Toronto's city clerk says the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to provide ranked ballots to Toronto voters for the 2022 municipal election.
But what is a ranked ballot, and why should you care?
What it is and how it works
A ranked ballot is, as the name suggests, a form of voting where you can order - or rank - your preference for several candidates from the field of candidates. On voting day, instead of voting for just one candidate, constituents may be able to make first, second and third choices or more.
In essence, voters end up voting for their second choice if their first choice is eliminated, their third choice if the second is also removed, and so on.
A candidate must get more than half the votes, 50 per cent plus one, to win. If no candidate gets more than half the votes on the first count of the ballots then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated from the race.
The votes the eliminated candidate received are then transferred to that voter’s second choice. These rounds of voting are repeated until a candidate wins more than half the votes, or the votes are exhausted (meaning no further preferences have been recorded).
An eventual winner may win without a majority of votes if a lot of candidates are running or many voters only select a single preferred candidate.
Where did they come from?
Ranked ballots emerged from Europe in the mid- to late-19th century, and by the early 1900s, were being used in Australia, Malta, Ireland, and a number of municipalities in the United States, including in New York City and Cincinnati.
Would you rather not vote for the least bad option? Then perhaps you want to use a ranked ballot
The use of ranked ballots in the U.S. jurisdictions was largely repealed after it led to the election of women and people of colour, acccording to FairVote. By 1962, only Cambridge in Massachusetts still used multi-winner ranked choice voting. But it has made a resurgence in the States (where it is known as ranked choice voting, or RCV) in local and regional votes in the last 20 years.
“The movement was closely allied with the progressive movement of the time and had a number of successes,” the U.S. advocacy group says on its website. “However, a backlash in the 1940s leveraged RCV’s success in electing diverse identities and viewpoints in order to create insecurity and ultimately push for repeal.”
Ranked ballots had been used in Alberta and Manitoba from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s, and Ontario's previous Liberal government changed provincial law in 2016 to allow for their use in future municipal elections on the 2013 request of Toronto city council.
Why should you care?
With ranked ballots voters are more likely to select the candidate they most want to win rather than “the least bad option” in any race in which a leading opposing candidate is far from securing a majority in the first round. That’s because if their candidate is bundled out, the vote transfers.
It can also mean that the eventual winner is not the candidate who had the most first-choice votes, but rather the one that garnered the broadest base of support.
Advocates say ranked ballots encourage a more diverse field of candidates, since it removes the pressure for candidates to withdraw to avoid splitting the vote. They say it also means that more of the electorate ends up supporting the winner.
Alastair Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer