Burlington council has given its approval for staff to initiate a public consultation aimed at finding out how the public feels about ranked balloting for the 2022 municipal election. Council was offered three options to consider—do nothing, hold a referendum, and the public consultation process that was adopted. Depending on the public feedback, council has the authority to switch to ranked ballots without a public vote on the matter. The public consultation process and a council decision has to be compete by May 1 of 2021.
In a ranked ballot system, voters have the option of selecting up to three candidates, ranking them by preference of their first, second, and third choice. The candidate who achieves the threshold of 50 percent plus one vote is elected. After tabulating the votes, if there is no candidate who meets the determined threshold, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The ballots that selected the eliminated candidate as the first choice are now redistributed to the remaining candidates, this time using those voters’ second choice candidate. This process is repeated until a candidate who achieves the 50 percent plus one threshold is determined.
The staff report listed some of the advantages of ranked voting based on an examination of the use of the system in several American cities.
- May minimize strategic voting. Voters may be more comfortable voting with their conscious, and not pressured to vote for a particular candidate as to not split the vote.
- Provides more choice for voters, as they can support several candidates who represent their political ideology or beliefs.
- Encourages more candidates. Some candidates may be discouraged to run as they have similar ideologies as a more prominent candidate and therefore may believe they will split the vote. These candidates may add more to the conversation during the election period, however, are often discouraged from running. This often affects minority candidates such as persons of colour and women.
- May discourage negative campaigning as candidates may be required to appeal to a wider electorate as to secure their second or third ranked selections.
- Ranked ballot voting has been linked to more positive campaigning, to the greater satisfaction of electors.
Staff estimate the public consultation process will cost $30,000 and implementing the system would cost between $175,000 to $200,000. Staff have been directed to develop a public consultation plan and report back to Council.