While the country prepares itself for an upcoming federal election campaign this fall, there has been some developments on a little known reform measure circulating around some municipalities in terms of how cities and towns vote for their local politicians.
Ranked Balloting is the idea of voters picking their mayor and councillors on a preferential choice of first, second, third or more instead of just checking off the box for one candidate. If the top vote getter does not achieve a majority of more than 50 per cent, then the candidate with the least amount of votes is dropped off and the votes for the second and third choice is redistributed amongst the remaining candidates.
The election result is declared when a candidate emerges with more than 50 per cent of the vote, with the idea being that the winner would have at least have a mandate from the majority of the electorate, be it from people’s first choice or their second/third choice.
According to ranked balloting advocates, absent a municipal party system (which is less likely to happen) most candidates pretty much run as independents and voters have a harder time to pin down the various positions; some end up wanting to vote for more than one person. Another reason is that it would foster a more ‘positive’ form of campaigning that is not solely based on getting out the vote, forcing candidates to appeal to their core support.
The previous Liberal government enacted legislation to allow Ontario’s 444 municipalities to vote in this manner, London became the first one to conduct the 2018 elections under this system, while Kingston and Cambridge voters passed referendums to look use ranked ballot voting in the 2022 election.
So while cities outside of the GTA have either implemented this change or in the process of doing so, like London, Kingston, Cambridge and Barrie, has Brampton taken a look?
Brampton’s previous council took a look at it but felt that with the divisions between Brampton and the Region of Peel, along with mayor and school trustees, a ranked ballot would be confusing, according to Regional Councillor Paul Vicente. “At the same time they also said no to online voting. I’m not sure how I feel about ranked ballots, but (online voting) I believe we should do. Staff are coming back to council this fall with recommendations which may include online voting, and other decisions related to our elections process.”
Mississauga previously deliberated on the same topic, and came to the conclusion that it was better to find a more cost effective solution to make voting easier for residents. They implemented a ‘vote anywhere’ system for people no matter which part of Mississauga they resided in could vote in any of the city’s voting locations on election day.
In a recent report from Kingston, they examined what would have happened in their recent municipal vote had a ranked ballot system been used. Four districts had results where the winner polled below 50 per cent. For example, in one district where the winner got just around 42 per cent of the vote.In another council district in Kingston, the first place finisher requiring only seven votes in order to make the threshold, so the conclusion was the eventual winner would remain unchanged.
What Would Happen in Brampton if Ranked Ballots Were Used?
Taking Brampton’s 2018 election results into account and using some math and speculation, there may have been some different outcomes had voters been given the choice of ranking their preferred candidates in last year’s election instead of just marking off one candidate.
Out of the eleven offices in contention in Brampton, only three incumbent members of council outright won their race with more than 50 per cent of the vote: Jeff Bowman, Gurpreet Dhillon and Pat Fortini. The remaining eight contests, including the mayoral race won by Patrick Brown, were decided with less than 50 per cent.
For example, the aforementioned Vicente, who won the Regional Council race in Wards 1 and 5, did so with just under 44 per cent of ballots cast.The combined total amount of votes all candidates garnered was 17,390, meaning Vicente would have needed an additional 1,104 votes on top of the 7,593 he got, in order to cross the 50 per cent threshold.
Considering the more coordinated campaign he ran alongside his colleague Rowena Santos, it’s more likely Vicente would have crossed the threshold in one or two more rounds of voting.
But in other wards of the city, the results could have been different. Here are the results of a closer race in Wards 7 and 8 for city councillor, in which Charmaine Williams won with around 25 per cent of the vote, besting eight other candidates.The total number of votes cast was 19,741. In order for Williams to cross the 50+ per cent threshold, or 9,874 votes, she would have had to get an additional 4,788 on top of the 5,086 votes she won.
But Councillor Williams would have had to pick up 100 per cent of that vote from the other candidates who get dropped off, an unlikely feat. Her closest competitor, Martin Singh, would require another 5,471 votes himself and like Williams, highly unlikely to pick up all of that redistributed vote from the other candidates.
In a ranked ballot system, either one of the top two vote getters could have pulled ahead in subsequent rounds and, although it would be a long shot, someone like Bailey or Dhaliwal could have pulled ahead from third and fourth place depending on the local dynamics.
The same could be said in the city councillor race in Wards 2 and 6: incumbent Doug Whillans won reelection with just about 29 per cent of the vote, also pulling ahead of eight other candidates. A total of 20,585 combined were won by all candidates, meaning that Whillans would have required 10,295 votes to cross the 50 per cent threshold in a ranked ballot election and he would have needed another 4,327 votes in order to do so.
Jermaine Chambers, the person in second place, would have needed an additional 7,057 votes to crack 50 per cent to pull ahead of incumbent Whillans, who won with roughly the same level of votes when he first won in 2014. There were also two other candidates, Jim McDowell and Joe Sidhu, that had sizable followings who could have inched ahead in a scenario with subsequent rounds of voting.
Of course, results also depends on how strong local campaigns are based on certain candidate and the ground game. In the race for Regional Councillor Wards 3 and 4, the race pretty much boiled down to incumbent Martin Medeiros and former councillor John Sanderson, who previously represented the area for eight years before a failed run for mayor in 2014.
A total of 19,447 votes were cast for all five candidates, which meant that Medeiros would have needed another 2,175 votes if the race was under a ranked ballot system in order to crack the 50 per cent threshold.Likewise, Sanderson would need 3,551 votes to crack the same threshold. Both candidates would have had quite the work cut out for them to make up the difference in that scenario, but based on the results Medeiros and Sanderson were the two main contenders, so one of them would have ended up winning.
Sanderson was quoted in media outlets saying that the 2018 race for his old job was one of the dirtiest campaigns he had experience, and blamed Medeiros for much of the tone. One wonders had the election been on the preferential voting system, whereby candidates could have gained votes from people who were allowed a second or third choice, would the tone have been more congenial and less ‘dirty’ in Sanderson’s view?
During the last few municipal elections, it’s clear that in a number of races around Brampton, a candidate can end up on council with up to three quarters of the residents preferring someone else, like the aforementioned Mr. Whillans or Mrs. Williams. Other council members like Medeiros, Michael Palleschi, Rowena Santos, Harkirat Singh…even Mayor Brown himself…fell below the 50 per cent mark.
The 2022 municipal election is very far away, and by then London, Kingston, Cambridge and possibly other cities across Ontario could be voting by way of ranked choice balloting. It seems that based on the system we have, and with the variety of candidates that emerge from the woodwork to choose from, Brampton could use a change in the way it votes for their mayor and councillors.
Would you prefer to rank off your choice for mayor and city councillor in the next election?