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The current system is failing London voters.
London voters who, frankly, deserve a better system. London voters need a system that will force politicians to choose different campaign strategies; a system where every vote counts for everybody; and, a system that better represents what the actual electorate wants.
A viable option is the ranked ballot, and to illustrate this point, I am going to discuss the ranked ballot option using examples from this year’s municipal election (and a couple from the 2010 election).
But first, what is the ranked ballot?
A ranked ballot is one where a voter does not simply mark an X for the candidate they most want to see elected; rather, they take all candidates in the jurisdiction (1, 2, 3, .. , n candidates) and rank them, based on perceived desirability, from 1 through n.
A visual example of a ranked ballot showing a mock mayor race.
Additionally, for a candidate to win election, they must garner >50% of the vote. This will likely not happen in this first round so, if at the end of the first round of tabulation no one has returned >50% of the vote, the candidate who received the lowest count is dropped from the race and their votes are redistributed to remaining candidates based on the #2 choice on their ballots. This process is repeated until a candidate receives the required >50%.
So let’s start with an umbrella revelation. Under the ranked ballot, every vote counts. Yes, even yours!
Politicians often strategize cleverly. Some of this strategy involves targeting key demographics based on age, income, political affiliations, et cetera. And, far too often these politicians resort to negativity. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive – strategy and negativity. Politicians can campaign negatively against (an)other candidate(s) as part of a strategy, which highlights campaign or personal weaknesses of contenders. Let’s take Matt Brown and Roger Caranci. Caranci’s digs at Brown’s optics re: Kingsmill’s, or campaign costs re: rapid transit, are a way to draw attention two ways: 1) to his own campaign by demonstrating his separation from an issue; and, 2) to Brown’s campaign by shedding negative light on platform planks.
This is just one race though; there are 15 overall, not including school board trustees. Additionally, we just had a very long, negative, labourious provincial election in June. If negative campaigning is evident in all races, it can deter residents, like you and I, from voting. Voter apathy is a terrible thing that tends to develop through the negative politicking process; it’s called election (or voter) fatigue.
The ranked ballot helps to eliminate this form of politicking. Think of it like this:
If we were to numerically represent the current system versus the ranked ballot, a comparison of filed voting ballots would look like this:
Say, I vote Caranci and there are 4 candidates to choose from:
Current : Caranci , Brown , Swan , Cheng 
The 1 represents the vote cast; 0′s are candidates who did not receive a vote, while…
Ranked ballot: Caranci , Brown , Swan , Cheng 
…in the ranked ballot system, the 1 is the top option for mayor (i.e. the FIRST vote). If no candidate reaches the >50% threshold after the first round of vote tabulations, then the last place candidate is dropped and their votes redistributed by the SECOND option. So if, under this scenario, Caranci were last overall, he would be dropped and the second choices on all ballots where Caranci was ranked  would be redistributed. This above, example ballot would be recorded for Swan. This would repeat itself until one candidate received the required >50% vote share.
So, no longer can a candidate target only specific demographics. Instead, every candidate must see every vote as important, and if every vote (and resident, by association) is important, then inherently, there can be no negative politicking, as it could inadvertently alienate a voter or demographic.
If this alienation does occur, then that candidate won’t just miss out on a vote, but could be ranked last (of n candidates), which would certainly damage election odds if tabulation goes to multiple rounds as the chances of receiving votes from disapproving voters would be nil.
Every vote – EVERY vote – becomes a major asset.
As a voter, you’ll be happy to know that a ranked ballot would lessen vote-splitting AND strategic voting.
Did you vote for Roger Caranci this year? If so, how do you feel now that your mayor ballot is rendered essentially useless? This is a symptom of vote-splitting. Roger Caranci saw the writing on the wall through the Forum and PrimeContact polling figures and decided to pack it in and back Paul Cheng instead. Strategically, it seems smart. Caranci and Cheng are pro-business. Cheng is in the running and Caranci isn’t, so Caranci drops out and pushes support to Cheng, ideally condensing the vote-split towards the frontrunner of the right-wing candidates.
