Tagged: Ranked ballot voting

My Australian cousin writes on electoral reform and the Australian system

My cousin LARRY, today’s Guest Blogger, was born in Canada where he lived for about 50 years. On retirement in 1990, he and his wife left Canada on a 10-year sailing voyage to Mexico, several South Pacific Island countries, New Zealand and Australia, with the goal of sailing past the Sydney Opera House. After 10 years of fun and adventure, they sold their 37-foot yacht to an Aussie couple. He is now an Aussie citizen and lives in winterless Australia.

Here’s Larry…

I have lived here in wonderful Australia for 16+ years. During that time, I have done some research into the Australian electoral system. The complication of the whole process boggles the mind and they keep tweaking the rules. So confusing is it, that in the lead-up to the last federal election in 2016, the Federal Electoral Commission even published wrong information regarding the rules of voting, causing much confusion at the polls which caused ballots to be ruled informal (not counted) when they shouldn’t have been. There is a rule that once a ballot has been ruled as informal, it cannot be changed to formal for any reason, so these ballots were never counted.

Australia has elections every 3 years for the Lower House and ½ the senate, (Senators are elected to 6 year terms). However, if the government of the day calls for a double dissolution, all seats become vacant including all senate seats. This is what happened in 2016 so ½ the elected senators only got 3 year terms.

Australia has compulsory, preferential, manually counted voting. It may sound like a good idea to force every citizen to vote but in my opinion, it isn’t

Preferential voting here means each person on the ballot must have a number beside it in the order of your preference or your ballot is ruled informal and discarded. The Political Parties will get together and make deals for preferences before the elections. The various parties will publish “how to vote” cards which are passed out to voters at the polls, to try to influence the voter to vote their preferences to benefit them, as per pre-election deals made with the other parties. Many people just grab the card from the party they support and vote like sheep as per instructed on the card. Others get boggled with all the ‘how to vote cards’ thrust at them as they line up to vote. We call the walk from the footpath to the voting room entrance, ‘walking the gauntlet’ and do not accept any cards.

No one needs ANY ID to vote! Many cases came to light after the election, where on Election Day; people were told their name was already crossed off so they couldn’t vote again, when in fact they hadn’t voted at all. Obviously someone else voted and used their name. Anyone could visit different voting locations and give any name out of the phone book if they desired and some reportedly do just that. The far Left Labor Party has the reputation of telling their members to “vote early and vote often”. True or not – depends on who you talk to. This needs changing immediately, in my opinion.

People, who think seriously about their vote, will vote intelligently, and would have voted even if they weren’t forced to. However the people who don’t care and normally wouldn’t vote if not threatened by a big fine, don’t want to be there, and are angry they have to stand in a queue for hours to vote. Many of these people will just number their ballots 1, 2, 3, etc. from the top down to get the process over as soon as possible. It is such a problem that before printing the ballots, the names of the people contesting the seat are drawn out of a hat, to set the order their names will be placed on the ballot paper. Usually, the name at the top gets so many 1’s and has a very good chance of being elected. The poor guy at the bottom of the list is disadvantaged and rarely gets elected. The result is decided by voters who could care less! It is not a good system and why I prefer the ‘first past the post’ system.

The Senate – A senator is a member of the Australian Senate, elected to represent a state or territory. There are 76 senators, 12 from each state and two each from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
Our Queensland senate ballot had 122 candidates listed alphabetically by Party, running for the 12 seats available. I made a computer print-out, listing them in the order I wanted to vote for them, which took several hours to research and put together at home. It took about 20 minutes to fill out the 4 page ballot, putting a number from 1 to 122 beside each name. Very few people would have taken the trouble to do this and many just put a number beside the 2 or 3 people they are familiar with and put any sequential number randomly after all the other names. Not good – bogus outcome! The results of the Senate vote in 2016 took over 2 weeks to compile and publish the final list of elected.

Assuming that Canada is about the same as Australia, I would guess that no more than 35% of the population actually give a damn about who their government is. In Canada, the 65% don’t vote, here they do vote and badly skew the results. Forced voting is not good. Preferential voting is not good. Be careful what you wish for!

I find it interesting that Trudeau would be tinkering with the electoral process. Usually when any ‘politician in power’ starts tinkering with the electoral processes, they are trying to tweak the system to their party’s advantage for future elections. I personally would be very leery of someone who wanted to do this.

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Toronto Municipal Elections: Have you heard of the Ranked Ballot Initiative?

I pride myself on knowing something about Toronto municipal politics. My blog has given me an excuse to attend City Council meetings and write of the Ford affair. Until last week, however, I knew absolutely nothing about the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, also known as RaBIT. Have you heard of it? I asked several knowledgeable friends also interested in municipal politics. Their response was like mine: the newspaper reports last week were the first they had heard of it.

