Bettering the Ballot
While the Premier is threatening to hurt Toronto’s democracy with his proposed changes, a separate grass-roots movement to adopt ranked ballots is a much more promising approach to reform.
One of the fascinating things I am discovering in the process of running for City Council is the amount of petitions, surveys, and questionnaires you get as a candidate from various advocacy groups. The intent is to unpack where campaigns like ours stand on key issues and publish the results for voters to consider before they vote. I cannot tell if this is a new development for the 2018 campaign cycle, but it feels like a positive one — particularly if you believe, as we do, that we need politicians to be more specific on policy.
Last week, one such survey landed in our inbox — made all the more interesting given the chaotic events of the past few days. By contrast to the Premier’s ill-conceived vision for electoral reform, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT)’s proposal to shift from our current first-past-the-post system in favor of “ranked ballots” is far more sensible. For those not familiar with the method, CTV provides a useful overview of how the system works here, as does the City of Kingston for their upcoming referendum:
Now, even when it doesn’t involve the kind of gerrymandering Toronto is currently involved in, electoral reform as a whole can be a controversial topic — as seen by the challenges our current federal government has faced in pushing the issue forward. However, the shift towards ranked ballots in future Municipal Elections feels appropriate for a variety of reasons as they:
- improve democratic legitimacy of winners of elections, since they will need to receive support from a majority of voters even if it is not as their first choice;
- reduce the need for strategic voting — a concept every progressive Toronto voter knows exceedingly well — by allowing voters to distinguish between their second, third, and other preferences; and
- force politicians to broaden the tent of their appeal even as second or third preferences — a feature that would be particularly powerful in our current culture of political polarization.
That being said, there are clearly still hurdles to cross. For example, I am not yet swayed by the claims that it is easier for voters to understand; my experience conducting customer research for clients has shown me that it is challenging to get respondents to effectively juggle multiple options simultaneously. Moreover, the ways in which the ‘run-off’ stages of the vote work can be much more complex than the current model.
Yet, these feel like solvable problems, with the right level of commitment to the cause and an appropriate public education campaign surrounding such a shift. Perhaps consultation with the voters themselves impacted by the reforms would be a welcome change from the current situation too…