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LETTER: Engage Barrie seeks more details on ranked ballots

Group says places with electoral systems that allow for greater choice than first-past-the-post better reflect the population within the composition of their elected bodies
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BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at news@barrietoday.com. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to a story titled 'Ranked ballot, or first-past-the-post? Electoral reform on tonight's agenda' published earlier today on June 8. The matter is up for discussion tonight by Barrie city councillors. 
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Engage Barrie is a collective that formed in 2019 to help foster an equitable community, mobilize and empower people, and build an engaged local democracy.

We believe that the more people who share their ideas about our city, the more diverse, representative and equitable our municipal actions will become.

We support all priorities in Barrie city council’s 2018-22 strategic plan, especially the goal to “Inspire Community Participation," which is why we believe it is so important for Barrie to bring in ranked ballots for the next election.

The research clearly shows that moving to ranked ballots provides more choice for voters, discourages negative campaigning, eliminates vote splitting, reduces strategic voting, and ensures candidates with the most support win.

Places with electoral systems that allow for greater choice than first-past-the-post better reflect the population within the composition of their elected bodies — meaning more women get elected, more people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, people of different occupations and socio-economic backgrounds, etc.

This leads to a diversity of ideas, better decision-making, and better economic, social and environmental policy outcomes.

We encourage council to refer the report on ranked ballots back to staff for a more fulsome examination of the issue. We believe the advice given in this report is based on incomplete information, plus a great deal of misleading or incorrect information that seems to have been given to them.

A deadline of early September 2020 for the updated report gives enough time to collect and evaluate more information, while giving staff enough time to implement the system (if council decides to proceed) in time for the 2022 election.

The staff report focuses almost entirely on the financial and technical aspects of switching to ranked ballots, without delving into the social and democratic effects of changing the ballot type. Yet, in the words of one of our members, “what price are you
willing to pay for more democracy?”

While there are no references cited as to who provided staff with some of the information presented, these sources have provided a great deal of erroneous and/or misleading information.

Some of the most concerning problems are:
• Incorrect information about vendor capabilities, including Barrie’s recent contractors, ES&S, and Simply Voting (both have extensive experience running Ranked Ballot elections)
• Incorrect information about software certification requirements (Ontario has none)
• Incomplete summary of ranked ballot usage in North America (majority voting is the most common electoral system in the world, used by many North American governments and all of Canada’s political parties)
• Failure to recognize that Barrie already uses runoff voting (with 50 per cent threshold) for interim council appointments (if council chooses a councillor by ranked ballot, why can’t the public?)
• Inaccurate description (contradicting collected data) of the London experience ranked ballots are the leading edge of increasing civic engagement and improving democracy, and the only tool the province has given municipalities so far. We
can lead in 2022, alongside London, Cambridge and Kingston... or we can be laggards.

Alyssa Wright
Engage Barrie member

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