Spacing magazine discusses local voting reform

Spacing magazing has just released their Winter 2011 edition, containing a full page article about local municipal voting reform in Toronto.  Since they don’t publish all their articles online, I thought I’d post it here.  (But you should also buy the new magazine, and subscribe too!)

Excerpt from Spacing • Winter 2011:


Reverse electioneering

by Jake Tobin Garrett

A vote for Joe Pantalone is a vote for Rob Ford.  This was the call heard by many this past election, where anti-Fordists urged voters to strategically vote for George Smitherman as a way to stop Ford from becoming mayor. It didn’t work. But it did turn up the volume on a conversation in the city about why we have an electoral system where you are urged to vote against something rather than for something. As Adam Vaughan said, “You have to fight the election you’re dealt, not the one you want.” True. But what if we could be dealt a different election?

That’s exactly what Dave Meslin is hoping to convince Torontonians of with the Ranked Ballot Initiative for Toronto or, more cutely, RaBIT. With RaBIT, Meslin proposes a form of Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV), where voters have the opportunity to rank their top choices. If no candidate wins majority support, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and second choice votes are counted. This continues until one candidate gains a majority. American municipalities like Minneapolis and San Francisco already use ranked ballots, and the Academy Awards and BC Liberal party recently switched to the system. “I want people to know this is a system that’s out there that people use all the time,” Meslin says.

RaBIT grew out of Better Ballots, an organization Meslin formed to study electoral reform options. In April of 2010, Better Ballots held four town hall meetings across Toronto to gauge public support for the different initiatives, and IRV-ranked ballots proved popular city-wide.

“Toronto’s governance would be much better served if we had a city council that better reflected the diversity of opinions and gender and visible minorit[ies],” says Mark Greenan, chair of Fair Vote Toronto, a membership-based electoral reform advocacy organization. They argue that a proportional representative system, as opposed to IRV, is the best way to achieve these goals. This could take the form of Single Transferable Vote (STV) — a method that, like IRV, involves voters ranking candidates in order of preference. However, in this system, wards combine into multi-member districts; several representatives are elected, based on a proportional method (instead of the one-person-per-ward, winner-takes-all system in place now). “STV is designed to produce balanced, equitable representation,” Greenan says. “The design of a winner-take-all system is to be completely obtuse to that.”

Both RaBIT’s IRV and Fair Vote’s proportional system are said to reduce strategic voting and vote splitting. “Because you can vote with your heart, you know your votes aren’t going to be wasted — they’ll end up counting,” Meslin says. As a result of this, the systems are seen as a way of increasing diversity on council, encouraging a wide variety of people to run, and giving voters more choice. They’re also both designed to reduce negative campaigning, since candidates would be vying to be voters’ second choices. “It promotes a certain collegiality because you can get elected on transfers,” Greenan says.

What both advocacy groups are focusing on now is building support from the ground up. “Councils or politicians are usually very reluctant to change a system that got them into power,” Meslin says, “so this isn’t going to come from above.”

by Jake Tobin Garrett


2 responses to “Spacing magazine discusses local voting reform

  1. If we can frame the debate as “We need to scrap first-past-the post and replace it with this,” versus “We need to scrap first-past-the-post and replace it with that,” we will have moved the debate forward towards a world where “everybody knows” we need a new voting system.

  2. Pingback: Back In The Game « All Fired Up In The Big Smoke

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