Hawkesbury council has voted against adopting a ranked ballot system in the next municipal election, after a staff report recommended sticking with the status quo. New rules mean any municipality in the province can adopt a ranked ballot system, where voters rank several candidates instead of choosing just one. But, so far, municipalities big and small have been deciding not to make any changes: Hamilton, for example, decided to stick with its old system, with staff citing the fact that no other place in Ontario has adopted ranked ballots as well as the cost of the change, estimated at $300,000 for that city. Waterloo won’t be making the leap, and in Kingston, city staff said council should let someone else be the guinea pig: “staff is of the opinion that the financial risks associated with a ranked ballot election would be better managed when lessons can be learned from the experiences of other jurisdictions,” wrote corporate services commissioner Denis Leger, according to a story published the Kingston Whig-Standard.
The province says ranked ballots “have the potential to give voters a greater say” in who is elected. It means if your first choice isn’t elected, your second choice has a greater chance. Information provided by the province also says ranked ballots could reduce strategic voting and negative campaigning. It sounds pretty good -and could be a big improvement, if some advocates are to be believed – Nelson Wiseman, director of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto, said to the CBC that the first-past-the-post system used in Canada is considered the “least fair system” by people who study electoral systems.
But small municipalities can’t afford to take big risks when it comes to elections. If it really believes ranked ballots are a better way, the province itself should consider adopting them, which would help clear the way for everyone to adopt a better system. Otherwise, local municipalities should join Kingston in watching the 2018 election closely, and making an educated decision afterwards.