Ranked balloting is at least now the practice in one Ontario municipality: London takes the plunge.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

May 2nd, 2017



Changing the way we elect those who represent us from the current First Past the Post (FPTP) where the person with the most votes is the winner and the number of votes does not have to be more than 50% has been a concern for many.

It becomes possible for a political party to win with as little as 35% of the vote.
The other 65% feel they are not represented.

Ranking the ballots so that the eventual winner has at least 50% + 1 is an approach favoured by many.


Ballot box - elections ontarioHow would it work in practice?  The Ontario government set out an example that explains just what voters do with their ballots and how the results are tallied up.

Single-member election: an election where one candidate is elected

In this election, you are being asked to vote on the kind of fruit that will be served as a snack. 


Ranking the ballot

Ranking the ballot

With ranked ballots you can rank your choices from your most preferred to least preferred option, as follows:

  • Cherry  1
  • Pear   2
  • Strawberry 3
  • Apple  4

Calculate the threshold

Thirty people voted, and only one fruit can be chosen. Sixteen votes are needed for a fruit to be elected (50 per cent of 30 votes is 15 votes, plus one makes it a majority).

Count the first choice votes

After the ballots are distributed according to first choices, the vote count looks like this:

Count the first choice votes

None of the fruits has received enough votes to be elected.

Eliminate the option in last place and redistribute those ballots to other candidates

Your first choice, Cherry got the fewest votes. Your ballot will now be given to your second choice, Pear. (The ballots of everyone else who voted for Cherry as their first choice will also be redistributed to their second choices). 

After the five Cherry ballots are distributed, the new vote count is:

Count 2

After the second round of counting, none of the fruits has received enough votes to be elected.

Drop the last place and redistribute those ballots

Strawberry now has the fewest votes. Your ballot stays with your second choice, Pear.

After the seven Strawberry ballots are redistributed, the new vote count is:

Count 3

Pear is elected with 17 votes. Even though your first choice didn’t get elected, your ballot helped your second choice to win.

The problem was that no one was using such an approach – until Monday evening when London, Ontario’s city council voted to use ranked balloting for their 2018 municipal election.  They are the first municipality to do so in Ontario.

Dave Meslin, Creative Director of Unlock Democracy Canada, said “This unprecedented decision makes London City Council the first and only government, anywhere in Canada, to abandon First-Past-the-Post.

“Ranked ballots are a small and simple change that make local elections more fair, inclusive and friendly” said Meslin. “In an age of increasing political cynicism it’s inspiring to see this kind of leadership. Voters deserve a modern electoral system that delivers fair results, reduces negativity and encourages more voices to participate.”

He added that London has put themselves on the map as the #1 leader of democratic renewal in Canada – a great gift to the country on our 150th birthday!

Recent legislation in Ontario allows any of the province’s 444 municipalities to use ranked ballots, but 443 Councils decided to keep the status quo. Electoral reform is difficult to achieve because incumbents rarely want to change the system that put them into power. What we saw in London tonight was rare: selfless leadership.

Meed Ward H&S profile

Ward 2 city Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has been an advocate for ranked balloting – but has yet to bring a motion to city council.

No one on Burlington’s city council has put a motion on the table giving the citizens an opportunity to debate the issues. Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward said in a prepared statement that she “commend London for taking this step and will be watching the next election with interest. They are in a bit of a different situation as a single tier municipality than we are, as part of Halton Regional.

Meslin argues that “lower tiers can do whatever they want, but the UPPER tier can’t switch to ranked ballots unless all of the lower tiers switch.

The upshot is that Burlington is not going to even debate the issue. Oakville and Milton appear to be taking the same position – there is just no appetite for a change.

Why mess with a good thing.

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5 comments to Ranked balloting is at least now the practice in one Ontario municipality: London takes the plunge.

  • William (Bill) Robertson

    I agree with changing the way city council is elected. Let’s have a change

  • Brian Roach

    Basically guaranteeing that incumbents win for infinity. If someone with bold new ideas is interesting they may win a plurality, but once you throw in the formula they will end up losing because people will put incumbents who’s name they already know as 2nd choice. This system favours both Incumbents as well as candidates in the mushy middle of the spectrum. No one else can ever win.

  • Mike Ettlewood

    I won’t say that this will never happen in Burlington. I’m reasonably sure that when it becomes mandatory under the Municipal Act, that Burlington will “choose” to implement.

  • steve

    Shouldn’t the people of Burlington get a chance to vote on such a major change? Or is that too much for the unwashed to concern themselves with.

  • C Jester

    Bravo to London! Shame on Burlington!