last election, only one incumbent lost his or her seat. Since 2003, 91 per cent of incumbents have retained their seat.

In crowded fields with low name recognition, councillors can also win seats with very low vote percentages.

Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), who won office in 2014 with 17 per cent of the vote, opposed ranked ballots. So did incumbents Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12, York South-Weston) and Ron Moeser (Ward 44, Scarborough East), who each won with less than 30 per cent support. Longtime councillors Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt), and Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), who have each held municipal office since the mid-80s, also opposed studying changes to the existing voting system.

Whether the councillors’s decisions were borne out of self-interest or a general aversion to new ideas, the vote didn’t sit well with some City Hall observers.

Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan observed that just about every councillor who opposed studying ranked ballots happens to be either useless or actively harmful.

Like, choose a name in red and campaign against them next election. Seriously. All are useless or actively bad city councillors.

— Edward Keenan (@thekeenanwire) December 14, 2016

(Keenan added that if he was being charitable, Michael Thompson [Ward 37, Scarborough Centre] might not be categorized as useless, and that there are also some lousy councillors who voted for ranked ballots, although not exclusively.)

And that’s how the status quo gets preserved. Entrenched interests go all “this is fine” and everything carries on. It’s enough to make you cynical—in fact, if you care, it should.

There are a lot of dead weight councillors out there, and they often apply the same principles and thinking that they did on ranked ballots to other issues—including transit, taxes, housing, planning, and even local billboard application.

The next municipal election, which will be under the first-past-the-post system, is scheduled for October 22, 2018.

From June 2013 to December 2016, Council had three votes on ranked ballots. The first one passed, while ranked ballots were opposed in the next two votes. Here’s how the current members of council voted on each motion.