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Ranked Ballots

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Ontario has committed to providing municipalities with the option of using ranked ballots in future elections, starting in 2018, as an alternative to the current system.

Ranked ballots allow a voter to rank candidates in order of preference --first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. -- instead of just voting for one candidate.  See an example of a ranked ballot election here.

There are different degrees to which ranked ballots could be used. For example, some municipalities in other countries use ranked ballots for all of council. Some other municipalities use ranked ballots for only the mayor or head of council while the rest of council is elected using a first past the post system. 

Please note that ranked ballots are not being considered for school boards.  If a municipality decided to use ranked ballots to elect council positions, voters would still use the current voting method to vote for school board trustee.

Municipal Choice

Municipalities already have a lot of flexibility in the way they run their elections. Introducing ranked ballots as an option for municipalities would add to the range of options available to decide how we elect local representatives.

Every municipality must have a council of at least five members, but municipalities may decide to have more than five members.

Municipalities can also make decisions about how to structure their council. For example, many municipalities divide their territory into wards (often determined by population) and each ward elects one or more representatives to council.

Some municipalities do not use wards and choose to elect their entire council at-large.  Others use a combination of wards and at-large representatives.

Municipalities also have a number of choices in the way voting works. Municipalities can make decisions on how voters cast their ballots. By default, Ontario voters vote in municipal elections in person at their voting place. However, the Municipal Elections Act allows municipalities to decide to use alternative voting methods to cast ballots and many municipalities have decided to do so. For example, in many municipalities, voters may have the option of voting online, by mail or via telephone.

Why Ranked Ballots?

Ranked ballots have the potential to give voters a greater say in who is elected and increase voter engagement.

As an example of how ranked ballots work, let’s assume you voted for three candidates, you marked a “1” next to your first choice candidate’s name, a “2” next to your second choice, and a “3” next to your third choice.  If your first choice candidate is eliminated, ranked ballots take into account the next choices on your ballot. This helps to ensure that the winning candidate(s) receive support from a majority of voters more often.

By giving voters more choice, ranked ballots may also:

  • reduce strategic voting, which may occur when a voter decides not to pick their first choice candidate in an election because they think their first choice candidate may not win the election
  • reduce negative campaigning — since voters can rank multiple candidates, there is an incentive for candidates to appeal to voters not just as a first preference vote, but also to gain a high ranking from supporters of other candidates
  • encourage more candidates to remain in the race until voting day, since the threat of “splitting the vote” between like-minded candidates is reduced

There are two kinds of elections that are used in Ontario municipalities: single-member elections and multi-member elections.

Single-member elections are elections where only one candidate will win, such as:

  • Elections for mayor
  • A ward election where one person will be elected to represent the ward

Multi-member elections are elections where more than one candidate will win a seat, such as:

  • When council members are elected at large
  • A ward election where two or more people will be elected to represent the ward

In a ranked ballot election, there may be multiple rounds of counting before a candidate is declared the winner.

Single-member ranked ballot elections use a system called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Multi-member ranked ballot elections use a system called Single Transferrable Vote (STV).

An example of a ranked ballot election

Follow a ballot and learn what happens in a single-member and multi-member ranked ballot election.

Counting Votes in a Ranked Ballot Election

Learn about ranked ballot elections, including how votes are counted in single-member and multi-member elections.

Frequently Asked Questions

See answers to some frequently asked questions about ranked ballots.

Changing the voting system is a big decision for a municipality and its residents.

There are a number of ways municipalities can consult their residents about council decisions.

The public could also be given the ability to formally petition council to adopt ranked ballots and require that council hold a referendum to determine if voters support the use of ranked ballots.

The review asked about your views on how the public should be involved in municipal decision making on ranked ballots.

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The deadline for public submissions and input was July 27, 2015.