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Note: Similar to the City of London, Kingston is opting to now use the term ranked choice voting as it more accurately describes the voting process.

In 2016 the Municipal Elections Act was amended to provide municipalities with the option to use ranked choice voting to elect the mayor and district councillors beginning with the 2018 municipal election (see Council Report 16-244). On November15, 2016 Council received Report 16-366 and decided to maintain the current first past the post electoral system for the 2018 election. Council also directed the City Clerk to initiate the process for submitting a referendum question on ranked choice voting to the electors on the 2018 municipal election ballot. 

2018 Referendum Question

The 2018 municipal election ballot included the following referendum question:

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

Yes. No."

Result of the Referendum Question and what it means

On November 20, 2018 Council received Report 18-384 which presented the results of the referendum question and outlined potential next steps. The Municipal Elections Act requires that at least 50 percent of the total number of eligible electors in the municipality must vote on the referendum question in order for the results to be "binding". Based on the official 2018 election results the number of eligible electors was 83,608. The total number of electors that voted on the referendum question was 32,803 or 39.2 percent of eligible electors. Since 50 percent of eligible electors did not vote on the referendum question, the results are not "binding" on Council. Of the electors that voted on the referendum question, 62.9 percent were in favour of using ranked choice voting to elect the mayor and district councillors. Although the result of the referendum question is not "binding", Council has directed staff to initiate the process to implement ranked choice voting for the 2022 municipal election.

Council direction to staff

Council, at its meeting held on December 18, 2018, passed the following motion:

"Whereas the 2018 municipal election ballot included a Referendum Question asking electors if they would be in favour of using ranked choice Voting to elect the Mayor and District Councillors in the City of Kingston; and

Whereas the Municipal Elections Act requires that 50% of eligible electors vote on the Referendum Question in order for the results to be "binding"; and

Whereas 32,803 electors, or 39.2% of eligible electors, voted on the Referendum Question of which 62.9% were in favour of using ranked choice Voting to elect the Mayor and District Councillors in the City of Kingston; and

Whereas Council could still decide to implement ranked choice Voting even though the results of the Referendum Question are not "binding"; and

Whereas Council, at its meeting held on November 15, 2016, directed "the City Clerk to monitor the use of ranked choice elections throughout Ontario for the 2018 municipal election and report back to Council in 2019 with a report that outlines the experiences of other jurisdictions that used ranked choicing in their 2018 municipal election"; and

Whereas the City of London, Ontario was the only municipality to use ranked choice Voting in 2018 and City staff had some preliminary discussions with London with respect to the potential costs to conduct a ranked choice Election; and

Whereas, in accordance with Council's direction, staff will be following up with London to obtain further information with respect to London's experiences with ranked choice Voting; and

Whereas the results of the Referendum Question demonstrate that a clear majority of the electors voting in the 2018 municipal election are in favour of ranked choice Voting to elect the Mayor and District Councillors and Council is of the opinion that the results of the Referendum Question be respected and acted upon;

Therefore Be It Resolved That staff be requested to initiate the process to implement ranked choice Voting to elect the Mayor and District Councillors in the 2022 municipal election recognizing that the required ranked choice Voting Bylaw would have to be passed by May 1, 2021; and

That staff be requested to provide a report on the experiences of the City of London to Council by the end of Q2 2019 and that said report provide a high level analysis that can assist in the implementation of ranked choice Voting in the City of Kingston."

How does ranked choice voting differ from the current system?

Under the current electoral system, known as first past the post, an elector gets one vote for mayor and one vote for the councillor in the district in which they are voting. An elector also gets to vote for school board trustees. There is one round of ballot counting (notwithstanding any recounts) and the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner.

Ranked choice voting would only be used to elect the mayor and district councillors. The winning candidate would need a simple majority to win, that is 50 per cent plus one of the valid ballots cast. Declined or rejected ballots would not be considered a ballot cast and would not be included in the total number of ballots for determining the 50 per cent plus one threshold. This threshold is only calculated once at the beginning of the vote counting process and does not change if subsequent rounds of ballot counting are required.

In a ranked choice election there could be multiple rounds of ballot counting before a winner could be declared. Electors would rank the candidates for mayor and district councillor in their order of preference – first choice, second choice and third choice – instead of voting for just one candidate. An elector's ballot could be counted more than once before a winner is declared.

Ranking the candidates – how many choices?

