Corp Comm Connects

Newmarket and Aurora weigh in on ranked-ballot voting
July 15, 2015
By Teresa Latchford and Chris Simon

Ranked ballots are a fairer way to determine winners in future municipal elections, says Newmarket's mayor.

Tony Van Bynen wants the municipality to switch from the current first-past-the-post method of electing council members to a ranked ballot system. He says ranked ballots would, ultimately, provide more meaningful representation at the council table.

"The principle is sound, the concept is great," he said. "I look forward to being able to implement it, ideally for the next election. Democracy is into the next phase and first-past-the-post (has) served a useful purpose up to this point. (But ranked ballots are) the best way of getting the representative intentions of the constituents."

This would be the ideal time to make the switch, since the town is also considering allowing Internet voting in the 2018 municipal election. A report on that issue is expected by the end of this year, Van Bynen said.

The statements were made shortly after a presentation by Fair Vote Canada representative Dan Desson, which took place during a council meeting last week. Desson is pushing for municipalities across Ontario to shift to ranked ballots, following the provincial government's recent decision to review the Municipal Elections Act. The review will explore how ranked ballots could be implemented by municipalities across the province.

Newmarket council recently indicated it wants the option to choose between the systems.

"I'm here to urge you to accept and implement the option the Ontario government has given you," Desson said, addressing council. "The system you use should be open to discussion. What does democracy mean and how do we translate that to voters? When people vote, they're not always represented. That's one of the major flaws we have in the system right now. We can change that and make our system a bit more representative of the people. Many votes are wasted."

When residents feel their ballots are wasted, they are less likely to vote, Desson said.

But not all municipalities are convinced.

In the last municipal election Aurora had 28 candidates in an at large system and while Councillor Paul Pirri hasn’t fully formulated his opinion on the idea, he’s not sure ranking ballots would be a good fit.

The formula used with ranking ballots would mean a voter who shows up and votes for only five candidates and his doesn’t match up with the other’s top five ranking candidates, the vote essentially doesn’t count.

“You would almost have to rank all the candidates to make it fair and how can we expect constituents to rank 28 candidates,” he added. “If it really was a great idea, the province would be using it.”

Aurora Mayor Geoff Dawe suspects it would make little difference in Aurora, as in the recent election it might have impacted the eighth councillor position and changed the order of finish of councillors.

Council is expecting a staff report on the matter in the coming weeks.

The system would allow a voter to rank candidates in order of preference, instead of the current method of voting for a single person. The review will also assess whether the rules about electing municipal leaders are clear and simple and if the Act reflects how modern campaigns and elections should be run, said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin in a press release.

“Municipalities should have more choices in how to run their elections, including the option of using ranked ballots to elect their mayors and councillors," he said. "We are looking for Ontarians’ views on how well municipal elections work and how they can be improved.”

No Canadian jurisdiction currently uses ranked ballots.

The province will accept public comments on the review until July 27. Meanwhile, a working group made up of municipal clerks and representatives and ranked ballot advocates, will provide the government with advice on how to make that system work best in Ontario.