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Municipal Councils opposed to Ranked Ballot on “too complicated” argument insult voters intelligence

The province of Ontario recently gave municipal and city councils the ability to reform their voting system. Thanks to Bill 181, municipalities now have the option of using ranked ballot for their local elections.  It shouldn’t come as a total surprise that there has been resistance to change. A lot of status quo politicians out there don’t want to change a voting system (First Past The Post)  that has benefitted them greatly.

The main arguments I’ve seen so far  they’re giving for not wanting to change that system though is a rather silly one: its too hard for our voters!

Brampton council voted 11-0 against the idea…Brampton councillors who responded to the Star said they voted against ranked balloting because voters might find the system too confusing.

That appears to be the rallying cry for anti-reformers everywhere.. as we have another example of that right here in Brant County:

Brant County councillors appear not eager to embrace voting changes introduced by Queen’s Park…Brant’s municipal elections review committee, made up of Mayor Ron Eddy and councillors Joan Gatward, John Peirce and Shirley Simons, is backing a a staff recommendation to keep the current voting system for at least the 2018 municipal election instead of moving to ranked ballot voting.,,Gatward, who chairs the elections review committee, thinks Brant voters would not be receptive to a new system that they would find complicated.

So apparently ranked ballot is too complicated.. yet in both of these articles, the Toronto Star and the Brant News explain in a couple of sentences how this electoral system works:

(Ranked Ballot) works by allowing voters to rank at least three top candidates (cities can opt to allow more candidates to be ranked on each ballot). The candidate who receives the least first place votes is eliminated in each round and their votes are redistributed until one candidate has a majority.

That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? How did the Brant News explain Ranked Ballot to its readers?

Under ranked balloting, voters pick candidates in order of preference (potentially first, second and third). The candidate with the most votes — 50 per cent plus one — wins, just as in the current system. However, if nobody meets that threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out. The second-place choices of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining challengers until someone has a majority.

Apparently, some municipal politicians don’t expect their voters to know how to put “1” “2” “3” beside a name on their ballot. Its an insult to the voters intelligence and quite frankly, an excuse for them to try and maintain the status quo.


3 comments to Municipal Councils opposed to Ranked Ballot on “too complicated” argument insult voters intelligence

  • Pat McGrail

    My recent deputation to Brampton City Council:

    Thank-you Mayor Jeffrey and city councillors for allowing me to speak on electoral reform. I am Patricia McGrail, a volunteer with Peel Action Team of Fair Vote Canada. Fair Vote Canada is a grassroots citizens group that promotes proportional representation at all levels of government.

    Before I start, I would note that single winner elections, such as for mayor, are very different than city council elections. My comments relate primarily to city councillors.

    Electoral reform is of vital importance to residents even though it may not often be articulated as such. Indeed, far too many residents have already opted out of their democratic right under FPTP by not voting at all. This leaves city council with less and less legitimacy to carry on the city’s business, as it is neither representative of the city’s residents, nor accountable to the majority. If city council wishes to re-engage residents, it must improve its accountability to citizens.

    A basic requirement is that votes cast by citizens must effectively represent their intentions. On this, FPTP fails miserably. Almost 2/3 of votes cast in the last municipal election elected no-one. Is it any wonder that almost 2/3 of residents stayed home instead of casting a ballot? [See Slide 1]

    The sole purpose of any voting system is to express the will of voters. It is through that lens that voting systems must be examined. It is tempting to consider how a different voting system might impact one’s re-election. But, in all due respect, electoral reform is about us, not you.

    City councillors make decisions that greatly impact us daily. Most of our tax dollars are spent by city councils. Our voting system should elect reps who meet our needs and remove those do not.

    Under FPTP, ward boundaries act like silos in which many votes elect no-one. [See Slide 2]
    Too many ineffective votes restrict the accountability of city councils for decisions that have city-wide impact. Only the mayor is accountable to all citizens. A councillor may need only 20% of the votes in his/her own ward for re-election. [See Slide 3]

    As this graphic shows, individually, each city councillor received votes from less than 4% of registered city-wide voters. Councillors may act with impunity on city-wide projects and services, knowing that they only need a handful of votes in their own ward to be re-elected.

    Ontario has given you the opportunity to use ranked ballots in 2018. What has not been as widely discussed is you already have to power to create multi-member wards. Under FPTP, multi-member wards or at-large voting result in entire councils being elected by a single voting bloc, while ignoring minorities.