The number of choices could be specified by Council in the ranked choice election bylaw. The number of choices could be different for the mayor and the district councillors. If the number of choices is not specified in the bylaw the default number is three. If an elector chooses not to rank the maximum number of candidates, that does not spoil the ballot.

Interpreting the rankings on a ballot

When it comes time to count the ballots, the rankings would be considered in the order of preference that is indicated. If the maximum number of choices is three and an elector has ranked three different candidates as their first, second and third choices, this scenario is fairly straightforward. The elector's first choice would be counted in the first round of ballot counting. If subsequent rounds of ballot counting were required, the elector's second choice would be counted in the second round and the third choice would be counted in the third round.

If an elector only ranks one candidate

With ranked choice voting an elector has the option to rank multiple candidates for mayor and district councillor in their order of preference. However, an elector could still vote for only one candidate for mayor or only one candidate for district councillor if that was their preference.

If an elector only ranks one candidate, that candidate would be the elector's highest preference and their ballot would only be counted in the first round of ballot counting. If additional rounds of ballot counting were required, a ballot with only one ranking would become "exhausted" after the first round and would be removed from further counts as it could not be redistributed to any of the remaining candidates.

If an elector gives the same candidate more than one ranking

If the same candidate is given more than one ranking, only the highest of those rankings would be considered. For example, if an elector ranked candidate A as both first and second choice and candidate B as third choice, the first choice vote for candidate A would be counted in the first round of ballot counting. If subsequent rounds of ballot counting were required, the second choice ranking for candidate A would be ignored and the third choice ranking for candidate B, as the next highest valid choice on the ballot, would be counted in the second round of ballot counting.

If an elector skips a ranking

If an elector skips a ranking, the next highest choice would be considered in a subsequent round of ballot counting. For example, if an elector marked a second choice and a third choice but not a first choice, the elector's second choice, as the highest ranking on the ballot, would be counted in the first round of ballot counting. If a subsequent round of ballot counting was required, the elector's third choice would then be counted in the second round of ballot counting.

Similarly, if an elector marked a first choice and a third choice, the first choice would be counted in the first round of ballot counting. If a subsequent round of ballot counting was required, since no second choice was marked on the ballot, the third choice, as the next highest choice on the ballot, would be counted in the second round of ballot counting.

If an elector gives two candidates the highest ranking

If an elector ranks two candidates as their first choice there would be no way to determine which of the two candidates is the elector's preferred choice and the ballot would be rejected.

If an elector marks a first choice and gives two candidates a subsequent choice

If an elector marks a first choice and then marks two different candidates as their second choice the first choice would be counted in the first round of ballot counting. If a subsequent round of ballot counting was required, it would be impossible to determine the elector's preference for second choice and the ballot would become "exhausted" and be removed from the count.

Vote tabulator pre-programming for over-votes and under-votes

For each of the foregoing scenarios, it is anticipated that the vote tabulator would be pre-programmed to either reject a ballot or display a warning message if there was an under-vote or over-vote situation. The elector would then be afforded the opportunity to either amend their ballot or to have the ballot cast as marked. If the elector chooses to have the ballot cast as marked, other valid votes on the ballot for other races would still be counted.

"Exhausted" ballots

A ballot becomes "exhausted" and would be removed from the total ballot count if:

  1. The elector did not choose any of the remaining candidates in the next round of ballot counting; or
  2. It is not possible to determine the elector's preferred choice for a remaining candidate; or
  3. The elector has ranked more candidates than the maximum permitted and the elector's highest ranked remaining candidate has a lower ranking than the lowest permitted ranking. For example, if a maximum of three rankings are permitted but an elector marked first, second, third and fourth choices. If the elector's last ranked remaining candidate is the fourth choice, the ballot becomes "exhausted" since the lowest permitted ranking is a third choice.

Counting the votes in a ranked choice election

After voting closes on voting day, electronic tabulators would be used to count the first choice votes for each of the candidates in each race. If a candidate received at least 50 per cent plus one of the votes (simple majority), they would be elected and no further ballot counting would be required for that race.

If no candidate received enough first choice votes to be elected, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes would be eliminated. The eliminated candidate's ballots would be redistributed to one of the remaining candidates based on the next choice marked on each of the eliminated candidate's ballots. A second ballot count would then be conducted. If one of the remaining candidates had enough combined first and second ballot count votes (i.e. 50 per cent plus one), they would be elected.

