A new campaign for ranked ballots in Toronto brings the debate to your doorstep and neighbourhood town hall, beginning March 6 at Metro Hall.
At the end of 2016—11 days before Christmas—Toronto City Council voted against a motion to have city staff look into creating an independent citizens’ reference panel to examine whether Toronto should switch to ranked ballots for future elections. With a vote of 22 to 17, Council took another swing at killing ranked ballots in Toronto.
At the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT), we were—and still are—profoundly disappointed with that baffling decision. This was not some radical motion that would have upended Toronto’s political universe. It wasn’t a vote on whether Toronto should adopt ranked ballots. It wasn’t even a vote on whether City staff should report back on the pros and cons of ranked ballots. No, this was simply a vote on whether staff should report back on whether City Council should consider using an innovative public policy tool (which Council is already using successfully for other purposes) to find out what a representative group of Torontonians think about ranked ballots. And council still voted it down.
Some commentators have suggested that this is the end of ranked ballots in Toronto. They couldn’t be more wrong. Here’s why:
The vote was close. Many councillors support ranked ballots. (Here’s the councillors who didn’t). Councillor Paul Ainslie has been a leader on this issue for years and moved the motion to look into a citizens’ reference panel himself. Mayor John Tory, who supports ranked ballots, also supported the motion—as did 15 other councillors. We’d like to thank these councillors for supporting improved democracy and a stronger voice for Torontonians in our municipal government. It’s rare that politicians have the courage to vote for measures that would actually make them more accountable to their constituents and this courage should be celebrated.
Ranked ballots are the future. RaBIT, a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization, has been advocating in favour of ranked ballots since 2012 and some of us have been at it for even longer. We support ranked ballots because they are a small, simple change that will make Toronto’s politics more fair, diverse, inclusive, and friendly. This is not an ideological position; it’s a conclusion we’ve reached based on solid facts and compelling evidence gathered from around the world. For instance, did you know that ranked ballots:
Help make campaigns more civil, issue-focused, and less negative.
Create increased diversity by producing election results that are more representative of the electorate. In Toronto, that would mean the election of more women, people of colour, newcomers, poor people, and LGBTQ people— groups that are currently woefully underrepresented on City Council.
Most opposition to ranked ballots is based on misunderstandings. If December’s council debate demonstrated anything, it was that a lot of ranked ballots’ opponents are working off of incorrect information. To set the record straight:
Using a ranked ballot is not complicated. In fact, jurisdictions like Ireland, which use them, have fewer spoiled ballots than many Canadian elections do.
Voters don’t like the current system. In Minneapolis, once voters tried ranked ballots, 65% said that they should be used in the future while only 27 per cent disagreed.
People want change. Council’s latest decision ignores a clear preference on the part of Torontonians to switch to ranked ballots. The most recent polls show that 59 per cent of Torontonians are in favour of moving to ranked ballots while only 29 per cent are opposed. For comparison, that means that ranked ballots enjoy higher levels of support than most councillors managed in the last election. This same polling also shows that the popularity of ranked ballots has been climbing in recent years as the system becomes increasingly well known and better understood.
We’re just getting started. Given this past December’s disappointment, RaBIT is shifting our focus from convincing politicians at City Hall to mobilizing the people that councillors can’t ignore: voters. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll be knocking on doors, educating Torontonians about ranked ballots, asking them to sign our petition, holding public meetings, and asking residents to raise this issue with their councillors. We already know that Torontonians prefer ranked ballots to the current system; now we just need them to let their councillors know this directly.
Some might question the importance of this issue or our focus on it, especially when there are many other problems in our city. But the truth is, this is a foundational issue that affects every other part of our politics. While not solely responsible, the unrepresentative character of our City Council, and the unfairness of the voting system that has produced it, bear significant responsibility for the political stagnation that is making it harder and harder to find affordable housing, childcare spaces, or a reasonable commute in this city.
This is very important. Our City Council doesn’t look like the city it serves— something we can’t ignore as Toronto grapples with issues of racism, reconciliation, equality, visibility, and accessibility.
We know that ranked ballots can play an major part in helping to solve some of these problems and we are unwilling to allow misinformation, apathy, and inertia stand in the way of real progress for people who really need it. So no, despite what you might have heard, ranked ballots aren’t dead; in fact, the next fight is just getting started.
Michael Urban is a co-chair of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT)
RaBIT is holding a Town Hall meeting at 7pm on Monday, March 6 at Metro Hall to discuss next steps in the campaign for ranked ballots.