London was the only Ontario municipality to take advantage of the opportunity to use ranked ballots, or Single Transferable Vote (STV) in last fall’s Municipal Elections. In a report to the Corporate Services Committee, London’s City Clerk Cathy Saunders notes that of the people that voted in the Forest City last October, the overwhelming majority took advantage of the opportunity to rank their options.
According to the report, only 31 per cent of the people who cast a ballot for mayor in 2018 limited their options to one candidate. Nearly half of all voters, 47 per cent, ranked three candidates on their ballot, and 22 per cent ranked two candidates. A total of 14 candidates ran for Mayor in London in 2018.
The Clerk’s office chose the mayor’s race for the measurement of success since it provided the most consistent findings across the city’s 14 wards.
Having said that, the ranked ballots took longer than average to complete the count. Polls closed at 8 pm, and the tabulator machines from all 199 polling stations were delivered to City Hall by 9:30. The results from eight races were announced that night, but the results from the other seven municipal races weren’t announced till 10 am the next morning.
Why eight? According to the official results of the 2018 election, eight of the 14 successful council candidates were able to secure the 50 per cent plus one requirement for victory after only one round of counting. The other six, plus the mayor’s race, required multiple rounds of counting before a winner was declared.
As to the cost, there was a significant increase to the cost of running the 2018 election over 2014. The City of London spent nearly $1.78 million as compared to $1.32 million in 2014, but the cost difference was not driven entirely by the education and preparation for ranked ballots. An increase in supplier costs and an increase in the number of voting machines needed to cover London were the primer drivers for increased costs.
Saunders’ report says that the Clerks’ office will be looking at ways to improve the process in advance of the 2022 election, and that work has already begun. The report also notes that it’s hard to measure the success given that London was the only municipality to run with ranked ballots in 2018; they have no immediate comparator cities to measure results against.
The report doesn’t answer one particular question that would be admittedly hard to measure: did electoral reform boost voter turnout? Based on the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. In 2018, voter turnout was 39.64 per cent versus 43.2 per cent in 2014.
Electors in both Cambridge and Kingston voted in favour of moving to ranked ballots for the 2022 Municipal Election via referendum questions last fall, even though neither votes reached the 50 per cent voter turnout threshold required to make the referendum results binding.