“Are you in favour of using Ranked Ballot Voting to elect the Mayor and District Councillors in the City of Kingston?” “Yes,” or, “No.”
The Municipal Elections Act was amended in 2016 to give municpalities the option of using either the current system of plurality voting or ranked ballot voting for mayors and councillors.
Why does this become a referendum question?
Campaigns have been underway in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and in Canada, (by the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto and by Unlock Democracy), to change the ways in which votes are counted.
A group decision might be determined by popular consensus, with a majority winning any vote in a “yes” or “no” situation. When democratic elections are conducted, with more than two political parties or more than two candidates, it is quite possible that none of the candidates, receives a majority of the votes. According to the people advocating a ranked ballot, the failure of any candidate to win an absolute majority, (50% plus 1), casts doubts on the legitimacy of an election. When a candidate only receives a fraction of the vote and wins, people may complain that there was no consensus, as most of the ballots were for opposing candidates.
In some places, if none of the candidates receive a majority of the votes, additional run-off elections are conducted until one of the candidates gets that majority. Conducting multiple elections can be expensive and time-consuming. Thus, a ranked ballot allows a voter to make additional choices so that a majority-winning candidate is determined in a single election.
The ranked ballot may sound like a perfect solution to doubtful elections, when only side of the referendum question is explained. When the current method of “plurality” voting is repeatedly identified only as “first-past-the-post” voting, it is obvious that there's a bias in favour of the new choice. If the “ranked ballot” was repeatedly identified as “eliminating-the-least-popular,” “elimination tournament,” or “diminishing choices” voting, its advocates might complain of its unfair denigration. “First-past-the-post” might determine the winner in a horse race; but, it is not a proper identification of the “plurality” voting system, (and, RaBIT, Wynne's Liberals, and Kingston's bureaucrats know that).
Does the ranked ballot referendum really promote democracy?
No, it's really not meant to, (in my opinion).
City Council could have already voted to adopt ranked ballot voting, (as the City of London, Ontario, did, without giving its voters any choice); instead, with a referendum, City Council offers its voters an opportunity to make its adoption appear legitimate. Unless a majority of eligible voters in this election approve, or disapprove, of ranked ballot voting, the referendum will not be binding; and, City Council can make whatever choice it wants, even if the majority of voters say “no.” In the municipal election of 2014, a referendum was conducted on whether or not to allow a casino to be located in Kingston; a majority of voters chose “no,” (11,580 voted “yes,” and 23,607 voted “no”); but, ultimately, City Council decided the question, (also voting “no”), as less than 39% of the eligible voters cast a ballot in the referendum.
If ranked ballot voting is so good, then why is it only offered for elections for mayors and councillors, and not for school trustees, in municipal elections? And, not offered in provincial elections?
I could only guess that political parties in Ontario would strongly object to having ballots cast for their candidates re-counted as votes for candidates in a different political party. Subsidies paid by the Ontario government, in 2017, (based upon the number of votes each party received), amounted to: $5,055,097 to the Liberals, $4,091,895 to the Conservatives, $3,104,757 to the NDP, and $630,637 to the Greens. In a municipal election, in Ontario, candidates are not nominated nor selected by political parties, thus, no subsidy is paid “per vote” for them. And, school trustees? Who really cares about their vote counts in provincial legislation, (RaBIT and Wynne's Liberals obviously ignored that matter)?
At what cost does the boast of a “majority” winner cost?
A municipal election in Kingston may now cost about $600,000, ($552,105 in 2014, and $148,751 for the 2017 Countryside district byelection). It had been estimated by City staff that the additional cost for ranked-balloting software, extra election workers, the counting of ballots, and determination of the vote counts would add about $250,000 to $300,000 to the cost of a municipal election. This would be incurred even if only one district of the City of Kingston had three nominated candidates. Each ballot cast in the 2017 Countryside byelection cost an average $64, with the current plurality voting system; but, a ranked ballot in this byelection would have cost much more, as would every future election and byelection.
Should Kingston voters be stuck with plurality voting?
No. In my opinion, the ranked ballot system is a flawed system trying to fix a flaw in plurality voting. If there is a real problem with electing mayors and councillors in Kingston, there are much better ways to promote voting in municipal elections and to encourage democracy.
Switching from a plurality voting system to a ranked ballot system is an expensive way to provide the illusion of an “absolute majority” vote count to a winning candidate, by eliminating other candidates from the ballot and redistributing votes to secondary choices.
Ballots improperly marked are eliminated. Ballots without additional choices are not counted, if the candidate voted for has been eliminated. Declined and spoiled ballots are not counted. No provision is made for a “None of the Above” choice on a ballot. Ranked ballots are about perpetuating an illusion of a successful election, (and disregarding any dissention).
In his book On Liberty, (1859), John Stuart Mill warned “in political speculations 'the tyranny of the majority' is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.”
Americans criticized Ralph Nader's presidential bid in 2000, as the Green Party candidate, claiming that Al Gore didn't win in Florida or New Hampshire, (where Nader got more votes that the Democrats needed to have won in those states). George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election, only by winning both Florida and New Hampshire in their Electoral College system. Neither the Republican nor Democratic parties won a majority of the popular vote for their presidential candidates in 2000, in 1996, nor in 1992. In Canada, voters don't get a ballot for their choice of a prime minister.
Much of the problem with modern democracies is the reduction in choices and eliminating voter rights. For recent examples, in the Ontario leaders debate, in 2014 and in 2018, Mike Schreiner, (the Green Party leader), was excluded by the television broadcasters; and, in 2018, CBC News completely ignored the Trillium Party candidate for Kingston and the Islands, Andre Imbeault, in their broadcasts. The news media can easily ignore minor political parties, their candidates, and dissenting protests, with impunity.
Recently, Israel adopted a Nation-State Bill, (which declared Israel to be a Nation-State for Jewish people); and, apart from demoting Arabic from an official language to one with “special status,” many critics claim the new Basic Law is anti-democratic towards Israel's Arabic minority. Recently, India issued a draft list of its citizens, (a National Register of Citizens); but, more than four million people in Assam, (with many Bengali-speaking Muslims), were not included on the list. Having provided documents to show that people and their families lived in India, since 1971, (and were not immigrants from elsewhere), many families are effectively declared “stateless” with no citizenship nor residential rights. When Bill C-37 amended the Canadian Citizenship Act, some children who had a Canadian parent might not be Canadian citizens, and, thus, be stateless. Recently, because of a failed birth registration in 1998, Lucas Veley of Sydenham did not have proper identification, as late as July of 2018. Refusal of citizenship rights, (which includes voting rights), can happen in Ontario, just as it happens elsewhere.
Instead of changing the system of counting ballots, the Ontario government and the City of Kingston should consider ways to encourage greater participation in municipal elections. Many Kingston residents, who are not Canadian citizens but are legal residents, are denied the right to vote in municipal elections. For example, if a parent, who is not a citizen has a child in the public school system, why should they be denied the right to vote for a school trustee? In 2016, San Francisco adopted Proposition N, (a charter amendment to allow non-citizen parents or guardians to vote in school board elections, which passed by a vote of 54%). Until 1988, all “British subjects” could vote in Canada, (now, those “British” must be Canadian citizens). More countries extend municipal voting rights to non-citizens than those with ranked ballot systems, (for examples, since 1975, in New Zealand, and, since 1997, in the European Union, under the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level).
While amendments to the Municipal Elections Act for Third Party Advertisers were supposed to limit the unaccounted political contributions of anonymous donors in political campaigns, it has also brought about more restrictions to how much voters can express their views during an election. Outside of contributing to a candidate's campaign, any advertising and active campaigning on the Internet regarding an election matter might be severely restricted. Want to put up an election sign or website for “better roads,” “reduce property taxes,” or “more French services”? It might only be allowed on your own property, and prohibited anywhere else, without formal registration as a Third Party Advertiser.
If you think a ranked ballot is trendy, (worth a “like” on Facebook), vote Yes for it.
If you wonder if a ranked ballot is an expensive gimmick, I encourage you to vote No.
Ranked ballots will diminish choices among candidates, (reducing vote counts to the most popular candidates). Ranked ballots are more complex, (requiring strategic voting, and eliminating any dissension). Ranked ballots are expensive, (adding considerable costs to vote counting). Ranked ballots may never provide a true count of votes cast for a candidate, (denying figures of the votes originally given to eliminated candidates). Ranked ballots may be adopted even if most voters object to it, (unless a majority of eligible voters say “no,” the referendum results will not be binding on City Council).
Why abandon plurality voting, now? What's the hurry? And why the “first-past-the-post” nonsense?
There's a real need for electoral reform and the promotion of democracy in municipal elections, but there are several other alternatives, (which have not been addressed nor promoted by the bureaucrats).
Tell them, (in this referendum): No. If you don't say it now, your vote may not matter in the future.