The Ranked Ballot

It has many names: ranked ballot, preferential voting, instant-runoff, alternative vote, etc.  It’s a small, simple change that makes voting more fair.  In addition to voting for your favourite candidate, it allows you to indicate who your second, third, (and more) choices are.

If, after the first choice votes are counted, no candidate receives a majority (more than 50%) of all the votes cast, the candidate with the least first choice votes is eliminated, and those votes are redistributed to the other candidates according to their indicated second choices.  This process continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of the total votes.

A non-optional preferential ballot is the system already used in voting for the Australian federal House of Representatives.  The video below explains how the ballots are counted in that jurisdiction and how it ensures that the “most-favourable” candidate ends up winning the seat.

Note that, in Australia, the voter must rank every single candidate on the ballot.  Making it mandatory to rank every candidate is not necessary for the system to work.  As a rule, the election results should attempt to include as many votes as possible.  For that reason, I suggest an optional preferential ballot for the Canadian House of Commons, as one part of the Manougian model.  If a voter stops ranking the candidates and all their choices have already been eliminated, it simply drops off the tally of total votes in the next round.  (Note that I think it is essential to include a Declined option to differentiate between indifference and opposition to the remaining voters but that is a topic for another post.)

With this system, if a person marks just one “X” next to just one name, the same way they do now and have for many years, the ballot should not be rejected but count as having voted for a first choice only.

The main issue that this solves is known as the “Spoiler Effect”.  You can probably guess what it is but CGP Grey does a great job of explaining it in this video:

So a ranked ballot (alternative vote, etc.) is a great idea and only helps ensure an outcome that the most people would be happy with.  In fact, the First Past the Post system it would replace is so inadequate that Canadian political parties themselves do not trust it when they are deciding on a new party leader or voting to nominate a party candidate in a given riding.  These political parties themselves use either a ranked ballot or require all the voters to return round after round until one candidate does obtain an absolute majoriy.  (Separate runoff elections are expensive and annoying to conduct and that is why an instant runoff is so superior.)

Much groundwork has already been done to ensure that a ranked ballot is the system the City of Toronto will use to elect its mayor in the 2018 municipal election.  A group called the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT: has led the charge to get City Council to ask the Queen’s Park to amend the Municipal Elections Act to allow its use by municipalities who would like to opt in.  You can see their 11 minute explanation of the change at the following video:

What are your thoughts about the ranked ballot?

One thought on “The Ranked Ballot

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