The winner-take-all ranked ballot system being pushed by Justin Trudeau can distort results even more than first past the post. It will keep our politics divided and hostile, and serve to block future reform.
(NOTE: Proportional systems can also use a ranked ballot, but this is not the kind of system Justin Trudeau is talking about).
Polling in Ontario shows that 74% of Ontarians don’t think any single party should unilaterally decide our voting system. Only 8% would support a single party deciding how we vote. Most Ontarians prefer a non-partisan citizens’ assembly on electoral reform to move forward. Federally, 76% of Canadians support proportional representation, and 80% support a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
Fair Vote Canada’s position paper from 2009 on the winner-take-all ranked ballot (Alternative Vote) is here. Learn more at the links below.
RANKED BALLOT IN AUSTRALIA
Some Liberal politicians say winner-take-all ranked ballot will make politics more “cooperative” or deliver fairer results. But in Australia, winner-take-all ranked ballot has locked in a two party system, created politics that is just as aggressive as ours, and led to climate policy failure. The current “majority” government was elected with 32.8% of first choice votes. Click to learn more about what you really get with winner-take-all ranked ballot.
LIBERAL PARTY SELF-INTEREST
The only ones who benefit from adding a ranked ballot to first past the post federally and in Ontario are the Liberal Party. Winner-take-all ranked ballot makes it even easier for them to win more seats and all the power with far less than half the vote. Click here to learn more.
DEMAND A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY ON ELECTORAL REFORM
No single party should unilaterally decide the voting system! Let’s put this in the hands of well-informed citizens with a non-partisan Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. Click here to learn about citizens’ assemblies on our National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform website. Click here to read more about a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform specifically for Ontario.
GET THE FACTS FROM ANNA KEENAN, ORIGINALLY FROM AUSTRALIA
Climate organizer and democracy campaigner Anna Keenan explains how winner-take-all ranked ballot really works in Australia from firsthand experience, why we shouldn’t be fooled by politicians, and the benefits of a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. Click here to watch a series of short video clips.
WEBINAR: THE PROBLEMS WITH WINNER-TAKE-ALL RANKED BALLOT
Take a deep dive into the problems of the winner-take-all ranked ballot in this webinar.
Ten problems with winner-take all ranked ballots
Justin Trudeau and the media often talk about “a ranked ballot.” Technically, “ranked ballot” is not a voting system. Ranked ballots (the ability to mark preferences with numbers) can be used in proportional systems, too—and they work great in those applications!
But the Liberals and the media always mean one specific system: the winner-take-all system, Alternative Vote (AV). Here are the problems in a nutshell:
1) Non-proportional ranked ballots can deliver results that are even LESS proportional than first past the post!
Expert testimony to the federal Electoral Reform Committee concluded that winner-take-all ranked ballot was the one system that would deliver results that were less proportional than first past the post. The UK Independent Commission on the Voting system concluded the same thing.
False majority governments will continue just like with first past the post—governments will get all the power even though they were the first choice of less than 50% of the voters”. In fact, of the 28 majority governments in Australia since 1949, only ONE had the support of 50% of voters.
Experts tell us that winner-take-all ranked ballots risk exaggerating landslides even more. (For a recent example of this, see the picture at the bottom of this page comparing two elections in Australia).
2) Non-proportional ranked ballots are not supported by evidence.
In 2016, the federal Electoral Reform Committee (ERRE) spent five months doing an in-depth look at electoral reform options. Hundreds of experts were called from Canada and around the world. The MPs on committee (including the Liberal MPs) could request experts to testify.
88% of the experts recommended proportional representation and only 4% recommended winner-take-all ranked ballot.
There was less support among experts for winner-take-all ranked ballot than for first past the post. No commission or committee in Canada has ever recommended Alternative Vote, because it continues or exaggerates the problems with first past the post.
There are only two countries that use winner-take-all ranked ballots to elect governments at the national or level or the equivalent of a provincial level: Australia and Papua New Guinea. By contrast, over 80% of OECD countries use proportional systems.
3) Non-proportional ranked ballots will continue adversarial, hyper-partisan politics.
Claims that politics will change the tone of politics before or after the election are grossly overexaggerated or downright misleading. CLICK HERE TO SEE REAL POLITICAL ADS FROM AUSTRALIA.
When the UK had a referendum on winner-take-all ranked ballot in 2011, impartial experts warned not to expect improvement in the tone of politics, except “at the margins”.
Researchers at Harvard and Columbia University conclude that Alternative Vote, instead of encouraging moderation, can even “intensify candidates’ incentives to target their core supporters at the cost of a broader appeal.”
Under winner-take-all ranked ballot, elections will remain a vicious fight mainly between two big parties.
Politics in Australia, under winner-take-all ranked ballot, is just as polarized as it is in other countries with winner-take-all electoral systems. In fact, debate become so hostile that MPs have been booted from the Parliament by the Speaker hundreds of times over just a couple of years—and this pattern is only getting worse.
There is little cooperation between parties in Parliament because the winner-take-all ranked ballot almost always produces false majority governments. This means the two parties attack each other in hopes of gaining or keeping 100% of the power at the next election.
Trust in political institutions hit an all-time low in Australia a few years ago, in large part due to public dislike of the tone of politics, which one expert called “blood sports”. A 2019 election study showed that only 12% of people think the government is run “for the people” and 56% believe it is run for “a few big interests”.
