A Path to Adoption of Ranked Ballots for the 2022 Election
RaBIT’s Response to the City of Toronto Clerk’s Report “The Impact of COVID-19 on 2022 Election Preparation Activities”
To read the full detailed response, click here.
On Wednesday, 16 September, 2020, Toronto’s City Clerk released a report recommending that city staff “cease any further work on Ranked Ballot Elections for the 2022 Municipal Election”. This recommendation is based on the Clerk’s assessment “that the pre-conditions required for Council to authorize Ranked Ballot Elections can no longer be fulfilled in accordance with the legislative and regulatory requirements for implementation in the 2022 election.”
While RaBIT has great respect for city staff, their work, and their stellar commitment to public service, in this instance, we believe that the obstacles to advancing “work on Ranked Ballot Elections” (i.e. the public consultations ordered by Council in November 2019) identified by the Clerk can be overcome. We also believe that Council should recognize the importance of ranked ballots in addressing our current social challenges and re-affirm their direction to the Clerk to proceed with public consultations as was originally requested in November 2019.
The Clerk’s report presents 3 main obstacles that city staff see as blocking public consultations:
- Inability to accurately and fairly assess bids by contractors
- Meaningful public education and consultation no longer possible
- Uncertainty and the possibility of risk
Assessing bids by contractors
We do not see why the Clerk is unable to accurately and fairly assess contractors bids to conduct the required public consultations. The Clerk made this assessment of their own inability on 24 March, just as the pandemic was just taking hold in Toronto. At the time, this was understandable, but a lot has happened since then and the Clerk has not revisited this decision. For comparison, the City of Toronto has resumed the evaluation of bids and awarding of many other contracts, including ones for conducting consultations that are very similar to what would be required for ranked ballots. In other words, we do not see how the procurement process required for consultations on ranked ballots is distinct from the others the City has undertaken during the pandemic, and thus do not see why this process should be stopped when others have continued.
Meaningful Public Education and Consultation
The report also suggests that meaningful public education and consultation is not possible under current circumstances. Again the justification for this claim is hard for us to understand. Ontario Regulation 310/16 - the regulation which sets out how these public consultations are to be conducted - requires four specific pieces of information be available for these consultations and we do not see any reason why the Clerk would be unable to provide any of this information.
Additionally, many other public consultation processes have been undertaken in the past few months or are planned for the near future. This includes consultations conducted by the Toronto Police, the City of Toronto, Metrolinx, and the Government of Ontario. In fact, the City of Burlington, a jurisdiction with far fewer resources than Toronto, has just decided to start public consultations on whether to adopt ranked ballots. Why can’t Toronto? The report does not provide an explanation for what makes its process distinct from all these other ones.
Uncertainty and Risk
The report does hint that the key obstacle to proceeding may be uncertainty around the City’s ability to acquire new voting technology in time for the 2022 election and the risk, should it not be able to do so, that a ranked ballot election would be technically impossible to hold. Given that the City’s current technology is not capable of supporting a ranked ballot election, it is true that it would not make sense to proceed in 2022 without new technology.
But the City has known that it needs to replace its voting technology ahead of the 2022 election since before the 2018 election and has already done most of the work needed to acquire this new technology. It has also already committed that any technology it purchases will be capable of supporting a ranked ballot election. Critically, the report only states that there may be a risk that it will not be possible to acquire this technology. But if this is the case, it would be inappropriate to halt consultations now simply because of the possibility of risk; rather, consultations should continue so that Council has the ability to make a decision on whether to proceed once it is known for sure whether or not this technology will be available. If a delay until 2026 becomes necessary at that point, then it is at that point that this decision should be made, not now when there is only a possibility that the technology will not be available.
The Urgency of Now
Finally, it is important to remember that it is the Clerk’s role to identify potential obstacles. It is not the role of the Clerk to consider the election promises made by councillors to the public or the fundamentally political questions that the pandemic and our present racial reckoning have brought forward. It is up to Council to consider the Clerk’s advice within this wider context.
While the pandemic has clearly made conducting these consultations more difficult, it has not made them impossible. But equally, it has also made these consultations and the adoption of ranked ballots much more essential, even if Council needs to allocate more resources.
The pandemic has laid bare many of the injustices that currently afflict our society. It has disproportionately harmed women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour - the very groups that are also grossly underrepresented in decision-making bodies in our city. In order to successfully overcome the pandemic, and achieve a rapid, comprehensive, and just recovery, we desperately need systems that will accord women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour power in a way that is more proportionate to their share of the population. We know ranked ballots can help achieve this in a substantial way.
Thus, because the challenges identified by the Clerk can be solved with sufficient effort, and because ranked ballots are so critical to a successful response and recovery to the pandemic, we believe that the past 6 months has only strengthened the case for continuing with public consultations on ranked ballots. Thus, we ask Council to vote accordingly.
To read the full detailed response, click here.
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