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.
“There is a 1.75 km stretch of possibility in our city that is hidden in plain sight. We are about to transform a once forgotten space into vibrant common ground. Project: Under Gardiner will bring communities together, connecting every neighbourhood that it touches.”
Torontonians are excited about the Under Gardiner project. Our downtown area desperately needs new green spaces, especially in and around the six-lane elevated expressway that bisects our waterfront.
It’s all about reclaiming public space and transforming vacant space into something vibrant. Which is fantastic. In fact, the organisers are so committed to the idea of reclaiming, that they are allowing the public to “Reclaim the Name“.
“This new public space belongs to you—the people of Toronto—and your votes will decide what we call it.”
They’re holding a public vote, with four options and encouraging Toronto residents to choose their favorite. I think that’s really cool. With so many public spaces named after former politicians (almost all male) or colonial landowners (all male), it’s great for us to have a chance to name our own space. Except for one problem: They’re using First Past the Post.
Here’s how the results stand right now, on the final day of voting:
So, the Bentway is ‘winning’… but with only 37%. 63% don’t like The Bentway as their first choice. It’s quite possible that those 63% actually despise The Bentway as a name, which means that the electoral outcome of this election could quite possibly leave the vast majority feeling …. bent.
If they’d used a ranked ballot, then they could simply eliminate the least popular option (The Gathering Place) and transfer those votes to the second choices. If all those voters picked Bentway as their second choice, then Bentway would win – with 52%. But if – more likely – some of them preferred Artery or Canopy, then it would go to a third round. In the third round, another name would be eliminated: either Canopy or Artery, depending on the results of the second round. This final round would have two names only, and the winner would have a true majority.
I should point out that First Past the Post also encourages strategic voting. Right now, those who really dislike The Bentway are probably voting daily (you’re allowed to vote more than once) for The Artery, even if they prefer Gathering Place or Canopy, just as many Olivia Chow supporters voted for John Tory in 2014, to help beat Doug Ford.
Back to Under Gardiner, here’s two ways they could easily fix the problem: A three- round runoff (dropping one name each time) or a single “top-two” round (dropping both Canopy and Gathering Place off the list at once). I think it would be better to have the three round race, firstly because it’s quite possible that Canopy would actually win, and secondly it would be a great education experience for those observing the race to see how a runoff election works.
But the worst decision would be to allow The Bentway to win the election, when 63% have clearly expressed that they don’t like it. If the organisers want us to “Reclaim the Name”, then they should continue the voting until we have a kosher result.
In summary, when it comes to the Under Gardiner project, I want to underscore and underline the importance of this underused underpass and the risk of undermining what we’re undergoing, creating a negative undertone and revealing the dark underbelly of First Past the Post, leaving many voters feeling undervalued and underwhelmed. This process is undercooked. Our choices are underexposed. Let’s undertake a runoff.