Dreschel: Put ranked balloting to a referendum

Opinion Apr 05, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

Well, that didn't take very long.

Scant hours after Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin gave municipalities the option to switch to ranked ballots for electing their councils in the 2018 election, Coun. Sam Merulla's foot was already hitting the gas.

Following Monday's announcement, Merulla drafted a motion which aims to direct city staff to outline the options that council needs to consider based on McMeekin's proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act.

He intends to bring it forward at next Wednesday's council meeting. Good for Merulla. Apparently there's no time to waste.

Last year Hamilton's election manager Tony Fallis figured council will need to make a decision no later than December of this year if ranked balloting instead of the current plurality voting system is going to be used for the 2018 municipal election.

The long lead time is not only needed to properly prepare new voting tabulators and educate voters, but there also has to be a lot of public consultation.

Hopefully the options that staff present to council will include holding a referendum on the issue. Before I elaborate on that, let's briefly recap what kind of change we're talking about.

Under the current plurality system — often called first past the post — electors vote for a single candidate and the one with the most votes wins regardless if the final tally falls short of a majority. Think Donna Skelly in the recent Ward 7 byelection.

Under ranked balloting, however, electors can vote for more than one candidate on the ballot. They select their first, second and third preferences.

To win straight out, one of the candidates needs at least 50 per cent of the vote. If no one meets that threshold in the first round of tabulation, the candidate with the least votes is dropped. But even if you selected that person as your first choice, your ballot remains active because your second preference is now taken into account and transferred to the designated candidate.

This elimination of candidates and transferring of votes continues until one candidate lands a definite majority.

Supporters of the system say it's more democratic because it guarantees that the winner has a mandate from at least 50 per cent of voters.

As I've noted before, in the 2014 municipal election 11 of Hamilton's 16 members of council easily topped the 50 per cent threshold under the current plurality system.

The five who fell below the mark were Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Aidan Johnson, Matthew Green, Doug Conley and Arlene VanderBeek — all races with no incumbent and a large field of candidates.

Now back to the idea of a referendum. To my mind, it's the only fair way to deal with possibly changing our familiar and easy to understand first-past-the-post system. It may have its flaws, but such a time-honoured and accepted method shouldn't be replaced without the explicit approval of the voting public.

I feel exactly the same way about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to move to an alternative voting system at the federal level. If you want to fundamentally change how people elect their representatives, then surely you need the consent of the people who do the electing.

If any government, legislature, or reform advocate believes the public truly wants to overhaul the voting system, then they should be willing to put it to a democratic vote. Anything other than that is both paternalistic and elitist.

Speaking of which, it's more than bit incongruous to hear McMeekin promoting ranked balloting as an option for municipalities while the province happily adheres to first past the post for its own election system.

As Merulla notes, it's both "hilarious" and "cowardly" that the Wynne government is willing to advance progressive legislation and throw the door open for debate for others but not itself.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

Dreschel: Put ranked balloting to a referendum

Opinion Apr 05, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

Well, that didn't take very long.

Scant hours after Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin gave municipalities the option to switch to ranked ballots for electing their councils in the 2018 election, Coun. Sam Merulla's foot was already hitting the gas.

Following Monday's announcement, Merulla drafted a motion which aims to direct city staff to outline the options that council needs to consider based on McMeekin's proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act.

He intends to bring it forward at next Wednesday's council meeting. Good for Merulla. Apparently there's no time to waste.

Last year Hamilton's election manager Tony Fallis figured council will need to make a decision no later than December of this year if ranked balloting instead of the current plurality voting system is going to be used for the 2018 municipal election.

The long lead time is not only needed to properly prepare new voting tabulators and educate voters, but there also has to be a lot of public consultation.

Hopefully the options that staff present to council will include holding a referendum on the issue. Before I elaborate on that, let's briefly recap what kind of change we're talking about.

Under the current plurality system — often called first past the post — electors vote for a single candidate and the one with the most votes wins regardless if the final tally falls short of a majority. Think Donna Skelly in the recent Ward 7 byelection.

Under ranked balloting, however, electors can vote for more than one candidate on the ballot. They select their first, second and third preferences.

To win straight out, one of the candidates needs at least 50 per cent of the vote. If no one meets that threshold in the first round of tabulation, the candidate with the least votes is dropped. But even if you selected that person as your first choice, your ballot remains active because your second preference is now taken into account and transferred to the designated candidate.

