Ranked ballots a winning idea

Soon the City of London will begin the public consultation about ranked ballots in the 2018 election. The Province of Ontario passed a law last year allowing them, but it’s up to every municipality to decide whether they want to use one.

A ranked ballot is pretty simple: instead of choosing just one person to vote for, you get to say who your first, second, and third choices are. But if you don’t want to do that, you can still just choose one person. It’s pretty foolproof.

The main benefit is that citizens get more say in who’s elected, but I think another major benefit is one you probably won’t see the folks at city hall talk much about: a ranked ballot changes the landscape for candidates.

If you listen to the rumblings around town, you’ll know a number of people on the fence about running will base their decision in part on whether we use a ranked ballot. The field of excellent people willing to run will open up with a ranked ballot because it makes it easier to get community support and to go up against an incumbent. Unfortunately, that’s also something that makes a ranked ballot less attractive to sitting councillors.

So, several other municipalities’ councils have voted against ranked ballots in 2018, which has led London staff to a perennial argument: nobody else is doing it yet. So often, our strategy is to wait for everyone else to go first.

We still don’t have green bins because we’re just going to keep hanging in there and see what comes along. We were the last city of our size to even pursue rapid transit (and we’re still waiting to see whether we actually implement it). And let’s not forget that we were almost the last city in North America to get rid of a Board of Control. By about 30 years.

That’d be okay, except that we don’t usually learn from the others. When we introduced food trucks, we didn’t look at where cities like Waterloo or Toronto found themselves a couple years in so we could gain something from having waited. We started at the average of their starting points. We were grasping for mediocrity, and honestly, we even missed that. The only thing we did to set ourselves apart on that issue was have a long debate about imposing restrictions nobody else even thought of. Shades of Uber, anyone?

We, as a city, have lagged for a long time. And I understand being safe. I’m conservative by nature. But there’s so little risk in switching to a ranked ballot. It’s not going to solve all our problems. It won’t double voter turnout. It won’t destroy the fabled mayoral curse. But neither will anything else. What we’re supposed to do is make the improvements we can, when we can, and how we can.

This council should absolutely vote to be the first city in Ontario that will use a ranked ballot. There’s so little to lose, but for once we could say that we took a tiny chance on something and dared, just a little bit, to lead the way.

Originally published in Our London on February 16, 2017.