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The selfishness of rejecting ranked ballots

In June, the province of Ontario made it possible for municipalities to implement ranked balloting for their local elections if they should so choose to do so. A welcome change, but one that should've been forcibly pushed by the province upon municipalities rather than left as an open question for each municipality's incumbent Councillors to decide upon.

While there may be some allure to the idea of letting individual municipalities choose their electoral systems; the reality is that entertaining such a notion isn't actually going to result in any independent decisions at all. With this approach, it is highly unlikely that even one municipality in the province of Ontario will decide to adopt this system because of scared Councillor incumbents' desires for self-preservation. They will reject it outright - putting their own interests first.

It's not because ranked ballots aren't a better system than First Past the Post that they're being rejected across Ontario — they unquestionably are better — but because incumbents wont allow the change to happen.

In Hamilton, City Councillor Matthew Green proposing the adoption of the ranked balloting system was an invigorating breath of fresh air; it's notable that he has only served one term on Hamilton's City Council. More notable still was that the majority of those who supported his motion were either new as well - Donna Skelly - or had unpalatable experiences with First Past the Post in the past - once-defeated Mayor Fred Eisenberger. Outside of this, only two incumbents — Farr and Merulla — also supported his motion.

Everyone else voted against it.*

Defending his vote against it, Terry Whitehead offered that "the most confusing system is a ranked ballot system". That's insulting. People are capable of numbering things in order of preference. That's literally all there is to it. They rank candidates in order of preference.

Ever try and choose where you want to go out to eat and weighed the different options in terms of your preferences? Congratulations, you're smarter than Terry Whitehead evidently thinks you are.

Here, let's try ranking some things by preference, just for example:

A list of things I enjoy ranked from greatest (1) to worst (5):

  1. Coffee.
  2. Cute Cat Pictures.
  3. Going for a walk.
  4. Pulling my own teeth out with pre-anaesthetics 1800s-era dental equipment
  5. Terry's reasoning for rejecting ranked ballots.

Most confusing stuff.

Councillor Doug Conley echoed Whitehead's concerns purporting that adopting this system would in fact just lead to 'frustrating' voters.

Frankly, the only thing that changing to ranked ballots may in fact frustrate is the chances of incumbent re-election.

These City Councillors need to stop scapegoating with faux-concerns regarding the intellect of their constituents and instead own up to the truth: they're too scared to face a real challenge.

* Councillors Jackson (first elected: 1988), Partridge (first elected: 2010), Whitehead (first elected: 2003), Collins (first elected: 1995), Conley (first elected: 2014), Ferguson (first elected: 2006), B. Johnson (first elected: 2010), and Pearson (first elected: 2003) voted against Green's motion.