Ranked Ballot Reform is Not Good for Our Cities

 

Electoral reform is needed in Canada. We have majorities in the Canadian Parliament and in the Ontario Legislature due to our first past the post system of elections when no party has won a majority of the vote.

We also have very large numbers of people not voting, making any government suspect to questions about legitimacy. Those are real problems. Ranked ballot reform is not the same as Proportional representation reform and would actually make these problems worse.

Unfortunately, there is a big push now to get our cities to take this system on.

What it would, were it to be implemented would be to create a system that actually reduces the number of people that vote over the long term, as well as making it easier to stay elected for incumbents. Neither of these two things are good for democracy.

First of all, our municipal elections are already complicated enough as it is. When you vote for Mayor in Toronto, you have over 80 candidates to choose from already. You then have to choose a Councillor, giving you up to 20 other choices sometimes.

On top of that you have 4 options for school board. Rank ballot reform would have us also rank these candidates from top to bottom. Very few people vote in municipal elections as it is (only about 4 in 10), but this system would make it tougher for those who vote to even know what to do. Thus, less people would vote.

Secondly, giving people more options in this way also reduces the chance that a politician will be removed from office. The name familiarity of incumbents alone becomes that much harder to overcome to any new challenger. Why? People make choices based on what they know. When they vote for change the assessment that they are making is that the risk of voting someone new is smaller than keeping the same ones in.

Ranked ballots skew this process by providing the veneer of an intelligent decision process (e.g. the ballot is making a fairer choice for the voter), but actually reduces the probability that someone will choose change. What researchers demonstrate and mathematical statistics predicts is that by providing a group of people multiple choices, the possibility of people ranking change as their top choice is reduced. Why again? Because change is less familiar by definition and less like to be chosen by large groups of people.

Ranked ballots are a bad form of electoral reform. We ought not to support it. For those out there looking for real change to our system that will encourage new parties, new ideas and new people joining the electoral democratic process proportional representation is what we need.

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What ranked ballot systems are: when you vote, normally you have a few options. Vote for Jim, Mary or John. Most of the time, nobody gets over 50% of the vote. What ranked ballots do is give people the option to “rank” their options. So you could vote for Mary first, then Jim, then for John. Maybe Mary gets most of the votes on the first vote, but not enough to get over 50% of the vote. You then go everybody’s second vote (a computer does this actually) and you find that John won so many second votes that he is now the winner outright. So while Mary would have won on the traditional ballot, John gets more second choice votes, enough to win, and he takes the prize.

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