11:48:44 pm on
Sunday 17 Jan 2021

Rank Ranked Ballots
David Simmonds

Let’s get right to the big news. Doug Ford and his Ontario Conservative crew are planning to repeal paragraph 3 of subsection 7(3). I know, it’s a shocker. 

Ranked balloting comes to Ontario maybe.

This is the paragraph and subsection of the Municipal Elections Act that allows a municipality to hold an election using the ranked ballot system of voting. It was enacted in 2016; London, Ontario, used in the 2018 election. Toronto was considering it for next time.

The ranked ballot system is a way to get most voters behind a candidate. Where there are only two candidates in a race, ranking won’t apply because one of them will necessarily enjoy a majority on the first ballot. Where there are three or more candidates, it is possible that no one will reach a majority on the first ballot.

Suppose there are three candidates, A, B and C. C receives the fewest votes the first time around. Voters that plump for C have their alternative preference for A or B examined and the votes are reassigned accordingly.

One of A or B will then have a majority, but it could the one who comes in second in the first round. Both A and B therefore have a strong incentive to make nice with C voters because it’s about who finishes first on the last ballot, not, according to the traditional first-past-the-post rule, who gets the most votes on the first ballot. 

A couple of years ago, democracy advocate Dave Meslin, spoke in Picton, Ontario. He is the author of Teardown: rebuilding democracy from the ground up. His talk was to a meeting sponsored by the Prince Edward County library.

Ranked balloting may be good for democracy.

Meslin noted that in a traditional first past the post scheme, candidates A and C would pressure one another to drop out so as not to split the anti-B vote on the first and only ballot. In the ranked ballot system, A and C are both encouraged to run, because votes assigned to C won’t necessarily diminish the chances of C for ultimate success. He says ranked balloting is thus good for democracy.

Where there are more than two candidates for a position, ranked ballots make even more sense. It works against candidates that would otherwise win because they have secured a notoriety and a consensus hasn’t yet formed around another candidate. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would have welcomed the ranked ballot during their quest for the 2016 Republican nomination; so, too, would the rest of us.

Ranked ballots are thought to be especially right for municipal politics, in Canada, where candidates tend to run as individuals, without significant party affiliation. Once you introduce political parties into the mix, you start to involve complicating questions of proportional representation.

Speaking of what is good for democracy, unilateral decision, by the Ford government, to remove the ranked ballot doesn’t smell fragrant. There was no public input before the Bill was introduced. The existing legislation leaves the choice of ballot method to individual municipalities, so it can’t be said ranked balloting was being forced down anyone’s throat. 

The Bill is also one of those throw-everything-into-the-pot bills for which governments are often criticized. Its formal title is the prosaic An Act to enact the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020 respecting certain proceedings relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19), to amend the Municipal Elections Act 1996 and to revoke a regulation. In introducing the Bill (Bill 218) for first reading in the legislature, Attorney General Doug Downey didn’t make any reference at all to the ranked voting part, which appears to be grafted on to a Bill the main intent of which is to extend legal protection to COVID volunteers. What’s next, a bill regulating Ontario hairdressers topped with a provision that changes the prescribed shape of ballot boxes?

Premier Doug Ford is quoted as saying, “We don’t need any more complications on ranked ballots and we’re just gonna do the same way as we’ve been doing since 1867; first past the post.” Thanks for deciding that for us, Doug. Never mind the thoughtful debate. 

This is not the first time the Ford government has laid down the law to municipalities rather than consulting them. Two years ago, it cut the number of seats on Toronto City council by almost half. The action was set aside by a lower court, but upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal; it is now on the docket of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ford tries to lay down the law again.

It would be a shame for the Ontario government to throw away some of the goodwill it has gained across the province for its handling of the COVID crisis and, in Prince Edward County, for its announcement of funds for the design of the new Memorial Hospital to the tune of $8.7 million. I guess they must know what they are doing, I don’t.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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