If no remaining candidate received enough combined votes to be elected, the candidate who had the fewest votes after the 2nd ballot count would be eliminated and that candidate's ballots would then be redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the next choice marked on each of the eliminated candidate's ballots. A third ballot count would then be conducted.

The process of eliminating the candidate with the fewest votes in each round of ballot counting and redistributing their ballots to the remaining candidates would continue until one candidate had enough votes to be elected. When only two candidates remain after the elimination rounds have occurred, the candidate with the most votes would be declared the winner even though they may not have achieved the 50 percent plus one threshold (i.e. due to the number of "exhausted" ballots removed from the count).

Example of how ranked choice voting would work

In this example 1000 electors cast a ballot in a race where one candidate is to be elected. Based on the threshold of 50 per cent plus one of the votes, 501 votes would be needed to win.

First Ballot Count

 

Candidate 1 2 3 4 5
Total votes from first ballot count 75 120 405 125 275

 

Based on the first ballot count (first choice votes), no candidate received enough votes (501) to be elected. Therefore, Candidate 1 with the fewest number of first choice votes would be eliminated from the race. The votes for the four remaining candidates from the first ballot count would be carried forward and Candidate 1's 75 ballots would be redistributed to the four remaining candidates based on the next choice candidate on each ballot and then a second ballot count would be conducted.

Second Ballot Count

 

Candidate 1 2 3 4 5
Votes carried forward from first ballot count 75 120 405 125 275
Next choice votes from Candidate 1's redistributed ballots   25 30 5 15
Total votes from second ballot count   145 435 130 290

 

Following redistribution of the Candidate 1 ballots based on the next choice on each of those ballots, no remaining candidate received enough votes (501) to be elected. Therefore, Candidate 4, with the fewest number of second count votes, would be eliminated and their 130 ballots would be redistributed to the three remaining candidates based on the next choice on each of Candidate 4's ballots. A third ballot count would then be conducted.

Third Ballot Count

Candidate 1 2 3 4 5
Votes carried forward from first ballot count 75 120 405 125 275
Next choice votes from Candidate 1's redistributed ballots   25 30 5 15
Total votes from second ballot count   145 435 130 290
Next choice votes from Candidate 4's redistributed ballots   15 75   40
Total votes from third ballot count   160 510   330

 

Following redistribution of the Candidate 4 ballots based on the next choice on each of those ballots, Candidate 3 with 510 votes achieved the threshold of 50 percent plus one of the votes and would be declared the winner.

Resolving tie votes

If two or more candidates are tied after the first round of ballot counting, the tied candidate's names would be placed in a hat or other container and the candidate whose name is drawn is deemed to have the fewest votes and would be eliminated.

If two or more candidates are tied in the second round of ballot counting and any subsequent round:

  1. the candidate with the fewest votes in the preceding round is deemed to have the fewest votes in the current round and would be eliminated;
  2. if the candidates who are tied in the current round were tied in the preceding round, the candidate with the fewest votes in the round before the preceding round is deemed to have the fewest votes in the current round and would be eliminated; and
  3. if the candidates who are tied in the current round were tied in all of the preceding rounds, the tied candidate's names would be placed in a hat or other container and the candidate whose name is drawn is deemed to have the fewest votes and would be eliminated.

What if the 2018 Election had been a ranked choice election?

If the 2018 municipal election had used ranked choice voting, and assuming that everyone voted the same way as their first choice vote, the races for mayor and seven district councillors would have been decided on the first ballot count. In those races the winning candidates received a low of 50.98 per cent of the vote to a high of 80.43 per cent of the vote. In another of the districts the winning candidate was acclaimed. The races for the other four district councillors would have required multiple ballot counts as the winning candidates in those four districts received a low of 41.64 per cent of the vote to a high of 49.79 per cent of the vote.

What about previous elections?

As part of the public engagement process regarding the referendum question, information was presented with respect to the number of races in previous elections that would have required multiple ballot counts if those elections had been ranked choice elections. The following information has been updated to include the 2018 municipal election.

Races that would have required Multiple Ballot Counts

Election Year Mayor Councillors Electoral Districts
2018 No Yes (4) Countryside, Loyalist-Cataraqui, Trillium and Kingscourt-Rideau
2017 (By-Election) N/A Yes (1) Countryside
2014 Yes Yes (4) Countryside, Lakeside, Trillium and Pittsburgh
2010 No Yes (3) Cataraqui, Lakeside and Pittsburgh
2006 Yes Yes (3) Loyalist-Cataraqui, Sydenham and Williamsville
2003 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 choice election had been held.

