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A healthier democracy is as easy as 1-2-3


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A fairer municipal election could be as easy as changing your voting style from making a check mark on your ballot to marking it with a 1, 2 and 3. Council made a decision back in November 2019 (the ‘Before Times’, in other words) to have the City Clerk report to us about changing our election system to ranked choice voting in time for the 2022 city election. I was the one who asked for that report because I feel strongly about this. So does our Mayor.

John Tory has supported ranked ballot elections every time he is asked, before and after being elected Mayor. It is refreshing to see a leader maintain his commitment to fairness and integrity of process, even after he finds himself in a position where, like Donald Trump, he could just as easily have closed the door.

What is ranked choice voting?

Some of you may be wondering: what is ranked choice voting? What's wrong with the way we vote now? Allow me to explain by borrowing phrasing from the experts at the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT):

Right now, voters choose one candidate on their ballot for each position available (Mayor, Councillor, and School Trustee). On election day, the votes are added up and whoever has the most votes is the winner. This system allows someone to "win" the election even if they only have 20 per cent of the vote.

Ranked choice voting ensures that no one can win with less than 50 per cent of the vote by allowing voters to choose multiple candidates, ranked in order of preference by their first, second and third choice.

On election day all of the first choice votes are added up (just as we do with our current system). If someone wins 50 per cent or more of the vote, they are declared the winner and the election is over. However, if no one receives more than 50 per cent, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from the race.

At this point, the supporters of the eliminated candidate would have their vote automatically transferred to their second choice. Again, the votes are counted and if someone has a majority, they are declared the winner. If not, another candidate is eliminated and it repeats until there is a majority winner.

This method provides more choice for voters, and therefore more diversity. It also strongly discourages negative campaigning, reduces strategic voting and gives incumbents less of an advantage.

Why I'm a fan

Since amalgamation, when I was an unelected community activist, I have been determined to encourage Torontonians to be more engaged in their local government. I’ve always been a supporter of achieving this through ranked choice ballot elections. And in 2015, when I visited San Francisco during their municipal election, I became more determined than ever.

I visited the campaign office of a San Francisco councillor running for re-election. They were having their third election using ranked choice ballots, and this councillor had been in office long enough to remember the former method as well. He and his team insisted there was nothing that would convince him to go back to the old way of voting.

They enthusiastically told me how ranked choice voting has changed elections for the better. Candidates had to know their stuff and know deeply about the issues the local ward was facing in order to make the cut as one of voters' three possible choices. On that sunny October day I had reason to be jealous of these excited San Franciscans.

A brief history This isn't new to Toronto City Council. Back even further, in early 2013, Council was convinced to make a big leap: in a vote of 26 to 15, Council directed the Mayor and City Manager to ask the province to give cities permission to use ranked choice voting in their elections. Mayor Rob Ford wasn’t keen but Council carried the day. The wheels of government turn slowly. The 2014 election, in which Mayor Tory was victorious, was held in the normal first-past-the-post way. The province needed a couple of years to review and give permission to municipalities to decide if they wanted to use ranked ballots in future elections. And they did, right after the 2014 election was over. Then it gets messy.

Late in the evening of a Council Session in 2015, a one-term councillor named Justin Di Ciano moved a surprise motion, making Council decide right then whether they wanted a ranked ballot election in 2018. Suddenly, my colleagues weren’t so sure. Despite strong support from Mayor Tory himself, the vote landed in favour of keeping the status quo.

By the time the next election rolled around, the Toronto Star reported Di Ciano was under investigation by the OPP's anti-racket's branch, "known for investigating enterprise crime and complex fraud, for potential violations of the Municipal Elections Act." He did not run for a second term, but he left his mark.

Where we are now

Now it's 2020, where we have 25 super-sized wards with more than 100,000 constituents in each one. The stakes in each ward are very high and the choice to run is harder than ever. The Mayor created a Special Committee on Governance to look at the impacts of this change, and I was lucky enough to be appointed to it.

It took some work, but when the Committee’s recommendations went to Council in November 2019, I was happy to have the support of the Mayor and Council in directing the City Clerk to examine and report back on the possibility of conducting a ranked ballot election in 2022. That report was supposed to come to us in 2020.

Then the pandemic hit. COVID-19 has redeployed City staff to many different tasks since lockdown began and there have understandably been delays in every department. Now, the City Clerk is recommending that all work on ranked balloting stop until further notice.

I disagree. I think Council needs to ask how they can help our elections clerk make this happen because this is important. After all, this isn't about politicians or clerks — it's about you, the voter.

Why you should care

Every four years, we politicians parade ourselves past your door. Each ward race has seven or eight candidates at a minimum. How do you decide? Are there a couple of good ones? Is there one your neighbour likes but you weren’t home when they visited? The decision seems daunting — it’s enough to make you turn out the lights and pretend you’re not home. Or, worse still, skip voting altogether rather than pick the wrong one.

What if you could talk to family, neighbours and parishioners and choose a first, second and third choice? If we could run multiple counts until the person who truly has the majority of the community's support wins, wouldn't that be the best and fairest choice? It really could be as easy as marking 1-2-3.

If you agree and want to see a ranked choice ballot in the 2022 city election, let me know! The decision whether to move forward with ranked ballots will be decided at City Council next week, and I need to know if there's support. You can take action by visiting RaBIT's website and signing their petition here.


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