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Why Kingston is having a 2018 referendum on Ranked Ballot Voting

In the 2018 municipal election, a referendum question will be included on the ballot asking Kingston voters if they are in favour of using Ranked Ballot Voting to elect the mayor and district  councillors.

Ranked Ballot Voting represents a significant change for candidates, election administrators and the electorate from the existing First Past the Post electoral system. Scroll down to see details on how Ranked Ballot Voting works. Here's some background on why a referendum question on Ranked Ballot Voting will be added to the 2018 municipal ballot.

 

Background

In 2016 the Municipal Elections Act was amended to provide municipalities with the option to use Ranked Ballot Voting to elect the mayor and district councillors beginning with the 2018 municipal election (see Council Report 16-244). Only London, Ontario has opted to use Ranked Ballot Voting for its 2018 election.

On Nov.15, 2016 council received Report 16-366 that offered information on Ranked Ballot Voting.  At that meeting, council decided to maintain the current First Past the Post electoral system for the 2018 election and directed the City Clerk to initiate the process for submitting a referendum question on Ranked Ballot Voting to the electors on the 2018 municipal election ballot. Council also directed staff to report back with a public education plan to engage the public on the addition of the referendum question on the 2018 ballot.

On June 20, 2017, council received Report 17-192  and approved a public education / communications strategy to ensure that the electorate is aware that a referendum question is proposed to be included on the 2018 ballot, how Ranked Ballot Voting works, and how much a Ranked Ballot Election would cost. 

Public education and engagement opportunities

Four open houses were held across the city on January, 10th and 11th, 2018 (one in each of the west, central, east and rural areas of the city). The City is also using its website, signage, print media, social media, news releases and a video to explain how Ranked Ballot Voting would work and how the votes are distributed based on the rankings on each ballot. Further open houses will be held in September 2018. The approved public education/communications strategy will be ongoing until Voting Day, October 22, 2018.

For a summary of the key questions and comments heard at the four open houses please refer to Council Report 18-062

Key dates

  • January 10 & January 11 - Initial open houses about Ranked Ballot Voting and the referendum question
  • Feb. 6, 2018 – Statutory public meeting held by Council to consider the referendum question to be included on the ballot;
  • Feb. 6, 2018 – Bylaw No. 2018-046 approved by Council authorizing the Clerk to submit the referendum question to the electors;
  • Feb. 9, 2018 – Notice of Passing published in Whig-Standard, posted on the City's website and sent to Minister of Municipal Affairs;
  • March 1, 2018 – Last date for appeals to Bylaw 2018-046;
  • September 19 & 20, 2018 – Public open houses across the city to explain Ranked Ballot Voting and the referendum question;
  • Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018 – Advance Voting Day and Internet Voting Begins;
  • Monday, Oct. 22, 2018 – Voting Day.

 

What is Ranked Ballot Voting and how is a winner determined?

First Past The Post

Under the current electoral system, known as First Past the Post, an elector gets one vote for mayor and one vote for a councillor in the district in which they are voting.  There is one round of ballot counting (notwithstanding any recounts) and the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner.

Ranked Ballot Voting

With Ranked Ballot Voting the winning candidate must receive 50 per cent of the total votes plus one (a simple majority). In a ranked ballot election there may be multiple rounds of ballot counting before a winner can be declared. Electors rank the candidates for mayor and district councillor in order of preference – first choice, second choice and third choice – instead of voting for just one candidate.

The first choice votes would be counted for all of the candidates. If a candidate receives at least 50 per cent plus one votes, he or she is elected. 

If none of the candidates receives enough first choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated. Each of the eliminated candidate's ballots is then redistributed to one of the remaining candidates according to the next choice marked on each of the eliminated candidate's ballots. 

If one of the remaining candidates then has enough combined first and second choice votes (i.e. 50 per cent plus one), he or she is elected. 

If none of the remaining candidates receives enough combined votes to be elected, the candidate who has the fewest votes after the second ballot count is eliminated and those ballots are redistributed based on the next choice marked on each of the eliminated candidate's ballots.

The process continues until one candidate has enough votes to win.

How Ranked Ballot Voting would work

1000 Electors – one candidate to be elected – 501 votes needed to win.

1st Ballot Count

Candidate

1

2

3

4

5

First-choice votes

75

120

405

125

275

Based on the first choice votes, none of the candidates received enough votes (501) to be elected.  Therefore, Candidate 1 with the fewest number of first choice votes is eliminated and their 75 votes are redistributed to the four remaining candidates based on the next choice candidate on each ballot.

