Written by: Andrew Sancton
I support ranked ballots. In London Ontario’s municipal election, I used my three ranked choices for mayor and for my local councillor. The overall results, however, are not encouraging for people like me. None of the fifteen elections (mayor and 14 councillors from 14 wards) produced results that would have been different had the old first-past-the-post system been used. In other words, the leader on the first count in every race turned out to be the winner, even when (as in the mayoral election) 14 counts were required to produce a winner. Turnout was slightly lower than last time: 37% vs. 41%
Who knew about “exhausted ballots”? Certainly not me. As I now understand it, ballots become exhausted in a particular contest when a voter’s choice or choices are all counted before a particular candidate is declared elected. The most obvious way this can happen is if a voter votes for only one candidate; as soon as that candidate is eliminated, the ballot has no further value and is “exhausted”. The same can happen to ballots which express two, or even three, choices if all the choices are eliminated before a winner is declared.
The “exhaustion” problem could presumably be eliminated if voters were allowed (or forced) to rank all the candidates. But who would do this if there were a dozen or more candidates, as there were in London’s mayoral election? Prior to the election, I paid insufficient attention to what I considered to be the “nerdy”details of ranked-ballot counting. I mostly accepted the argument that ranked balloting produced winners who could eventually be shown to have a form of majority support.
In the mayoral election and in the elections of four councillors, the winner between two remaining candidates after multiple counts did not receive a majority of the legitimate votes cast (i.e. total votes cast minus rejected ballots). In the mayoral election and two of the council races, the winner was shown to have achieved a majority only after the second-choices of his/her one remaining opponent were allocated. In the hotly-contested ward in which I live and in another ward in which no incumbent was running, the winner did not even achieve this form of majority. We have learned the hard way that ranked balloting, as implemented in London, does not necessarily produce winners who can claim majority support.
Now to the substance of the election. The new mayor is Ed Holder, a former MP and Harper cabinet minister. He is opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan approved by the previous council. The only serious pro-BRT candidate finished third. But seven pro-BRT councillors (including five incumbents) were elected, suggesting that many voters supported a pro-BRT councillor and an anti-BRT mayor at the same time. People like me who considered the BRT a vote-structuring issue were probably wrong.
Nevertheless, two pro-BRT incumbents were defeated by anti-BRT challengers and one pro-BRT councillor who retired was replaced by a BRT opponent. This leaves a council that appears to be evenly balanced between the two BRT factions (one incumbent has consistently declared a conflict of interest on the issue).
We will likely find out fairly soon if the new mayor will be one vote among fifteen or whether he will forge some new consensus, presumably around a kind of stripped-down modified BRT plan. Then the challenge will be to extract funding from both federal and provincial governments. Mayor-Elect Holder touted his political connections during the campaign. He might need them. There is some evidence that both the Ford PCs in Toronto and the federal Liberals in Ottawa have been distancing themselves from the BRT plan, so Holder might be successful on that front. But will he be able to convince pro-BRT councillors – many of whom initially preferred Light Rail Transit (LRT) – to go along with him? This could be an interesting test of mayoral power.