Justin and Dave’s War on Misleading Language

Toronto City Councillor Justin DiCiano posted a tweet this morning, about ranked ballots, runoff voting, and majoritarian systems.

He suggests that there’s an “inconvenient truth on ranked ballots“, that  “you don’t need a majority to win” and that “the truth will set you free“.

Some people were confused about it.

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Then Justin asked me to help explain his position.  I’m happy to.

Continue reading

First Past the Gardiner? 63% feeling bent.

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In the last municipal election, sixteen members of Toronto City Council ‘won’ their seats with less than 50% of the vote.  The lowest was 17% for Councillor Christen Carmichael Greb and the lowest results for incumbents were 25% for Ron Moeser and 28% for Frank DiGiorgo.

75% of Moeser’s constituents didn’t want their Councillor back, but they got him anyway.  72% of DiGiorgo’s constituents voted for change… but got the same guy they had before.

Fair elections use some form of runoff, where the winner has to pass a threshold to win.  In a single-winner race, that threshold is 50%+1.  A majority.  This can be done in a multi-round runoff, with the lowest candidate being eliminated in each round of voting or as an ‘Instant Runoff’, using a ranked ballot.   The province of Ontario is about to pass legislation that will let cities use ranked ballots in the 2018 election.

In the meantime we have another great example of election failure happening this week in Toronto, reminding us why First Past the Post is a loser system that hardly anyone in the world uses.  I’d like to introduce exhibit A: Under Gardiner. Continue reading

Tin Foil Tim: Hypocrisy of aluminum proportions

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So, this actually happened: Tim Hudak stood up in Ontario Legislature yesterday and said that the only people who support ranked ballots and democratic reform are people “from the tinfoil-hat crowd“.

First, as the founder of the RaBIT campaign and 123 Ontario, let me say – with pride – that I do indeed wear a tinfoil hat, and I have since I was a child.

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I have never hidden this fact from the media nor from my colleagues in the voting reform movement.  In fact, in recent months I have proudly worn tinfoil hats on both CBC’s Power & Politics, and CTV’s Canada AM.

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So, I suppose my first question to Tim is: What’s your point?  Tinfoil hats are beautiful.

But more importantly, I’d like to ask Tim Hudak why he’s trying to publicly insult the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, his current leader Patrick Brown, his entire caucus, and himself?

After all, the Ontario PC party decided in 2004 that it was time to change THEIR voting system.  Guess what system they switched to?

Ranked ballots.

Continue reading

Prescription: Ranked ballots for Toronto, proportionality for Parliament

[cross-posted from the Toronto Star]

Ontario’s non-stop election marathon is over. During the last 18 months, we’ve elected our provincial government, local city councils and a new federal government.

This rare alignment gives voters an unusually long break before the next round of elections, an electoral holiday providing us with an opportunity to step back and explore opportunities to improve our democracy.

Canada has the dubious distinction of being the only OECD country using first-past-the-post universally for all elections (local, provincial and federal). It’s a system that works fine for a two-candidate race, but in a multi-party system it completely breaks down. That’s why the Liberal Party won 54 per cent of the seats in our new Parliament, even though only 39 per cent of Canadians voted for them. And that’s why so few western democracies use it.

Consensus is slowly building that our current system has to go. The question is, which system do we replace it with? There’s no simple answer and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Here in Toronto, with a non-partisan council, there’s a groundswell of support for a simple ranked ballot. Also known as a preferential ballot, this much-needed reform would allow us to hold an “instant runoff” in each ward, where the winner is required to win 50 per cent of the vote. Currently, candidates are “winning” their local races with results as low as 17 per cent, which arguably defeats the whole point of having an election. Local campaigns are increasingly divisive, voters are encouraged to vote “strategically,” and we repeatedly elect councils that don’t reflect the diversity of Toronto.

