Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
Advocates for election reform in the City of Ottawa are losing hope for a ranked ballot municipal vote in 2018.
With the clerk’s office outlining the challenges and increased costs to holding a ranked vote election, it’s unlikely council will see much upside to rushing through a new voting system under tight provincial timelines.
Colum Grove-White of Ottawa123, a group advocating for ranked ballot elections, said he hoped the province would have settled on the regulations much sooner than September. The timeline for council to decide — a bylaw must be passed by May 1, 2017 — makes it difficult to change the voting system for next election, he said.
“Yes, we would definitely like to have ranked ballots in place for 2018, but the flip side is we don’t want to rush into it either,” Grove-White said Wednesday. “We really need to balance those two things.”
The province is allowing all municipalities to use ranked ballots for future council elections, but not school board elections.
A ranked ballot allows voters to rank their preference of candidates. Candidates attracting the fewest votes have their ballots redistributed to other candidates based on the rankings. The winner must have a majority of the votes.
In the existing first-past-the-post election system, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Grove-White said a referendum on the voting system might be an option, but Ottawa123 prefers striking a “citizen assembly” to make a recommendation on what kind of election system to use.
The City of Kingston’s council has decided to have referendum question on ranked ballots. The question will be put on the 2018 election ballot.
The amalgamated City of Ottawa has never held a referendum.
According to Tyler Cox, the city’s manager of legislative services, adding a referendum question during the 2018 municipal election could cost about $1 million. Advertising and staff would drive the referendum costs.
For results of a referendum to be binding, at least 50 per cent of eligible electors must vote. Only once since amalgamation has voter turnout in an Ottawa municipal election hit 50 per cent (2006).
Several councillors on Wednesday were still thumbing through a large report on election reform published late Tuesday afternoon by the city clerk’s office.
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko supports the idea of ranked ballot municipal elections, but he’s disappointed to see such a large cost estimate to make it happen in 2018. The city says a ranked ballot election would cost $3.5-million more than a traditional first-past-the-post election.
“I wouldn’t support it at any cost, but I would really like to know how they came up with that figure,” Chernushenko said.
If there are too many challenges to holding a ranked ballot vote in 2018, it might be better to try for 2022, he said.
Chernushenko doesn’t like the idea of holding a local referendum on the idea of switching to ranked ballots. He said people are usually convinced, “better the devil that I know than the devil I don’t know.”
Other councillors would rather stick with the status quo.
Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish said he’s skeptical about ranked ballots.
“I think it’s too complicated and it doesn’t make sense to have it at a municipal level,” Qaqish said. “The system we have in place now works fine.”