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Ranking the worst aspects of Toronto council's ranked ballot rejection

Coun. Justin Di Ciano, the ringleader of the push against ranked ballots, attends his first council meeting in December 2014.
Coun. Justin Di Ciano, the ringleader of the push against ranked ballots, attends his first council meeting in December 2014.

Even though there’s a good chance their decision won’t end up meaning much – the province is likely to push forward with planned electoral reforms anyway — there are many terrible features of Toronto City Council’s 25-18 vote against ranked ballots last week.

So many, in fact, that I can’t pick just one to write about.

So in the spirit of the fair and equitable ranked ballot system council voted to endorse in 2013 and then voted to reject in 2015, let’s rank all the awful things about council’s latest flip-flop.

5. It came with no warning

Council’s 2013 debate on ranked ballots, where they were approved on a vote of 26-15, was the culmination of a long effort by groups like the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) to win support for ranked balloting.

Last week’s decision, in contrast, came as part of an item relating to a review of the City of Toronto Act. Ranked ballots were buried deep in a long report.

That meant that groups like RaBIT had no chance to mobilize supporters. There was no chance for a public discussion. It happened with no notice. That’s not how smart decisions are made.

The architect of the anti-ranked ballot push, newbie Coun. Justin Di Ciano, made a messy hash of an argument against electoral reform. (Watch the debate here.)

He said the idea of ranked ballots in municipal elections was flawed because it wouldn’t apply to school board trustee elections. He said council’s previous decision on ranked ballots, which came in June of 2013, was irrelevant because it came at the end of the municipal term. He said the issue hadn’t been given its “due course.”

The worst of it came when Di Ciano repeatedly expressed his view that ranked ballots would disenfranchise people by making voting more complicated.

“I’m deeply concerned about creating an electoral process that’s more confusing and more burdensome to the average voter, and the effects of disenfranchisement,” he said.

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s a little insulting to suggest voters wouldn’t be able to handle the concept of ranking things.

3. Councillors on record as endorsing ranked ballots ended up speaking against them

Di Ciano’s anti-ranked ballot arguments were immediately picked up by Coun. Michelle Berardinetti. Berardinetti was quick to point out that the province of British Columbia had rejected electoral reforms similar to ranked ballots.

“They said, ‘We don’t want this confusing democratic option’,” she told council, putting a ton of emphasis on the word “confusing.”

Ignoring again the assertion that ranking things is apparently as complex as string theory, Berardinetti’s arguments were even more troubling because she voted in favour of the 2013 ranked ballot option and has long been listed as a supporter of RaBIT.

So much for being consistent.

Berardinetti wasn’t the only councillor to change her mind on ranked ballots. The following councillors also flipped their vote between 2013 and 2015: Coun. Gary Crawford, Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, Coun. Mary Fragedakis, Coun. Cesar Palacio, Coun. Anthony Perruzza and Coun. Jaye Robinson.

Like Berardinetti, Crawford, De Baeremaeker, Palacio, Perruzza and Robinson are also listed as RaBIT endorsers. They did a heck of a job.

2. The justifications after the debate were weak

As downtown councillors of a progressive bent, Coun. Fragedakis and Coun. Paula Fletcher drew a flurry of criticism following their anti-ranked ballot votes. In an attempt to put out the fire, Fletcher published a letter on the subject to her website, while Fragedakis echoed her message in emails to constituents, a number of which were forwarded to me.

But Fletcher's arguments are weak. In addition to suggesting the 2013 vote on ranked ballots was hasty because council was “in the throes of the Rob Ford crisis”, she also says there simply has not been enough public consultation on ranked ballots.

And sure, she can want more public consultation. There’s always room for more. But that still doesn’t explain why she would support a motion that plainly asks the provincial government not to even given Toronto the option of using ranked ballots.

Again: the option. That’s the important part. Council has never asked for anything more than for ranked ballots to be optional. Had that option been granted, council could hold all kinds of public consultations and then decide if and when to implement these reforms.

The motion Fletcher supported, on the other hand, would allow for no further consultation. It instead asks the province to kill the idea for Toronto.

1. The debate made Giorgio Mammoliti sound wise

I’m usually not one to appreciate Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti’s colourful contributions to council debates, especially on issues he opposes, like voting reform.

But last week Mammoliti managed to perfectly underscore what was wrong with council’s about-face on ranked ballots. He did so while also using the word “whackjob” on the council floor.

“Are you aware,” he asked his colleagues, “that there are a group of councillors that have pushed this ranked ballot scenario and now half of those particular councillors aren’t going to vote for this whackjob motion because they’re going to be out of a job themselves when this is done?”

And then Mammoliti laughed and laughed.

Here's how the vote went down

scorecard ranked ballots
scorecard ranked ballots

This post was originally published at on 2015-10-07T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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