Number of candidates running in previous elections

As part of the public engagement process regarding the referendum question, a further inquiry was received regarding the number of candidates running for the office of councillor in each electoral district. It was suggested that if it was not usual to have three or more candidates running in each electoral district then ranking ballots serves no purpose. As the following table shows, in each of the past 6 municipal elections or by-elections the majority of electoral districts have had three or more candidates running for the office of councillor and in five of the past elections at least 6 of the 12 districts had 4 or more candidates running.

Number of Candidates

Election Year Mayor Councillors
2018 4 1 district Acclaimed, 1 district with 6 candidates, 1 district with 5 candidates, 3 districts with 4 candidates, 3 districts with 3 candidates, 3 districts with 2 candidates
2017 Byelection N/A 1 district with 7 candidates
2014 6 1 district with 5 candidates, 6 districts with 4 candidates, 2 districts with 3 candidates and 3 districts with 2 candidates
2010 6 1 district with 5 candidates, 6 districts with 4 candidates, 2 districts with 3 candidates and 3 districts with 2 candidates
2006 3 1 district with 5 candidates, 6 districts with 4 candidates, 2 districts with 3 candidates and 3 districts with 2 candidates
2003 6 1 district with 5 candidates, 6 districts with 4 candidates, 2 districts with 3 candidates and 3 districts with 2 candidates

Potential changes with ranked choice voting

Ranked choice voting is optional for municipalities to elect the mayor and district councillors only. Electors would still use the current first past the post voting method for school board trustees. Ranked choice 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 choice voting is approved, Kingston would run two types of elections: ranked choice voting for the mayor and district councillors; and, first past the post for the school board trustees.

It is noted that a single composite ballot would be used that would include the races for mayor, district councillor and school board trustees. The vote tabulator would be programmed to tabulate the results from all races.

London's experience with ranked choice voting

As noted above, staff was requested to provide a report to Council on the experiences of the City of London with ranked choice voting by the end of Q2 2019.  On June 18, 2019 Council received Report 19-165 which outlined the following observations respecting London's experiences:

  • A main challenge for London was communicating with and educating the public to ensure that candidates and the community were aware of the change in the voting process;
  • Another challenge was training all election workers so that they could explain clearly how ranked choice voting worked. Additional election workers were hired to ensure that the voting places were adequately staffed;
  • The absence of proven technology for voting equipment to conduct a ranked choice election in Ontario was another challenge;
  • London retained an independent auditor with expertise in ranked choice elections to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the 2018 election;
  • London did not provide an internet voting option with the ranked choice election;
  • On election night only the first choice votes were tabulated – eight of the 15 races were decided on the first ballot count;
  • For the remaining seven races, additional rounds of ballot counting commenced at 10 a.m. on October 23, 2018 and all unofficial results were posted by 3 p.m.;
  • The use of ranked choice voting did not change the outcome of the election in terms of the winning candidates. The winning candidate in all 15 races would have been the winning candidate had the election been a first-past-the-post election;
  • Switching to ranked choice voting did not increase elector turnout in London; and
  • London's 2014 election cost was $1,321,056 and the 2018 election cost was $1,779,149 of which the total additional cost related to the ranked choice election was $515,446.

London's successful ranked choice election means that Kingston will not face all of the same challenges should Council decide to pass a ranked choice election by-law for the 2022 municipal election. Staff is generally satisfied that the technology and software to conduct a ranked choice election exists for in-person voting. Based on discussions with the City's current election services provider, internet voting is possible in a ranked choice election. However, it may be necessary to retain an independent auditor with experience in ranked choice elections to verify the processes, procedures and accuracy of the internet voting option.

Similar to London, two of the biggest challenges facing Kingston will be: communication and public education to ensure that candidates and the electorate understand ranked choice voting and are aware of the change in the voting process; and, training all election workers so that they can explain clearly how ranked choice voting works.

Potential costs for a ranked choice election

As outlined in Council Report 16-244, ranked choice 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 were initially estimated to cost an additional $250,000 to $300,000 or more for a ranked choice election. The budget for the 2018 municipal election was $750,000. Based on the foregoing estimates, an initial ranked choice election could cost $1 Million or more.