Meanwhile, cities across the U.S. using ranked ballots are experiencing friendlier campaigns, more accurate results, the freedom to “vote with your heart,” and a measurable increase in diversity and representation. It’s the right reform for Toronto and will hopefully be in place for 2018.

But while a simple ranked ballot is an important step forward for Toronto, there’s one important thing that it doesn’t deliver: proportionality. For our federal party-based elections, the need for proportional representation (PR) is crucial. The concept behind PR is simple: If you win 20 per cent of the popular vote, you should end up with 20 per cent of the seats.

Ranked ballots can produce proportional results, but only when they’re used in multi-member districts where you have four or five MPs per riding (this is called the Single Transferable Vote, or STV). But a ranked ballot in single-winner ridings does not deliver proportionality. In fact, a recent report by the Broadbent Institute predicts that under a simple ranked ballot, the Liberals would likely have won an additional 33 seats, distorting their majority even further.

Clearly, that’s not the answer for Canada. That’s why a growing chorus of national organizations and community leaders are calling for proportional elections.

Cynics and opponents of PR will stoke fears of unstable governments and fringe parties gaining power. They’ll offer Italy and Israel as nightmare examples of what PR can produce. But they’ll neglect to mention that almost every European country uses some form of PR, including some of the most stable governments in the world.

The World Economic Forum ranks Switzerland, Finland, Germany and Holland as the top four competitive economies in Europe. All four use PR, as do Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and 86 other countries.

PR also delivers governments that are more diverse and representative. For example, Canada ranks low when it comes to representation of women in the legislature, at 26 per cent. Meanwhile, all the top-ranking countries (Sweden at 45 per cent, Finland at 43 per cent, etc.) use PR.

Change is in the air. At the local level, the Wynne government is introducing historic legislation allowing any city in Ontario to use a ranked ballot, either in single-member wards or as multi-member STV.

Federally, Justin Trudeau has pledged that “2015 will be the last election under first-past-the-post.” This is good news, but he would be mistaken to think that the introduction of a ranked ballot alone will fix Canada’s democratic deficit. Only a proportional system will deliver a House of Commons that reflects the desires and diversity of Canada’s voters.

Our marathon of elections is over: provincial, municipal and federal. All three used first-past-the-post and all three were highly divisive and delivered distorted results. Now is the time to talk about how we can make the next round of elections as fair, friendly and proportional as possible. Voters deserve nothing less.

Good for the Goose: Exposing the Double-Standard of Ranked Ballot Critics

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[cross-posted on Huffington Post, …without my gorgeous goose]

Municipal elections in Ontario are about to get more fair and friendly. The provincial government is introducing legislation that will allow any municipality (there are 444 of them!) to use ranked ballots and runoff voting.

Ranked ballots give more power to voters by eliminating strategic voting, encouraging positive campaigns and ensuring that unpopular incumbents can’t win their seats due to vote-splitting. In Toronto, for example, an incumbent councillor “won” his seat in 2014 even though 75 per cent of his constituents voted against him. Another councillor “won” with only 17 per cent of the vote! Runoff voting puts an end to these kinds of distorted results.

But as Ontario moves closer to becoming the first province to allow ranked ballot voting, critics of reform are speaking out.

Some of the most amusing criticisms are coming from city councillors and municipal clerks. From Toronto and Minto, to Cambridge and Niagara Falls, we’re hearing local officials suggest that ranked ballots are confusing, complex, frivolous and unfair.

These accusations are not only untrue, but they reveal a comedic double-standard. After all, not only is runoff voting already being used by all of Canada’s political parties, but it is also being used by an interesting group of politicians: Ontario city councillors!

That’s right. Some of the same people who are trying to derail democratic reform in Ontario themselves use the exact same system that they claim is too complex or unfair.

Let me explain. Every four years, we elect our city councillors using the first-past-the-post system. It’s a simple method: whoever gets the most votes wins. Councillors do not need to get 50 per cent of the vote to win, or pass any threshold at all. They just need “the most votes.”

