Heat is on to change municipal voting.

It seems the Ontario government is turning loose lots of bewildered voters in the 2018 municipal elections. In legislation brought forward earlier this year, the government is allowing municipal election officials across the province to use ranked ballots to select local councillors and mayoralty candidates. While supposedly to ensure some legitimacy to those elected, it also opens the possibility of considerable confusion and corruption of the election process.

When Toronto council originally asked for the use of ranked voting, it was assumed that it would bring some balance to the de facto party politics in that city. It is the lack of effective party politics today that ties the city council in knots. This change would be more difficult to disrupt or manipulate in the larger city and would enable council to get more done.

In smaller cities in Ontario, it will make it much easier to cheat the system. The best protection for them is to remain with the simple and easy to understand first-past-the-post system.

In a ranked voting system, it is supposedly as simple as one-two-three. That is how many people will mark their ballots. They will assume that they are being a good citizen by marking council candidates as their first, second and third choice. The only problem is they might not know their second and third choices and one of them can win because of the voter giving the candidate a second or third choice vote.

Many people think this is, in effect, an instant run-off but it is not. A run-off election gives you time to rethink your vote and you are able to consider who of the remaining candidates would do a good job.

What is essential for voters to understand in ranked voting is that there is no requirement for them to mark a second or third choice if they do not know anything about those candidates.

The smart campaign manager in this type of voting situation considers the field of candidates and creates a scenario. According to where the candidate comes in this scenario, you can run a campaign flat out for first spot and encourage voters to only vote for one candidate. You might, alternatively, run a soft campaign encouraging everyone but your sure supporters to give your guy or gal their second vote and slipping in that way. There are many possibilities.

But smaller cities and towns are better off with the old tried and true first-past-the-post system. It is simple, you get the results quicker, it is difficult to cheat and you win by simply working harder and convincing more voters to vote for you.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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