Minto registers opposition to ranked ballot proposal

Officials here are concerned a switch to ranked ballots  could open the door for party politics in municipal elections.

On July 21, town council endorsed recommendations in a staff report to advise provincial officials the town does not support ranked balloting.

The province is currently conducting a public consultation as part of a review of the Municipal Elections Act, Minto CAO Bill White told council at the meeting. The areas the province is looking at include: campaign finance, third party advertising, accessibility, enforcement of election rules and measures aimed at “modernizing and improving” elections, such as shorter campaigns.

The Minto staff report, prepared by White and CAO, clerk and council assistant Annilene McRobb, notes the province states it is “committed to providing municipalities with the option of using ranked ballots in future elections,” starting in 2018.

“They believe a ranked ballot reduces strategic voting (not voting because you think your preferred candidate may not win), reduces negative campaigning (a candidate needs first place votes to win plus high ranking second place votes …), and ensures more candidates will remain in the race (less chance of ‘splitting the vote’ with like-minded candidates).”

White said he was concerned with any suggestion of introducing party politics at the municipal level.

“The reference to benefitting ‘like-minded’ candidates in the province’s reasoning implies party, rather than people, might benefit from ranked ballots,” the report states.

“Would ranked ballots encourage a party to run a slate of ‘like-minded’ candidates with a view to securing as many first, second and third place votes to secure the office in question for the party rather than the individual? There is a Toronto-based movement for ranked ballots where party is very much part of municipal politics. Splitting the vote, negative campaigning or abandoning a race are not big problems in rural Ontario …” the report states.

The report also points out a system where a voter ranks candidates by preference rather than voting for one could result in  the candidate with the most first place votes losing to a candidate with more second and third place votes and fewer first place votes.

The report indicates staff feel the current system results in councils that reflect their communities.

“The vast majority of people elected have the interests of all local residents in mind, not just those that voted for them. These councils have built communities that are the envy of the world, elected with traditional voting methods in open, transparent and fair competitions with few problems,” states the report, which recommends council not pursue the option of ranked ballots for Minto and urge the province not to amend the elections act to allow them.

In regard to the other areas under review, the report points out Minto “has not really had concerns” with campaign finances, third party advertising or enforcement.

However, the report does address the length of election periods. “A shorter campaign period makes sense. Nominations open January 1 of the election year and are accepted until the second Friday of September. Few people file for the election in January or campaign in the winter or spring before the election.

“Having nominations open the first Monday in May and close the second Friday in September would work. In addition, a full month between the election and inaugural council meeting might be excessive.

“Terms could end after no less than one meeting following the election with council free to set its inaugural no later than the second Thursday in December of election year.”

The report states “One candidate, one vote” has been the model for democratic systems for over 150 years,” and suggests partisan politics may play a part in the province’s push for ranked ballots.

“When a long standing system is subject to change by a partisan government, regardless of the party, it is right to be sceptical as to motivations. Minto has not had a problem with turnout so people seem to vote even if they think their candidate may not win. Campaigns are rarely negative in Minto, and seldom do candidates ‘drop out’ of the race even if they feel the vote might split.”

Council voted in favour of receiving the report and supporting a May 1 start to the nomination period, one meeting for outgoing council after the election, and inaugural meetings no later than the second Thursday in December.”

Council also agreed to advise the province it does not support a ranked ballot system.