Voter turnout in the last Cavan Monaghan municipal election exceeded that of the four previous elections, because of, or in some opinions despite of, the introduction of electronic voting.
In addition, the results were delivered in less than 15 minutes, and best of all, the process was less expensive than the traditional paper ballot format. Buoyed by this success, township Clerk Elana Arthurs has proposed the township move ahead with the more modern election process known as ranked ballots, which became an option with recent changes to the Municipal Elections Act. Adopting this new process requires resident education and feedback as well as Council approval by May of this year in order to allow its implementation in the 2018 municipal election.
Ranked ballot system is part of an election reform platform that is designed to ensure the selected candidate has attracted the majority of the popular vote for the position. It allows a voter to identify candidates in their order of preference, rather than selecting a single candidate in the current system which is known as a First-past-the-post (FPTP).
Ranked ballots only affect races with more than two candidates vying for the same position. It works like the voting which occurs in political party Leadership Convention. In the first count, if no candidate attracts a majority of the ballots, the votes cast for the candidate with the fewest votes are reallocated to those voters’ second choice on the ballot, and so on, until a winning candidate emerges. In our last municipal election, the only position where this system may have influenced the results was in the Cavan Ward where the vote was split between three candidates and the winner did not secure the majority of votes cast.
The ranked ballot system provides voters with a greater say in who is elected and is also reported to increase voter engagement. Supporters of this system suggest that it also reduces the occurrence of strategic voting, where voters avoid casting their ballot for their preferred candidate if they perceive this person has a low chance of success. Negative campaigning is also less likely to occur under ranked ballot systems because voters select multiple candidates rather than making an either/or decision. It also reduces the threat of “splitting the vote”, which results in a higher probability of candidates remaining in the race until voting day.
It is slightly more complex to administer, as multiple rounds of vote counting may be required if the first round does not present a clear winner. Municipalities that continue to use paper ballots will not easily convert to this system. Because the township has already adopted electronic voting where votes are counted by computer, the added complexity is not an issue. Simply Voting, the contractor used in our 2014 election, has experience administering this voting method and had confirmed they can do so at no incremental cost in 2018 municipal contest.
Last week’s first Open House to discuss the potential change drew very few residents, confirming the sentiment detected in recent polls that the public has little interest in election reform. The township is obliged to provide the public with information about the proposed changes and gather voter feedback about the proposal before moving forward. With the next election more than a year away, this may not seem like a priority, but the timetable has been set. Come out and learn about the proposed changes and voice your views before this train leaves the station. KG