City Council moves forward on ranked voting referendum in special meeting

Councillors and members of the public eager to debate merits, cost of the proposed system

The special City Council meeting on Feb. 6.

On Feb. 6, city councillors moved forward with plans to propose ranked ballot voting in municipal elections in a referendum set for this fall. At Tuesday’s special meeting, councillors confirmed the wording of the question that will appear on the referendum ballot.

With little resistance from councillors, a vote to confirm the wording of the question passed 11 to one. The question, “Are you in favour of using ranked ballot voting to elect the mayor and district councillors in the city of Kingston? Yes. No.” is now confirmed and will appear on the October ballot.

Since the province of Ontario passed legislation allowing municipalities to decide how they want to vote in 2016, only three have moved forward on ranked voting. Kingston and Cambridge have both planned referendums on the issue, while London, Ont. chose to use the system in their 2018 municipal elections without posing a referendum. 

Creative Director at Unlock Democracy Canada Dave Meslin attended Tuesday’s special meeting and sat in the public audience. Meslin works for an organization that successfully lobbied Ontario’s government to allow municipalities to have the option of ranked voting.

Meslin told the council he “worked closely with the [provincial] ministry on the legislation that opened up the door for any of Ontario’s 444 municipalities to explore the option of using ranked ballot voting in 2018. Out of those 444, it is disappointing that only one city took the plunge and tried it.”

“Only two took the most democratic approach, which is to have a referendum and send the question to the people,” he said. “I just wanted to thank you for your courage and your boldness.”

Following public comments, city councillors began discussing the wording of the question. Councillors were eager to debate the merits and cost of ranked voting, which was raised repeatedly by members of the public.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson had to remind councillors several times to stay focused on the wording of the question. He stressed the time for debate on the system’s merits would come shortly. 

Councillor Peter Stroud said, “what we have is a clear sentence. It says, ‘are you in favour of using ranked ballot voting?’ The problem is, it doesn’t define ranked ballot voting in the question. You are expected to go to a public meeting or go online to get that information.”

“If we get people voting a certain way because they think ranked ballot voting is something it’s not, then we actually created a problem,” Stroud continued.

In response, City Clerk John Bolognone said, “the question needs to be clear and neutral. I don’t see how by adding more to the question it would be easier for the elector to be able to understand what they’re actually voting on,” he said. “Keep in mind, this isn’t rocket science.”

The city estimates the cost of implementation to be 20 per cent greater than previous elections. Over 200 staff will need to be re-trained on the ranked ballot system. Wallace estimates, if implemented, the system could top the 2020 election cost at $1 million.

City Council must pass a bylaw before March 1 to authorize the city clerk to put the question on the ballot in October.


city council, ranked ballot

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