If a mayoral byelection looms in Toronto, people may warm up to a different – and some say, less divisive – way to vote for city officials, called ranked balloting.
In Scarborough recently, supporters of the concept were claiming they could swing Toronto Council to their cause, making city elections “way more interesting and fair” a few years from now.
“This is winnable. We’ve actually got a majority of councillors supporting this,” Dave Meslin said during a presentation of his civic engagement campaign, The Fourth Wall, earlier this month at the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club. “I think we’ll get it.”
On its website, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) claims 19 sitting councillors plus Mayor Rob Ford as supporters, not enough to carry the 45-member council. But Meslin and Scarborough East Councillor Paul Ainslie both say they have found enough “soft” support in the rest of the ranks.
Interestingly, Don Valley East Councillor Shelley Carroll, who’s declared she would run in a byelection against Ford, and Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow, touted by many to run against the mayor, are both in the RaBIT camp. According to the site (www.123toronto.ca), so are Karen Stintz and Adam Vaughan, other councillors spoken of as contenders for Ford’s chair.
Meslin said fear of vote-splitting often pushes challengers off the ballot, particularly first-time candidates who are women or visible minorities.
“I want to see them all run. I want to have choice,” he said. Though Queen’s Park must first approve them, a switch to ranked ballots would give voters the option of naming second and third choices. If no candidate gets 50 per cent of the votes, candidates with the least votes drop off and their second-place support is transferred to others.
These “instant runoffs” continue until one candidate is shown to have majority support, though some comes from being a second- or third-best choice. Meslin argues this encourages candidates to be nicer as they hope to pick up second-place votes.
The idea was well-received by some of Ainslie’s constituents at a town hall meeting. “I’ve always thought that the way elections are run is kind of stupid,” said Vince Puhakka, who declared he likes the ranked ballot after seeing Meslin and Ainslie explain it.
“I think it means you get less polarization.” Dennis Reinsborough, another resident, said he’d be against having a separate run-off election, but noted Ireland has instant run-offs, and “if you don’t get a majority, you go to the second round.”
A Ford supporter, Reinsborough admitted to thinking the mayor would probably benefit from vote-splitting if he ran again.
“I think he would lose, but then the majority of the voting clientele have truly chosen what they want.”
Ainslie, who has caused many Fourth Wall proposals to be studied through the city hall committee he chairs, said he likes RaBIT because “one of my colleagues in the last election won with 18 per cent of the vote,” meaning James Pasternak of York Centre, adding Pasternak “often gets heckled” when he claims at council meetings to speak for people in his ward.
Reached by The Mirror, Pasternak, who in 2010 scored the most votes of 12 contenders after the ward’s longtime incumbent Mike Feldman retired, said he’s “quite reluctant” to support ranked ballots.
“It would create enormous confusion among candidates and the voting public at a time when we’re trying to increase voter participation, not decrease it,” Pasternak said, adding once ranked balloting starts, Toronto will have “de facto political parties” muscling into municipal politics. In an interview, Willowdale Councillor John Filion, who isn’t counted among ranked ballot supporters, said he would be “leaning that way” if it came to a vote.
Filion said he would prefer to stage separate run-off elections, but that may not be practical because of the cost. It’s “pretty absurd” that some councillors have been elected with around 20 per cent support, and most people would support changing how our mayors, and possibly our councillors, are selected, said Filion, adding if someone wins a byelection for mayor with a low percentage of votes, “there’ll be a lot more of a clamour for some kind of reform.”
On the other hand, if you have many names on the ballot, “I think a lot of people have a tough enough choice deciding who their first pick is,” let alone a second or third, Filion said, suggesting voters may just pick a name they recognize as second choice.
“It would be a big name recognition factor.” In 2010, during the last days of the previous city council, Case Ootes, another retiring councillor, called for a report “on alternative methods on the election of the mayor for the City of Toronto for 2014” so that councillors could discuss options before going to the province for approval.
Ootes, now listed as a RaBIT supporter, proposed the race for mayor “should be decided by a form of voting that represents a result of 50 per cent plus one,” ensuring the new head of council “has a mandate and the support of a majority of those who voted.” Toronto’s voting machines, however, are not set up for ranked ballots and would cost the city millions to replace before 2015, Ainslie said.