Park may fall un­der ranked-bal­lot

May­oral hope­ful stoic in her sup­port for vot­ing sys­tem that could hurt her chances of win­ning

The London Free Press - - CIVIC ELECTION 2018 - PA­TRICK MALONEY With files from Free Press re­porter Me­gan Stacey pmaloney@post­media.com twit­ter.com/PatatLFPress

I don’t much like ranked bal­lots. And you could for­give Tanya Park — one of the pro­gres­sives on city coun­cil who pushed through the elec­toral re­form — if she starts feel­ing the same way.

A Fo­rum Re­search poll com­mis­sioned for The Free Press sug­gests there’s a three-way dead heat among the top may­oral can­di­dates with just 10 days re­main­ing in the cam­paign. Park, Ed Holder and Paul Cheng are nearly tied as the top choice for mayor among de­cided or lean­ing vot­ers, separated by only two per­cent­age points at most, with Paul Pao­latto run­ning be­hind.

The sur­vey’s mar­gin of er­ror is plus or mi­nus three per­cent­age points.

In any pre­vi­ous city hall elec­tion, Park — with 25-per-cent voter sup­port in the sur­vey — would ar­guably have a le­git­i­mate shot at the city’s top po­lit­i­cal job.

But this is not like any pre­vi­ous city hall elec­tion.

“If you just had the old sys­tem, some­one would get elected with be­tween 25 and 30 per cent of the vote,” said Pe­ter Wool­s­ten­croft, a re­tired Univer­sity of Water­loo po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor.

“That val­i­dates the ar­gu­ments by the ad­vo­cates for the ranked bal­lot sys­tem, that you want to have some­one with a wider draw, a wider sup­port base, than 25 or 30 per cent.”

With ranked bal­lots, un­like the tried-and-true sys­tem known as “first past the post,” sim­ply get­ting the most sup­port isn’t enough. To win, a can­di­date needs at least 50 per cent of the vote, and it’s likely that will re­quire count­ing sec­ond or even third choices on some bal­lots.

“The sec­ond and third choice is what’s go­ing to win this elec­tion,” said poll­ster Wil­liam Schat­ten, Fo­rum’s vice-pres­i­dent of re­search and an­a­lyt­ics.

But the poll makes it pretty clear Park is not get­ting much love as a sec­ond choice for vot­ers sur­veyed. When sec­ond- and third­choice votes were tal­lied in The Free Press-Fo­rum poll — akin to the sys­tem Lon­don is us­ing — Park re­ceived the fewest sec­ond-place votes among the four front-run­ners.

If that holds, that could doom her may­oral bid. And she can thank her­self and her like-minded coun­cil col­leagues for that.

In May 2017, city coun­cil ap­proved by a 9-5 vote the in­tro­duc­tion of ranked bal­lots, mak­ing Lon­don the first Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­ity to use them. It was pow­ered through by first-term politi­cians, Park in­cluded, de­spite con­cerns from vet­eran col­leagues and op­po­si­tion from city hall staff.

“At some point, some­body has to be first“to try ranked bal­lots, Coun. Jesse Helmer said in sup­port of the change at that time. Me? I pre­fer to go sec­ond, af­ter some­body else has nav­i­gated the pot­holes and prob­lems.

One ex­pert agrees it looks like Park could pay a big price in the ranked-bal­lot sys­tem.

“With­out ranked bal­lot­ing, Tanya Park — who I would say is quite dis­tinct — would still have a very strong chance at this point,” said Martin Ho­rak, for­mer head of Western Univer­sity’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment pro­gram.

“But the ranked bal­lot­ing re­sults sug­gest that at the very least she has an up­hill bat­tle.”

Schat­ten, the Fo­rum vice-pres­i­dent, was more blunt: “Al­though in first past the post, she has a chance, in a ranked bal­lot sys­tem she doesn’t have a chance.”

Park, gun­ning for the top job af­ter four years in the ever-hec­tic down­town ward, says she has no re­grets about sup­port­ing the ground­break­ing elec­toral re­form even if it curbs her may­oral hopes.

“Lon­don­ers de­serve a leader who has over 50 per cent of the vot­ers’ sup­port so there is a clear man­date,” she said Fri­day. “This de­ci­sion was not about me or any par­tic­u­lar can­di­date, but about what I be­lieved to be best for lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and democ­racy.”

On the other side of this elec­toral-re­form coin is Pao­latto, who says he doesn’t like ranked bal­lots and doesn’t plan to use them (vot­ers can sim­ply fill out their first choice, as they’ve al­ways done, and leave the other spots blank). Yet, The Free Press-Fo­rum poll sug­gests he could gain the most of the Top 4 on sec­ond bal­lot, though per­haps still not enough to win it all.

I’m not a huge fan of ranked bal­lots in this elec­tion, not be­cause the sys­tem isn’t at­trac­tive, but be­cause it seems to have been rushed into place. If and when there’s grum­bling about how it rolls out on elec­tion night, vot­ers should re­mem­ber city coun­cil pushed through the change against the ad­vice of city hall stafr, and those same staffers are the ones run­ning the more­com­plex elec­tion.

Lots of peo­ple, I sus­pect, were plan­ning to fill out one name for mayor on their bal­lot and leave the other spots blank. I won­der how many will re­verse course af­ter see­ing this poll and embrace the new vot­ing sys­tem.

If you take any­thing from the Free Press-Fo­rum poll, it should be this: Your sec­ond-place – and maybe even third-place – choice will make a dif­fer­ence, and could very well de­cide Lon­don’s next mayor.

Park

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