    But the combination of ranked ballots and multi-member wards is a very powerful tool for change in how city councils are elected, and ultimately, how councils operate. If you want effective change, you must adopt a proportional voting system, such as Single Transferable Vote or STV, which uses ranked ballots with multi-member wards.

    As you have been told by your staff, online voting does not increase voter participation. As for confusing voters, a TV remote is more complicated than a ranked ballot. Winnipeg and Calgary used STV for almost 50 years. Northern Ireland and Scotland use STV. So do 10 municipalities in New Zealand and Cambridge, MASS. What really confuses Brampton voters most is how to make their votes count under FPTP.

    STV is one system currently being considered by the federal government to elect our Parliament but also works very well for municipalities because it does not require parties. In smaller communities which use at-large voting, adding a ranked ballot is really a must.

    Larger cities, such as Brampton, are more complicated. Larger wards meet resistance from both incumbents and potential challengers who believe they will need more campaign resources. Larger wards may also stretch both the councillors who will represent them and residents seeking to address more local issues. But these problems can be overcome.

    Multi-member wards try to balance local representation with a city-wide perspective. The more councillors per ward, the greater the proportionality. Existing wards may be enlarged so that the number of councillors remains the same.

    Incumbents will resist the change to a proportional voting system due to increased competition. But the reward is less divisive politics and a more effective city council. Under winner-take-all voting systems, such as FPTP, elections are fought at the margins. It is in your interest to keep your opponent’s supporters home. With proportional systems, many more votes are in play. Your goal would be to capture a large enough constituency to meet the vote quota. You must focus on a wider group of voters.

    With proportional STV, groups of like-minded individuals are no longer disadvantaged if they are spread out across the city and do not all live in the same ward. Many more voters will elect a councillor of their own choice.

    STV will ensure greater diversity, allowing more newcomers to be elected. City councillors will be more likely to collaborate to achieve good results – both in their own ward and city-wide. Government policies should more closely meet citizens’ needs. Citizens will be encouraged to participate more fully in municipal affairs. Effective votes will reward councillors who represent communities well and remove those who do not.

    Ideally, Brampton would have 2 five-member wards or 1 ten-member ward. But much improvement could also be realized with two-councillor wards – which are what Brampton already has – except that local and regional councillors are elected on separate ballots. STV could easily be implemented by having both councillors elected on a single ranked ballot. Perhaps the one with the most votes could be regional councillor? Or regionals could be selected by council?
    Ultimately, I believe that Brampton must adopt proportional STV in order to realize its full potential for the mutual benefit of all residents. So I ask you consider adopting ranked ballots with multi-member wards for the 2018 election.

    But, as a minimum, please remember that the voting system is about us, not you. Please commit to a process to empower citizens to demand or refuse certain changes involving ranked ballots and/or changes to the ward structure. In particular, an independent citizens’ consultation (not necessarily a referendum) must be held if requested by a petition signed by no more than 5% of registered electors, to request that specific changes be made to the municipal electoral system; or to oppose changes proposed by council. The result of any referendums should be binding if passed by a 50% majority, regardless of the turnout.

  • Ron Waller

    BTW, just watch Trudeau Jr. weasel out of his promise to make 2015 the last election under caveman voting.

    Mr. TPP is deep in the pockets of the establishment. Under caveman voting, the establishment owns the country. They get to pick which party gets absolute power on 40% of the vote via their control of the news media. They give favorable coverage to the party that best represents their interests. They publish partisan campaign rhetoric verbatim in op-eds and manipulate public opinion with absurd memes like ‘the Liberal party is now the true party of the left.’

    Just watch.

    (Hopefully Trudeau will at least throw the people the breadcrumb of cannabis legalization. I know Paul Martin backed out of decriminalization back in 2004 because of pressure from the US federal government which is just as opposed to marijuana today as it was back then. It’s yet another example of where politicians have the PUBLIC position they favor something and the PRIVATE position: over my dead body!)

  • Ron Waller

    Of all 181 nations claiming to be democracies, 74% have enacted some kind of electoral reform (with ranked ballot voting being the simplest.) These establishment elites clearly have a low opinion of Canadians. They believe we are so incredibly incompetent we can’t manage to vote like people in over 100 undeveloped countries with much lower standards of public education.

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