So what is RaBIT? It’s a non-partisan, grassroots organization in Toronto which has been pushing for reform of our municipal election system for at least a year. Their webpage features a Steve Paikin Agenda interview (dating from April 2013) with activist Dave Meslin describing the proposed reform, information about its advantages, the experience elsewhere, and the support it has. RaBIT proposes a timeline for implementation that would see the enabling legislation passed in the spring of 2014, ranked ballots to apply to the election for mayor in 2018, and to the election for councillors in 2022.

And what is a ranked ballot system, also known as instant runoff voting? Instead of voting for only one person as mayor or councillor as we now do in the first-past-the-post system, electors would indicate three choices for each position, first, second or third. On voting night, if a single candidate obtains 50% plus one of the first choice votes, he or she wins. If no one obtains a majority, the candidate with the least number of first place choices is dropped, and the second place preferences of those voters distributed among the remainder. This allocation continues until one candidate for each position obtains a majority vote. This system is used in major U.S. cities, in state and federal elections in Australia, and also by Canadian political parties choosing their own leaders.

According to the website, the system has broad support across the political spectrum, and in the media. Andrew Coyne and Chris Selley of the National Post, Jerry Agar of Sun News, Edward Keenan of The Grid, Royston James and Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star, and the Toronto Star itself, have all endorsed the proposal. Given this high-powered media support, how come this reform has not been discussed more widely in the media?

The question is particularly apt as Toronto City Council actually voted, by a margin of 26 to 15, on June 11, 2013, to request that the Ontario government amend the Municipal Elections Act to authorize the use and establish the framework of Ranked Choice Voting to permit Toronto City Council to use ranked ballots and instant runoff voting in municipal elections. Since the current City Council has endorsed the proposal and formally asked the province for the power to implement it, why is the province not acting on Council’s resolution?

Adrian Morrow, in the Globe and Mail on February 24th, suggested that Premier Kathleen Wynne is keen about the idea, but doesn’t want the issue to become a hot potato in the 2014 municipal election. She is also said to be concerned that, if it were a government bill, the support necessary from the other parties to pass the bill might not be forthcoming. Her solution is apparently to go forward with a private member’s bill called the Toronto Ranked Ballot Elections Act, tabled on February 26th by MPP Mitzie Hunter who represents Scarborough-Guildwood, and scheduled for discussion at Queen’s Park on March 6th. The hope is that a private member’s bill could be the subject of a free vote and garner support from the NDP and Tories.

Hunter’s proposed bill would give Toronto City Council statutory authority to adopt a ranked ballot system. The caveats are that Council must hold public hearings before they do so, that any bylaw they pass would require provincial approval, and could go into effect only in 2015. NDP MPP for Davenport, Jonah Schein, has also tabled a private member’s bill giving Toronto City Council authority to adopt “an alternative voting system” (without specifying the ranked ballot alternative). That both the Liberals and the NDP are interested in municipal electoral reform is hopeful. Is it possible for them to work together to fast track this initiative before any provincial election?

I would have liked to see such an initiative apply to the upcoming 2014 municipal election. It would create the conditions for a fair, open and friendly election campaign which might actually focus on the issues. The reform discourages negative attacks on individual candidates, and requires candidates to broaden their appeal to as many voters as possible. These conditions are necessary now, not four years down the road. The incremental timeline favoured by RaBIT is probably more realistic. Given how little public discussion there has been about the proposal, that timeline is probably necessary for consultation and working out the details.

This proposal has prompted some interesting discussion. My friends and I have many questions about how it actually works. Since the proposed bill would require public hearings and a further decision from Toronto City Council, it strikes me that it is a good first step towards potential election reform. If you agree, you might want to add your support to the change.org petition found on the RaBIT webpage. The petition is to Premier Wynne and the provincial Opposition Leaders requesting that they respect the wishes of Toronto City Council and pass the enabling legislation now. Without the enabling legislation, there will likely be little discussion about the issue (witness the last nine months). With the enabling legislation, we can at least have the debate. That would be a very good thing.

IT’S NOW FRIDAY, MARCH 7th, and RaBIT has communicated with all those who signed their petition to announce that Mitzie Hunter’s Bill 166, the Toronto Ranked Ballot Elections Act, passed second reading yesterday and has gone to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for clause-by-clause review. RaBIT has circulated the names of the Committee members and their contact information so that supporters can communicate their desire that the Bill pass as expeditiously as possible. As a reminder, the Bill is only to empower the Toronto City Council to commence a consultation process about the ranked ballot issue for the 2018 election.

The Committee members are Chair Ernie Hardeman, Vice-Chair Ted Chudleigh, Members Bas Balkissoon, Mike Colle, Vic Dhillon, Cheri De Novo, Rod Jackson, Helena Jaczek, Paul Miller. The Committee Clerk, and presumably the staff person, is Valerie Quioc Lim at Tel. 416-325-7352. You can communicate with the Committee using her email address: valerie_quioc@ontla.org.

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