 

2nd Ballot Count

Candidate

1

2

3

4

5

First-choice votes

75

120

405

125

275

Second-choice votes

 

25

30

5

15

Second count

 

145

435

130

290

Following redistribution of the Candidate 1 ballots based on the next choice on each of Candidate 1's ballots, none of the remaining candidates received enough votes (501) to be elected.  Therefore, Candidate 4, with the fewest number of second count votes, is eliminated and their 130 second count votes are redistributed to the three remaining candidates based on the next choice on each of Candidate 4's ballots.

 

3rd Ballot Count

Candidate

1

2

3

4

5

First-choice votes

75

120

405

125

275

Second-choice votes

 

25

30

5

15

Second count

 

145

435

130

290

Third-choice votes

 

15

75

 

40

Third count

 

160

510

 

330

Following redistribution of the Candidate 4 ballots based on the next choice on each of the ballots, Candidate 3 with 510 votes is elected.

Had the 2014 municipal election used Ranked Ballot Voting, and assuming that everyone voted the same way, eight of the districts would have been decided based on first-choice votes.  The elected candidates in those eight districts received a low of 51.9 per cent of the vote to a high of 87.3 per cent.  For the office of mayor and the other four district councillors, multiple ballot counts would have been required as the winning candidates received a low of 33.7 per cent of the vote to a high of 40.6 per cent.

 

Multiple Ballot Counts Required

Election Year

Mayor

Councillors

Districts

 

2017 By-Election

N/A

Yes

Countryside

 

2014 Election

Yes

Yes (4)

Countryside, Lakeside, Trillium and Pittsburgh

 

2010 Election

No

Yes (3)

Cataraqui, Lakeside and Pittsburgh

 

2006 Election

Yes

Yes (3)

Loyalist-Cataraqui, Sydenham and Williamsville

 

2003 Election

No

Yes (3)

Loyalist-Cataraqui, Collins-Bayridge and Cataraqui

 

NOTE: Assumes that the votes cast in each election would have been the "first choice" votes if a Ranked Ballot Election had been held.

Prior to the public meeting, a further inquiry was received regarding the number of candidates running for the office of Councillor in each District and suggested that if it was not usual to have three or more candidates running in each District then ranking ballots serves no purpose. As the following table shows, in each of the past 4 municipal elections the majority of Districts have had three or more candidates running for the office of Councillor and in each case 7 of the 12 Districts had 4 or more candidates running.

Number of Candidates

Election Year

Mayor

Councillors

2017 By-Election

N/A

1 District with 7 candidates

2014 Election

6

1 District with 5 candidates, 6 Districts with 4 candidates, 2 Districts with 3 candidates and 3 Districts with 2 candidates

2010 Election

6

1 District with 5 candidates, 6 Districts with 4 candidates, 2 Districts with 3 candidates and 3 Districts with 2 candidates

2006 Election

3

1 District with 5 candidates, 6 Districts with 4 candidates, 2 Districts with 3 candidates and 3 Districts with 2 candidates

2003 Election

6

1 District with 5 candidates, 6 Districts with 4 candidates, 2 Districts with 3 candidates and 3 Districts with 2 candidates

 

What are the potential changes and cost?

Ranked Ballot Voting is optional for municipalities to elect the mayor and district councillors only. Electors would still use the current First Past the Post (FPTP) voting method for school board trustees. Ranked Ballot Voting is not an option for school board trustees given that school board districts typically cross municipal boundaries, and may include only portions of adjacent municipalities. If Ranked Ballot Voting was approved, Kingston would run two types of elections: Ranked Ballot Voting for the mayor and district councillors; and FPTP for the school board trustees.

As outlined in Council Report 16-244, Ranked Ballot Voting represents a significant change from the current electoral system and would require significant investment by the city's taxpayers. Overall election operations, equipment, staffing, support systems and administration could cost an additional $250,000 or more. 

At the open houses, there were a number of inquiries about the potential additional costs for a Ranked Ballot Election and if the numbers could be refined based on London's experiences.  Council Report 18-062 provides further information on the proposed costs based on London's experience and information from the City's current election equipment vendor.

Based on a Jan. 24, 2017 report to London's Corporate Services Committee the estimated additional costs for a Ranked Ballot Election was $322,500.  The additional costs included:  consultation ($150,000); paper ballots ($42,500); vendor costs $10,000); election staff resources ($70,000); and additional poll workers ($50,000).

The London report noted that the above costs would increase if there was an increase in the number of candidates from the 2014 election and if electors were ranking more than three candidates as a larger ballot would be required.  Also, the report acknowledged some unknowns with the reporting algorithm software for the election and there will be additional costs for algorithm development and testing.

