Ranked ballots won’t fix everything wrong with our electoral system

Opinion Jun 11, 2015 by Gordon Cameron Hamilton Mountain News

Last week the provincial government announced that it was planning on amending the Municipal Government Act to allow cities to use ranked ballots to choose their councils. And while I have my doubts about ranked ballots, I applaud the change as right now all the touted benefits are theoretical. An election or two under a new system would give us actual data upon which to evaluate its success or failure as method of electing our local reps.

However, as I see it, many of the claims made by ranked ballot advocates are based on wishful thinking or faulty assumptions.

Let’s look at the idea that whichever candidate wins will automatically have the support of at least 50 per cent of voters.

Have you ever tried to choose a restaurant with a large and diverse group of friends and acquaintances? One may want to go to a high-end steak house, while another might want to go to a fair trade, organic vegan café. The majority may like neither, but there isn’t a block large enough to sway the entire group. So what happens? Based on my experience, the group tends to agree on the least offensive, almost generic option. Nobody really gets what they want, but nobody is really upset either.

In a similar situation ranked balloting would likely produce the same result giving voters a councillor or mayor that few of them actually wanted, but most will tolerate. That phenomenon will invariably lead to blander, more risk-adverse politicians because they need to be seen as inoffensive to those outside their core supporters in order to have a realistic chance of winning.

In practical terms it could mean that local politicians ignore unpopular, but necessary items such as raising taxes because it would cost them at the polls. In the meantime critical infrastructure that needs repairing continues to crumble for the want of funds.

There is also the idea that ranked ballots could eliminate so-called strategic voting where supporters of one candidate vote for a second candidate in order to prevent a third candidate from getting elected. In a way, ranked ballot supporters are correct, as the incentive to not vote for your first choice candidate is greatly reduced as you can register your dislike of one of the candidates by voting them last. However, if your biggest concern is to prevent a specific candidate from winning you’ll still have to vote strategically, only in a much more complicated manner.

Your strategic interest would lie not with your preferred candidate getting the most votes (unless you believe that he or she will gain enough support through the second and third rounds to win outright), but in ensuring that your hated candidate gets the fewest. If there is a candidate who you believe the majority of their supporters will transfer to your most hated candidate, then it’s in your best interest to try and keep that candidate on the ballot as long as possible. However, if you rank that candidate too highly in order to lock in those votes then you might end up stuck with your real second last choice as your councillor.

And really, is that any better than what we have now?

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.

Ranked ballots won’t fix everything wrong with our electoral system

Opinion Jun 11, 2015 by Gordon Cameron Hamilton Mountain News

Last week the provincial government announced that it was planning on amending the Municipal Government Act to allow cities to use ranked ballots to choose their councils. And while I have my doubts about ranked ballots, I applaud the change as right now all the touted benefits are theoretical. An election or two under a new system would give us actual data upon which to evaluate its success or failure as method of electing our local reps.

However, as I see it, many of the claims made by ranked ballot advocates are based on wishful thinking or faulty assumptions.

Let’s look at the idea that whichever candidate wins will automatically have the support of at least 50 per cent of voters.

Have you ever tried to choose a restaurant with a large and diverse group of friends and acquaintances? One may want to go to a high-end steak house, while another might want to go to a fair trade, organic vegan café. The majority may like neither, but there isn’t a block large enough to sway the entire group. So what happens? Based on my experience, the group tends to agree on the least offensive, almost generic option. Nobody really gets what they want, but nobody is really upset either.

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In a similar situation ranked balloting would likely produce the same result giving voters a councillor or mayor that few of them actually wanted, but most will tolerate. That phenomenon will invariably lead to blander, more risk-adverse politicians because they need to be seen as inoffensive to those outside their core supporters in order to have a realistic chance of winning.

In practical terms it could mean that local politicians ignore unpopular, but necessary items such as raising taxes because it would cost them at the polls. In the meantime critical infrastructure that needs repairing continues to crumble for the want of funds.

There is also the idea that ranked ballots could eliminate so-called strategic voting where supporters of one candidate vote for a second candidate in order to prevent a third candidate from getting elected. In a way, ranked ballot supporters are correct, as the incentive to not vote for your first choice candidate is greatly reduced as you can register your dislike of one of the candidates by voting them last. However, if your biggest concern is to prevent a specific candidate from winning you’ll still have to vote strategically, only in a much more complicated manner.

Your strategic interest would lie not with your preferred candidate getting the most votes (unless you believe that he or she will gain enough support through the second and third rounds to win outright), but in ensuring that your hated candidate gets the fewest. If there is a candidate who you believe the majority of their supporters will transfer to your most hated candidate, then it’s in your best interest to try and keep that candidate on the ballot as long as possible. However, if you rank that candidate too highly in order to lock in those votes then you might end up stuck with your real second last choice as your councillor.

And really, is that any better than what we have now?

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.

Ranked ballots won’t fix everything wrong with our electoral system

Opinion Jun 11, 2015 by Gordon Cameron Hamilton Mountain News

Last week the provincial government announced that it was planning on amending the Municipal Government Act to allow cities to use ranked ballots to choose their councils. And while I have my doubts about ranked ballots, I applaud the change as right now all the touted benefits are theoretical. An election or two under a new system would give us actual data upon which to evaluate its success or failure as method of electing our local reps.

However, as I see it, many of the claims made by ranked ballot advocates are based on wishful thinking or faulty assumptions.

Let’s look at the idea that whichever candidate wins will automatically have the support of at least 50 per cent of voters.

Have you ever tried to choose a restaurant with a large and diverse group of friends and acquaintances? One may want to go to a high-end steak house, while another might want to go to a fair trade, organic vegan café. The majority may like neither, but there isn’t a block large enough to sway the entire group. So what happens? Based on my experience, the group tends to agree on the least offensive, almost generic option. Nobody really gets what they want, but nobody is really upset either.

Related Content

In a similar situation ranked balloting would likely produce the same result giving voters a councillor or mayor that few of them actually wanted, but most will tolerate. That phenomenon will invariably lead to blander, more risk-adverse politicians because they need to be seen as inoffensive to those outside their core supporters in order to have a realistic chance of winning.

In practical terms it could mean that local politicians ignore unpopular, but necessary items such as raising taxes because it would cost them at the polls. In the meantime critical infrastructure that needs repairing continues to crumble for the want of funds.

There is also the idea that ranked ballots could eliminate so-called strategic voting where supporters of one candidate vote for a second candidate in order to prevent a third candidate from getting elected. In a way, ranked ballot supporters are correct, as the incentive to not vote for your first choice candidate is greatly reduced as you can register your dislike of one of the candidates by voting them last. However, if your biggest concern is to prevent a specific candidate from winning you’ll still have to vote strategically, only in a much more complicated manner.

Your strategic interest would lie not with your preferred candidate getting the most votes (unless you believe that he or she will gain enough support through the second and third rounds to win outright), but in ensuring that your hated candidate gets the fewest. If there is a candidate who you believe the majority of their supporters will transfer to your most hated candidate, then it’s in your best interest to try and keep that candidate on the ballot as long as possible. However, if you rank that candidate too highly in order to lock in those votes then you might end up stuck with your real second last choice as your councillor.

And really, is that any better than what we have now?

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.