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Toronto’s future municipal elections could use ranked balloting

TORONTO – The city of Toronto could be discussing several ways to increase voter turnout in coming municipal elections this fall after an executive committee motion by a Scarborough councillor.

The motion, introduced by Scarborough Councillor Paul Ainslie suggests the city look at ranked ballots, weekend elections, improving the city’s website for candidate information, and pro-actively promoting the nomination process in a concerted effort increase civic engagement.

Ainslie, chair of the Government Management Committee, told Global News that the Mayor tasked him with making City Hall more open and transparent.

As part of Ainslie’s quest to “drag City Hall kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” and make city actions more transparent, the Scarborough councillor is eyeing ranked balloting as one way of increasing voter turnout, and making elections issues-based.

“You look at voter turnout, and some of my colleagues, they get elected by a small amount of the vote,” Ainslie said. “So when you’re saying you’re representing ward whatever, when 75 per cent of the people in that ward didn’t vote for you, are you really representing that ward?”

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Ranked balloting, also called instant-runoff elections, allows voters to choose three different candidates by order of preference. If a candidate fails to garner a majority on the first round of ballots, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and votes are tallied again. This process continues until a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote.

All of Canada’s federal political parties use ranked ballots to choose party leaders. The Ranked Ballot initiative of Toronto (RaBIT), an activist group that promotes the electoral reform – suggests the process was utilized to “increase internal democracy.”

San Francisco and Minneapolis have instituted ranked balloting in their municipal elections, according to RaBIT.

Wayne Smith, executive director of Fair Vote Canada tells Global News that ranked balloting is a step in the right direction.

“It’s a great idea for the city to take a look at its voting system. Our system at the municipal level has the exact same problems at other levels,” Smith said. “Most people vote for people who don’t get elected.”

The report on ranked balloting could be in front of the Government Management Committee in late fall 2012, Ainslie said, and from there would have to go to city council, then ultimately the province.

The provincial government ultimately holds the power to institute ranked balloting, but chances are good the government would allow any electoral reform that successfully makes it through city council, as the current government seems open to “whatever city council wants,” Ainslie said.

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Weekend voting

Ainslie has also recommended the city look at weekend voting in order to make city council more accessible for the average person.

Municipal elections generally receive lower voter turnout than provincial and federal elections and Ainslie believes that making it easier for people to vote, could help change that – suggesting the city investigate both weekend and online voting.

Voter turnout the municipal election in 2010 jumped to 53.2 per cent, up significantly from 39 in 2006.