Staff reviewed the previous high level estimate of $250,000 to $300,000 for the additional costs associated with holding a Ranked Ballot Election in Kingston. Based on the foregoing costs from London and an estimated 20% increase from the City's current supplier of election equipment, the following revised estimates are presented:

  • Contracted Services - $45,000
    (includes vote tabulators, ballots, software license, internet voting, accessible voting equipment)
  • Election Staffing - $60,000
    (includes one additional "senior" election official and one additional worker at each voting place on Advance Voting Day and Voting Day)
  • Election Staff Training - $25,000
    (approx. 225 election staff would need training on ranked ballot voting)
  • Public Education / Consultation - $75,000
    (more in-depth and detailed than current consultation on the Question on the ballot)
  • Election Administration - $15,000
    (preparation of prescribed information for Council/public, open houses, public meeting, Council reports, etc.)
  • TOTAL - $220,000

Similar to London, these costs should be considered preliminary and would be contingent on vendor selection, number of choices, final ballot design and the reporting algorithm development and testing.  In addition, the foregoing costs do not include any required upgrades to the IT infrastructure. Staff will follow up with the City of London prior to the September 2018 open houses to determine if these estimates can be refined any further.

What is the process for submitting a question to the electors?

The Municipal Elections Act sets out the process and rules for submitting a referendum question to the electors. The Act requires that council pass a bylaw by March 1, 2018 authorizing the city clerk to include the question on the ballot. In accordance with the Act, and prior to passing the bylaw, the City provided at least 10 days notice of the intent to pass the bylaw to the public and the Minister of Municipal Affairs (Whig Standard and City website on Jan. 22, 2018, Kingston This Week on Jan. 25, 2018 and letter to the Minister Jan. 23, 2018) and a public meeting was held on Feb. 6, 2018  to consider the referendum question. Bylaw No. 2018-046 was passed by Council on February 6, 2018 and the required  Notice of Passing was issued to the public and the Minister on Feb. 9, 2018. The bylaw may be appealed to the Chief Electoral Officer of the Province of Ontario within 20 days after the date of the Notice of Passing (last day for appeals March 1, 2018).  The only grounds for an appeal are that the referendum question is not considered to be clear, concise and neutral or not capable of being answered in the affirmative or negative.

Referendum Question

At its meeting on February 6, 2018 Council approved the wording of the referendum question as follows:

"Are you in favour of using Ranked Ballot Voting to elect the Mayor and District Councillors in the City of Kingston? 

Yes.    No."

The approved wording for the referendum question was included in Bylaw No. 2018-046 and the required Notice of Passing.

Implementing the results of the referendum question

In order for the results of the referendum question to be "binding", at least 50 per cent of the eligible electors in Kingston must vote on the referendum question The number of eligible electors will be determined from the Voters' List as it exists at the close of voting on Voting Day (Oct. 22, 2018).

If 50 per cent of eligible electors vote on referendum question and the majority vote NO, this would mean that the City could not take any further action with respect to Ranked Ballot Voting for a period of four years after Voting Day (i.e. until after October 22, 2022).  That means that the earliest a future council could implement Ranked Ballot Voting would be for the 2026 municipal election.

If 50 per cent of eligible electors vote on referendum question and the majority vote YES, the Municipal Elections Act requires the City to implement the results in a timely fashion. Implementation would be subject to the requirements of the Act and Ontario Regulation 310/16 with respect to ranked ballot elections which require that council pass a ranked ballot election bylaw.

Prior to passing the bylaw, council must consider such matters as:

  • the cost of the election;
  • the availability of required technology and software; and,
  • the impacts of the bylaw on election administration. 

Information must also be made available to the public with respect to:

  • how Ranked Ballot Voting works;
  • the estimated cost of the election;
  • the voting equipment to be used; and,
  • any alternative voting methods being considered. 

At least one open house would be held to present the required public information and at least one public meeting would be held to consider the bylaw.  After the public meeting has been held, council has the discretion not to implement the results of the Referendum Question even if 50% of the eligible electors voted on the question and the majority voted Yes.  If the bylaw is passed, council cannot reverse or substantially change the action for four years.

The ranked ballot election bylaw would have to be passed by May 1, 2021 for the 2022 municipal election.

What if 50% of eligible electors do not vote on the referendum question?

If 50% of eligible electors do not vote on the question, Council could still decide to implement Ranked Ballot Voting. Council would have to follow the process outlined above and pass a Ranked Ballot Election Bylaw.  The results of the referendum question could be used in an advisory capacity to help inform Council's further consideration of the matter.