This elimination of candidates and transferring of votes continues until one candidate lands a definite majority.

Supporters of the system say it's more democratic because it guarantees that the winner has a mandate from at least 50 per cent of voters.

As I've noted before, in the 2014 municipal election 11 of Hamilton's 16 members of council easily topped the 50 per cent threshold under the current plurality system.

The five who fell below the mark were Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Aidan Johnson, Matthew Green, Doug Conley and Arlene VanderBeek — all races with no incumbent and a large field of candidates.

Now back to the idea of a referendum. To my mind, it's the only fair way to deal with possibly changing our familiar and easy to understand first-past-the-post system. It may have its flaws, but such a time-honoured and accepted method shouldn't be replaced without the explicit approval of the voting public.

I feel exactly the same way about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to move to an alternative voting system at the federal level. If you want to fundamentally change how people elect their representatives, then surely you need the consent of the people who do the electing.

If any government, legislature, or reform advocate believes the public truly wants to overhaul the voting system, then they should be willing to put it to a democratic vote. Anything other than that is both paternalistic and elitist.

Speaking of which, it's more than bit incongruous to hear McMeekin promoting ranked balloting as an option for municipalities while the province happily adheres to first past the post for its own election system.

As Merulla notes, it's both "hilarious" and "cowardly" that the Wynne government is willing to advance progressive legislation and throw the door open for debate for others but not itself.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

Dreschel: Put ranked balloting to a referendum

Opinion Apr 05, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

Well, that didn't take very long.

Scant hours after Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin gave municipalities the option to switch to ranked ballots for electing their councils in the 2018 election, Coun. Sam Merulla's foot was already hitting the gas.

Following Monday's announcement, Merulla drafted a motion which aims to direct city staff to outline the options that council needs to consider based on McMeekin's proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act.

He intends to bring it forward at next Wednesday's council meeting. Good for Merulla. Apparently there's no time to waste.

Last year Hamilton's election manager Tony Fallis figured council will need to make a decision no later than December of this year if ranked balloting instead of the current plurality voting system is going to be used for the 2018 municipal election.

The long lead time is not only needed to properly prepare new voting tabulators and educate voters, but there also has to be a lot of public consultation.

Hopefully the options that staff present to council will include holding a referendum on the issue. Before I elaborate on that, let's briefly recap what kind of change we're talking about.

Under the current plurality system — often called first past the post — electors vote for a single candidate and the one with the most votes wins regardless if the final tally falls short of a majority. Think Donna Skelly in the recent Ward 7 byelection.

Under ranked balloting, however, electors can vote for more than one candidate on the ballot. They select their first, second and third preferences.

To win straight out, one of the candidates needs at least 50 per cent of the vote. If no one meets that threshold in the first round of tabulation, the candidate with the least votes is dropped. But even if you selected that person as your first choice, your ballot remains active because your second preference is now taken into account and transferred to the designated candidate.

This elimination of candidates and transferring of votes continues until one candidate lands a definite majority.

Supporters of the system say it's more democratic because it guarantees that the winner has a mandate from at least 50 per cent of voters.

As I've noted before, in the 2014 municipal election 11 of Hamilton's 16 members of council easily topped the 50 per cent threshold under the current plurality system.

The five who fell below the mark were Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Aidan Johnson, Matthew Green, Doug Conley and Arlene VanderBeek — all races with no incumbent and a large field of candidates.

Now back to the idea of a referendum. To my mind, it's the only fair way to deal with possibly changing our familiar and easy to understand first-past-the-post system. It may have its flaws, but such a time-honoured and accepted method shouldn't be replaced without the explicit approval of the voting public.

I feel exactly the same way about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to move to an alternative voting system at the federal level. If you want to fundamentally change how people elect their representatives, then surely you need the consent of the people who do the electing.

If any government, legislature, or reform advocate believes the public truly wants to overhaul the voting system, then they should be willing to put it to a democratic vote. Anything other than that is both paternalistic and elitist.

Speaking of which, it's more than bit incongruous to hear McMeekin promoting ranked balloting as an option for municipalities while the province happily adheres to first past the post for its own election system.

As Merulla notes, it's both "hilarious" and "cowardly" that the Wynne government is willing to advance progressive legislation and throw the door open for debate for others but not itself.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel