Rankled by Ranked Ballots

By Jay Menard

Sometimes things sound good in concept, but when it comes down to real-life application they fall short.

Smoked meat pizza? One perfect thing and one near-perfect thing matched? Should be heaven, but it tastes like hell. And different ‘types’ of poutine? Curds, gravy, fries (layered)… anything more is like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa and calling it an improvement.

And, right now, ranked ballots fall into that category.

At its essence, the concept of ranking ballots is a great idea, but it’s one built upon a shoddy foundation. After all, right now we have a hard enough time getting people to invest enough of their time to get involved and learn about the issues to be able to make a well-informed choice for one candidate — how is that going to improve by ranking.

As it is, many people vote based on hearsay, half-truths, misinformation, name recognition, or party allegiances. And, as I’ve repeatedly stated, uninformed ballots are more dangerous than no ballot at all.

So how do we fix it? People need to feel that their votes matter. And, right now, thanks to the nature of partisan politics, they don’t.

Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green. So-called Fontana 8 or perhaps a self-professed progressive group — they’re all potential voting blocs that serve to render a significant number of the voters’ wishes moot. A plurality of votes can effectively control the destiny of a region, based solely on party lines.

Provincially and federally, It’s hard for many to be invested simply because they feel their votes don’t matter because their ridings don’t matter. Individual regions’ needs are trumped by the desires of the larger party — and if your candidate dissents, then they’re whipped into shape.

Municipally, we’re supposed to be immune to that as there’s allegedly no party structure. But as we’ve seen with the past council and the slate mentality of some candidates in the recent election, partisanship has reared its head at the local level. Should a slate get elected and have controlling interest of council, that bestows a tremendous amount of power amongst a relatively few voters in the grand scheme of things.

So is it any surprise when some people feel that “every vote counts” is simply a myth?

In this past municipal election, only 24 per cent of the electorate cast a ballot for the person who will be mayor of the city. Still, less than 50 per cent of the eligible electorate cast a ballot. Yes, 43 per cent is better than in the past, but it’s still pretty miserable.

And is that a solid foundation for growth? The issue at hand is that people feel their votes don’t matter. If they’re not part of the chosen few, their views aren’t heard. Before we get to improving the voting system, perhaps we should improve the quality of the result.

Instead of governing for the selection of the people who voted for you exclusively, showing the 76 per cent who didn’t vote that you’re willing to listen to their ideas, needs, and suggestions — and, perish the thought, incorporate them into your mandate would make a huge difference.

Sadly, people vote for reality shows because they feel their votes matter. They don’t vote in elections because they know that if they don’t choose the winning ‘team’ their voice won’t matter. And, in many cases, even if they back the right horse, someone else is riding it where they want to go.

But wouldn’t ranked ballots fix that aforementioned plurality issue? Yes, but before we erect a new roof, let’s make sure the foundation stops crumbling. And that foundation is an involved and informed electorate.

I was taught very early on that you should never offer an opinion or criticism without a solution. But in this case, I admit I don’t have all the answers. I just know that “is it time for ranked ballots” is not the right question.

The foundation of our electoral process is crumbling due to neglect and apathy. It would crumble with the added burden of ranked balloting. In fact, instead of drawing more people into the process, it might actively turn casual voters away — or, worse, result in “eeny, meeny, miney, mo” selections after the chosen candidate.

I often feel I’m fighting a losing battle. I have always voted for the candidate that I felt best represents my ward or riding, regardless of party affiliation (though I’ve still yet to vote Conservative, so there’s obviously an ideological preference involved too). I’ve ‘wasted’ my vote in the past (see: 1997 federal election, Laurier-Sainte-Marie riding, I voted for David Ly. The winning candidate? Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe), but I’ve never compromised my ideals and voted strategically. I take the time to explore the issues, talk to candidates, and make what I feel is an informed decision. And if I feel my vote sometimes doesn’t matter, I can only imagine what people less invested in the process feel.

And maybe it’s not about quantity of votes, but rather quality.

I’m not an advocate of “get out and vote” messaging. I think the process, as I’ve stated ad nauseum before, is one that we should treat with the utmost reverence. We all have the right to vote, but with that right comes the responsibility to take it seriously.

Not everyone is going to go out and educate themselves accordingly. And that’s their choice. We’re not — and never should be — forced to vote. But forgive me if I’d rather people who are voting solely based on name recognition, the colour of a sign, or the ever popular “I heard from someone that…” not bother showing up.

In my view, that type of voting is not what our political process should be about. But, in many cases, it is.

There’s no perfect vote. And there’s no right answer. Being heavily invested in an election doesn’t guarantee neutrality and an unbiased view. All you can do is your best. And that requires effort.

Right now that effort is too onerous for many to bother selecting one candidate. How can we expect it to work on a ranked ballot?

There is a simple solution, but it’s complex in its application. Make people feel their votes matter and they’ll be more likely to put the effort into making them count. On a municipal level, represent your ward, not your “team” and put the constituents first. Debate the issues and find compromise that benefits all — and addresses the needs and desires of your riding, not the dictates of your ‘leader.’

Maybe then the process will start to work. Maybe then people will believe their votes matter. And maybe then we can get to building that roof knowing the foundation upon which it’s built is solid enough to support its lofty ideals.

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