The problem with this is it reduces trust in the system. “I voted for Caranci and my vote is useless now!” likely became a common refrain in the day or so after his announcement to withdraw. People go out to vote for the candidate they want in office, and if that candidate decides to pack it in last-minute, it renders a number of advance voters mute in the process. This isn’t the way to build trust in the election system.
But, his name’s still on the ballot, so he can be voted for! This is where Caranci’s words come into play: “I put my support behind Paul Cheng.” Urging your supporters to vote for Cheng is a form of strategic voting. If his supporters acquiesce and follow his lead, they will not be voting FOR the candidate they want (Caranci); they will be voting AGAINST the candidate that Cheng (and Caranci, by association) are trying to defeat (Matt Brown.)
This is another point into the column of ‘inherent negativity’ on the part of the current system. Not only do we have negative campaign tactics but now we are voting against candidates, instead of for them. It would be no surprise to me if you feel like this stretch of the election is greatly fatiguing.
The last key benefit to the ranked ballot is that it illustrates a better representation of what the electorate wants. I’ll give you an example. The 2010 ward 14 race was extremely close – illustrated below:
As you can see, none of the individual candidates have that >50% of the vote share, and yet, Sandy White won with 26.64% of the ward vote. That means that 73.36% of the voting base did not want her to win. Almost THREE-QUARTERS! and yet, she was the ward councillor. I can only imagine how demoralizing it must have been to voters who balloted for a different candidate. You and 73%+ of the ward did not want White, but that’s who you got.
But under the ranked ballot, something like this could happen:
Gil Warren received the lowest number of votes, so for the second round, he is dropped and his votes are redistributed based on the second option on each ballot. Say, the second option on each of Warren’s ballots is for Sandy White. White would receive all of those 441 votes and the second round could be illustrated like this:
Sandy White – 2126 votes – 33.47%;
Jared Zaifman – 1605 votes - 24.84%;
Jim Wood – 1507 votes – 23.32%; and,
Michelle Smith – 1187 votes – 18.37%.
Still no one at >50%, so we’re in for a third round. Michelle Smith is at the bottom, so she’s dropped and her votes redistro’d. If all of her ballots have Sandy White listed as the next viable option, all of Smith’s ballots would transfer to White. And only then would White be victorious, with a representative 51.84% of the vote.
Now, please note that this is not a perfect representation of what the people want, but ranking candidates and tabulating results in this manner paints a far more accurate picture than the current incarnation does.
The ranked ballot is not all daisies and blue skies. No, it’s definitely not. It involves a lot more from you. Yes, you with the hair; the reader. YOU!
You need to do your research and be informed. Imagine the mayor race this year. There are 15 candidates, 5 of which you are likely familiar with and 10 who are essentially fringe, who you might not know much about unless you dig. This number includes Caranci because he’s still on the ballot.
Do you know all of the candidates? No!? Well, for this system to work perfectly, you have to. In an ideal election, you have to know how to rank all 15 candidates from 1 through 15. But, in today’s world, we just don’t have the time to do that. We’re too busy with jobs, money worries, families, personal issues, and all-attention-consuming technologies – too distracted to really get to know the ins and outs of our candidates.
Democracy works best when the entire electorate can vote from an informed stance, and this just isn’t congruent with reality.
This is the major drawback. Not only do you have to rank your ward candidates, but you have the school trustees, and mayor to deal with as well.
This system could be great – COULD be – and in a perfect world, it is, but we, as the electorate, have to be more engaged and have to demand that we become more informed about our choices.
Because, under the ranked ballot, EVERY. VOTE. COUNTS.
Every single one.
All your candidates and all your governments ask of you is, regardless of the system we use to elect our officials, that you make your choices informed ones…
…and cast a ballot.
For more information on the ranked ballot system, please visit 123london.ca.
image cred: Accuracy.org; AM980; and, City of London
Thomas Thayer (talkw3rds) is a local blogger, poet, and graduate student in Urban Studies. His academic background spans urban planning, design, development, economics, and GIS. His blog, talkw3rds, is located here.