City of Kingston adopts ranked ballot voting system

Alternative vote to push candidates to court student voters

Kingston will begin using the ranked ballot system in 2022.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo
Voting in Kingston will be on a ranked ballot system before the next municipal election in 2022.
  
City staff are moving forward with ranked ballots following October’s referendum, where 63 per cent of voters supported changing the current first-past-the-post voting system to a ranked ballot. Despite the result being non-binding—less than fifty per cent of eligible voters participated in the election—the City agreed to adopt the ranked ballot system in a Dec. 18 council meeting.  
 
In the 2016 Municipal Elections Modernization Act, Ontario municipalities were given the option to change their election process beginning in 2018. Since it passed, London has been the first municipality to make the transition to ranked ballot.
 
In October’s election, the City of Kingston asked voters which voting method they preferred in a referendum. In a first-past-the-post system, voters can only choose one candidate and the winner only needs one more vote than the second-place candidate. In a ranked ballot system, voters rank their preferences.  
 
After all votes are counted, the candidate with 50 per cent of the total votes, plus one vote, wins the election. If this isn’t achieved, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated, and their ballots are distributed to voters’  next ranked preference.
 
This process is repeated until a candidate has enough votes to win a majority.
 
While citizens have raised concerns at the City’s four open houses about the estimated $220,000 in additional costs of using a ranked ballot, the new voting system’s advocates hope it will better represent public opinion. 
 
“A ranked ballot system will have a significant impact on voter efficacy because your votes will count for something even if you did not vote for the winning candidate, as well as an increased focus on positive campaigning, as all candidates are seeking support from all voters,” said AMS Commissioner of Municipal Affairs Søren Christianson in an email to The Journal.
 
In the new system, even if a candidate isn’t the first-choice preference for a voter, their second or third preference can contribute to a candidate’s victory, avoiding wasted ballots.   
 
The extra costs incurred by the City are currently preliminary estimates and based on the London municipality’s transition.
 
Meanwhile, elections for school board trustees will continue to use the first-past-the-post method. According to the City’s website, Kingston “will run two types of elections: Ranked Ballot voting for the mayor and district councillors; and first-past-the-post for the school board trustees.”
 
As for the impact on Queen’s students’ participation in elections, Christianson is hopeful. 
 
“It is hard to say if we will see an increase [in voter turnout], as we don’t know how many Queen’s students voted in past municipal elections,” Christianson said. “However, looking to London Ontario as an example, there was an increase in voter turnout in the most recent municipal election.”
 
With candidates aiming for a majority win among a wider range of voters, student votes will have more opportunities to press their interests. Campaigns will have a greater incentive to reach students, which will provide them with an opportunity to have their concerns heard and addressed.
 
“It would be great [in the 2022 municipal election] to see barriers to registration lowered for students, as well as a polling station conveniently located on campus where all students—not just those living in Sydenhan—can vote,” Christianson said.
 

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