4) Non-proportional ranked ballots can lead to “wrong winner elections”
This means Party A wins more of the popular vote (more voter support) but Party B forms a majority government. This has happened multiple times in Australia.
5) Non-proportional ranked ballots could drive us closer to a two party system.
The one thing winner-take-all ranked ballots have done well in practice in Australia is to funnel almost all the votes for third parties and smaller parties into the baskets of the two big tent parties. Instead of more accurately reflecting the diversity of the voters, non-proportional ranked ballot could make the near-monopoly the two big parties have in our system even worse.
As Kevin Sabo notes:
6) Non-proportional ranked ballots continue the problem of “policy lurch”
Policy lurch occurs when one government almost completely reverse the policies of the previous government. (For example, Jason Kenney promised to spend the first 100 days undoing Rachel Notley’s policies). Policy lurch has had a devastating effect on climate policy in Australia. Australia ranks last for policy on the 2021 Climate Performance Index and near the bottom for overall performance. Evidence shows that countries with proportional representation outperform winner-take-all countries on climate performance, in part because they are able to make progress, sustain it, and gradually improve over time.
7) Non-proportional ranked ballots do not end strategic voting.
Any winner-take-all system where a single party can get 100% of the power with 40% will be rife with strategic voting—parties telling you how you must vote to stop the “bad guys” from winning and to deliver the most votes to them.
Winner-take-all ranked ballot just change what strategic voting looks like. The ranked ballot allows you to put your true preference in the #1 position (so you may feel better for a moment), while the big parties fight it out for the strategic #2 votes from voters in a few swing ridings (the only ridings that matter).
In Australia, parties push “how to vote” cards telling voters how to rank their choices. They stoke fear about what will happen if you mark your ballot otherwise (you’ll help the bad guys win) and social media is full of misinformation about what happens to your preferences .
In other parts of Australia, the parties urge supporters to only mark only their first preference – to use the ranked ballot just like first past the post – with dishonest messages about what bad things could happen if you rank more choices.
In any case, unless your #1 choice is the most popular candidate in the riding, your true preference will be ignored anyway. Just like with first past the post, the real battle is between the two biggest parties in your riding.
If you live in one of handful of swing ridings—the only ones that matter in winner-take-all systems—your strategic third or fourth choice could end up helping the big party you dislike less. Just like your strategic vote does now.
8) Non-proportional ranked ballots makes it harder for voters of third and smaller parties to be fairly represented
For example, the Green Party in Australia regularly gets over 10% of the popular vote in Australia (about twice the support of Canadian Greens) but over many elections until 2022, they were only ever been able to elect ONE MP to their National Parliament. (In the 2022 election they got 4 MPs – that’s 2% of the seats with 12% of the vote).
In 2019, 28% of people 18-34 voted for the Green Party first, but their true preferences just didn’t matter.
That’s because under winner-take-all ranked ballot, votes for third parties get funneled back to the big two parties through preferences.
In 2019 in Australia, parties other than the big two parties got over 25% of the vote – but only 3% of the seats.
Winner-take-all ranked ballot makes it harder for new challengers to break into the system. When winner-take-all ranked ballot was used for forty years on Canada’s prairies, a greater number of parties ran in the election, but no more parties won seats than with first past the post.
9) Non-proportional ranked ballots will not increase the chances of moving to a more proportional system.
Any system that advantages and concentrates power even more within the biggest parties will make those parties even less likely to share power through further voting reform. It is a step to nowhere.
Australia’s Parliament has had winner-take-all ranked ballot for over 100 years and has almost no chance of moving to PR, despite some of their states/territories demonstrating how well a proportional ranked ballot can work (see picture at the bottom of this page).
When winner-take-all ranked ballot was used on Canada’s prairies for decades, reformers hoped it would lead to PR, but advocacy fell on deaf ears. Eventually the politicians brought back first past the post. The same thing happened in British Columbia when one party brought in winner-take-all ranked ballot for a few years – hoping to advantage themselves – in the 1950’s. A few years later, a different party just brought back first past the post.
10) Non-proportional ranked ballots are highly likely to benefit one party over others.
Different experts (going back to 1980), multiple simulations, and an actual mock vote run alongside an election have all shown the same thing: winner-take-all ranked ballot would benefit the Liberal Party at the expense of other voters. When the Liberals push a winner-take-all ranked ballot, it’s clearly for their own self-interest.
Being the second sincere or strategic choice of voters to the left and right in swing ridings, the Liberals would very likely win even more the seats despite having no more popular support than they do now. This could deliver grossly exaggerated false majority governments even more frequently, where no compromise or power-sharing is required.
Comparing outcomes under a WINNER-TAKE-ALL ranked ballot system
a PROPORTIONAL ranked ballot system:
There are two main “families” of voting systems: proportional and winner-take-all. They have very different aims and outcomes.
Proportional representation means that the seats a party earns roughly matches their popular vote. 39% of the vote = about 39% of the seats. Almost every vote really counts. Proportional representation produces a Parliament where parties work together, and policies always have majority support.
A ranked ballot (ability to mark 1,2,3…) can be used in a proportional system, or in a winner-take-all system. Winner-take-all is what is being pushed by the Liberal Party. You can see the difference in outcome for voters below.