Voters in London, Ont. will become the first in Canada to use ranked ballots in a municipal election when they head to the polls next week, with experts saying the city's experience will be closely watched by communities across the country.
This is the first year the provincial government has given communities the option of using a ranked voting system in local elections, and the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario said London is the only city implementing it during municipal elections on Oct. 22.
“We hope to have them present some of their insights [after the election],” said Craig Wellington, the association's director of programs and services.
He noted other cities in Ontario and provinces across the country will look at London's experience in deciding whether to introduce the system for the next election cycle.
“They would be reaching out and asking if there are any best practices or anything they can learn from it,” Wellington said.
Two other Ontario cities—Cambridge and Kingston—have referendum questions on their ballots about whether to implement a ranked voting system for the 2022 municipal election.
The system, which was considered an option when the Trudeau government was planning to implement federal electoral reform, lets voters rank candidates instead of voting for a single person.
Voters rank their first, second, and third choices, and if no candidate receives an absolute majority on the first ballot, the last-place candidate is eliminated and his or her supporters' second-choice votes are counted.
That continues until one candidate receives more than 50 percent.
In the current, widely-used first-past-the-post voting system, the candidate who receives the most votes wins—regardless of whether they're supported by more than 50 percent of voters.
Cathy Saunders, London's city clerk, said the municipality decided to implement the ranked voting system after consultations with the public last year.
“London is the first municipality in Canada to hold a ranked ballot election,” she said, noting a bylaw approving a ranked ballot system was passed in May.
Experts say Ontario is the only province that allows ranked voting for municipal elections, although Nova Scotia Premier Brian Gallant floated the idea of implementing such a system for provincial elections in 2015 and it's used to pick the leaders of political parties.
Proponents of the system say it gives elected representatives more legitimacy.
“Oftentimes you see city councillors, mayors, for example, receive a large share of the popular vote . . . but it's not always more than 50 percent,” said Gabriel Eidelman, director of the Urban Policy Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
“Those candidates can't legitimately say that they speak on behalf a majority of those residents.”
But he noted implementing electoral reform can be tricky.
“It's a difficult road," Eidelman conceded. ”The incentive for those within the system is low.
“If you've won office under the current system, why would you want to move to another system?”
Whether the ranked system will have a noticeable effect on the election results remains to be seen, said Aaron Moore, an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg's department of political science.
“To vote in a ranked ballot system, you have to have enough information to pick three candidates and a lot of people have a hard time just picking one—particularly at the council level,” he noted.
Moore said the system works well when people have a lot of information about candidates, such as in big cities where elections get a lot of media coverage.
“I suspect a lot of the other municipalities in Ontario are going to be looking at what happens in London, and use that as a measure of whether it's something worthwhile to implement in their own city,” he remarked.