Council Report 18-062 provided further information on the potential additional costs for a ranked choice election based on staff's review of the previous high level estimate of $250,000 to $300,000, preliminary costs from London, Ontario, and an estimated 20% increase from the City's supplier of election equipment. As a result, the following revised estimates were provided:

  • Contracted Services - $45,000
  • Election Staffing - $60,000
  • Election Staff Training - $25,000
  • Public Education / Consultation - $75,000
  • Election Administration - $15,000

TOTAL - $220,000

The foregoing additional costs were considered to be preliminary and contingent on such things as: the vendor selected to supply the required vote counting equipment and software; the number of choices for each office; final ballot design; and, the reporting algorithm development and testing. In addition, the foregoing costs did not include any required upgrades to the City's IT infrastructure to support ranked choice voting and the reporting requirements. Other potential changes to the overall administration of the election (e.g. number of voting places) could also have an impact on the total cost of the election.

Based on the latest information from London and further discussions with the City's current election services provider, it was confirmed that the addition of ranked choice voting would increase costs by 21.6% above the 2018 price. The increased costs would include the addition of the ranked choice module, an increase in the internet voting price to cover the ranked choice functionality and an increase in the implementation services labour given the additional effort required to implement ranked choice voting. It was indicated that there should be no increase in the paper ballot pricing if the standard, single-sided legal size ballot is used.

Based on the foregoing, the estimated additional costs for the initial ranked choice election in Kingston would be:

  • Contracted Services $41,500 - includes vote tabulators, ballots, software license, internet voting, accessible voting equipment, logic and accuracy testing, ballot boxes
  • Independent Auditor $50,000 - to verify the processes, procedures, and accuracy of the internet voting option for a ranked choice election
  • Election Staffing $65,000 - 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 - approximately 225 election staff would need training on ranked choice voting
  • Public Education / Consultation $100,000 - more in-depth and detailed than the consultation on the referendum question
  • Election Administration $15,000 - preparation of prescribed information for Council/public, open houses, public meeting, Council reports, etc.

TOTAL $296,500

These costs are considered preliminary and would be contingent on vendor selection, selection of the independent auditor for internet voting, the number of choices, final ballot design, any required upgrades to the City's IT infrastructure and the approved public engagement strategies. As required by the Municipal Elections Act and Ontario Regulation 310/16, more detailed costs for conducting a ranked choice election must be made available to the public and Council prior to the passing of a ranked choice election bylaw.

The process to implement ranked choice voting

The Municipal Elections Act and Ontario Regulation 310/16 set out the process and procedures that must be followed by Council In order to implement ranked choice voting. There are prescribed matters that must be considered by Council and prescribed information that must be presented to the public. Council must also pass a ranked choice election bylaw.

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

  • the costs to the City of conducting the ranked choice election;
  • the availability of technology, such as voting equipment and vote-counting equipment and software for conducting the election; and,
  • the impact the proposed Bylaw would have on election administration.

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

  • A detailed description of how the ranked choice election would be conducted, including a description of how votes would be distributed to candidates based on the rankings marked on ballots;
  • An estimate of the costs of conducting the ranked choice election;
  • A description of the voting equipment and vote-counting equipment, if any, that is being considered; and,
  • A description of any alternative voting method being considered (i.e. internet voting).

At least one open house must be held to present the required public information and at least one public meeting must be held to consider the bylaw. Both the open house and public meeting require at least 30 days notice and the open house(s) must be held at least 15 days before the public meeting. If the bylaw is passed, Council cannot reverse or substantially change the action for four years.

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

Proposed next steps

The next steps in the process to implement ranked choice voting for the 2022 municipal election are briefly summarized as follows:

  • Request for information issued for provision, support and services for ranked choice voting for the 2022 municipal election;
  • City enters into agreement with the preferred vendor for provision, support and services for ranked choice voting for the 2022 municipal election;
  • Staff to compile prescribed information for Council and the public (by end of Q1 2020);
  • Public engagement strategy prepared and launched (by end of Q3 2020);
  • Schedule required open houses (by end of Q4 2020);
  • Statutory public meeting to consider bylaw (by end of Q1 2021);
  • Council decision on ranked choice election bylaw (bylaw must be passed by May 1, 2021 for the 2022 municipal election);
  • If Council passes the ranked choice election bylaw, modify public engagement strategy (by end of Q3 2021);
  • Public engagement strategy launched  - public engagement strategy would be ongoing up to and including voting day (Q4 2021);
  • Public open houses across City (January 2022);
  • Public open houses across City (June 2022);
  • Public open houses across City (September 2022);
  • Voting day (October 24, 2022).

Further details on the next steps will be posted to this webpage when available.

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