But what happens if a city councillor has to resign their seat, mid-term? This can happen due to illness, death, or perhaps simply because they want to run in a provincial or federal election.

This creates a vacancy on council, which can be filled in one of three ways:

  1. A by-election can he held. This is a common method, especially if the vacancy becomes available early in the term.
  2. The runner-up from the prior election is appointed. In other words, whoever came in second place becomes the councillor.
  3. City council appoints an interim councillor. Anyone from the public can apply for the position, they each give a short speech to city council, and then councillors vote to choose their favorite.

Option number three is used commonly in Toronto and in other cities across Ontario. For example, in 2014, two seats became available in Toronto: Adam Vaughan’s and Peter Milczyn’s. Nineteen citizens applied for Milczyn’s seat and 26 signed up for Vaughan’s. As I watched the process unfold, I was surprised to see that city councillors were using a runoff voting system! The winner had to earn 50 per cent of the vote. If no one got 50 per cent on the first count, then they would eliminate the candidate with the least votes and councillors would vote again.

It was amusing to watch councillors, half of whom didn’t earn 50 per cent in their own election (including one who only earned 19 per cent!) use a system that forces winners to earn a majority of the vote.

I was curious about this double standard, so I took a look at Toronto’s Procedural Bylaw to see what the rules were.

TORONTO MUNICIPAL CODE COUNCIL PROCEDURES

Balloting Procedures

If the nominee with the most votes does not receive the votes of a majority of the members present, Council conducts another ballot. The next ballot excludes the nominees with the fewest votes and any nominee with no votes. Balloting continues untilil one nominee receives both the most votes and a majority of votes.

(Full text here. Appendix A)

Fascinating! So, when we elect our councillors, they’re allowed to “win” with 19 per cent of the vote. But when they are choosing a colleague, they use a runoff system to ensure majority support!

I was also curious to find out how other cities in Ontario choose their interim councillors.

I found this procedure in Hamilton:

CITY OF HAMILTON, CITY MANAGER’S OFFICE

APPOINTMENT PROCEDURE FOR FILLING VACANCY ON COUNCIL

After hearing all of the applicants,Council appoints an applicant to fill the office of Councillor by way of a run-off ballot.

(Full text here.)

And I found this one from Whitby:

Procedure to Appoint an Eligible Voter to fill the Town Councillor North Ward 1 Vacancy

Rounds of voting shall continue until a Nominee has received more than one half (1/2) of the votes of the Members of Council present.

Where a round of voting does not result in a Nominee receiving more than one-half (1/2) of the votes of the Members of Council present… The Nominees with the fewest number of votes will be automatically excluded from the Slate of Nominees in the next round of voting.

(Full text here.)

Despite hours of research, I was not able to find a city anywhere in Ontario that uses first-past-the-post as their official procedure to fill an interim seat.

So, the next time you hear a city councillor, mayor, or municipal clerk suggest that runoff voting is obscure, complicated, or unfair, ask them what system they’re using.

If it’s good enough for them, why isn’t it good enough for us? And if it’s fair for them, how could it be unfair for us? And if it’s not too complex for them, why do they think it’s too complex for us?

Runoff voting makes our elections more fair and friendly. And despite what some critics might tell you, it’s already being used all over the place. In fact, it’s being used by the critics themselves.

Hitting the road! Ten days in New England, in search of 100 Remedies

As part of my ongoing research for my book, I’m in New England this week meeting with activists and academics in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts!

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Read more on the 100 Remedies blog.

Why don’t we do it in the road?

Cross-posted on the Spacing blog.


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Toronto is no stranger to painted murals.  From Art Starts to Mural Routes to the City’s StART program, we’re increasingly beautifying the walls of our public spaces with glorious pigment.

But there’s a new frontier, an unexplored canvass that’s thirsty for paint: our roads! Continue reading