Ontario Liberals are thinking about letting cities ditch first-past-the-post voting

Ontario Liberals are thinking about letting cities ditch first-past-the-post voting

(Image: RaBIT logo: Courtesy of RaBIT; Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook)

In what seems like a perfect—albeit belated—Valentine’s Day gift to Toronto election-reform activists, premier Kathleen Wynne is apparently seriously considering giving cities across Ontario the power to use ranked ballots in municipal elections.

Ranked ballots replace the classic “check-box-next-to-someone’s-name” style of voting with a numbered list. A voter ranks his or her favourite candidates. If a voter’s first choice loses the election, then their second choice is counted; if their second choice loses, then their third choice is counted, and so on. Vote splitting is no longer as much of a concern, because everyone votes for multiple candidates. As an added benefit, people who want to vote for fringe candidates can do so without feeling as though they’ve wasted their ballots, because they can always rank mainstream politicians as their second or third choices.

According to the Globe, it’s not clear exactly when Wynne’s government will attempt to table a ranked-ballot bill. At the moment, first-past-the-post is the only allowable voting system, and a number of laws would have to be rewritten to accommodate the new style of balloting. Even if Queen’s Park does manage to make the change, it will be up to individual city governments to decide whether to implement ranked ballots locally. It’s likely that Toronto wouldn’t be able to make the switch before 2018.

Timing issues aside, the mere fact that Wynne would be willing to entertain such an idea is a huge victory for RaBIT, a local advocacy group that has spent the past few years trying to galvanize Toronto’s leadership behind the move. City council lent its support to the idea in June.

The broad political support is a little surprising, considering the fact that a move to ranked ballots could shake up Toronto’s elections in unpredictable ways. Had ranked ballots been available during the 2010 municipal election, for instance, Rob Ford might not have won. His two closest competitors, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone, together captured slightly more of the popular vote than he did. Under a ranked system, voters might have ranked Smitherman and Pantalone together, allowing one of them to win a majority.