Cross-posted on Huffington Post
While we've all been distracted by the fallout of Donald Trump's unexpected election as president, another important political story has been unfolding under the radar. At the same time that Hillary Clinton lost the presidency, despite getting three million more votes than Trump, voters in New England (the birthplace of the American Revolution) and Prince Edward Island (the birthplace of Canadian confederation) delivered an unprecedented one-two punch to the archaic and dysfunctional first-past-the-post voting system.
In two referendums, one on each side of the border, residents of Maine voted in favour of switching the entire state over to ranked choice voting (RCV) and two days earlier voters in P.E.I. embraced a system called mixed member proportional (MMP).
Both of these systems offer distinct benefits to voters and offer a glimpse of hope that we can overcome the democratic deficit in both countries. First-past-the-post feeds cynicism and apathy because it distorts election results, pushes out new voices, forces people to vote 'strategically', encourages negative campaigns and produces predominantly white/male governments that do not reflect the diversity of the population. Both RCV and MMP, on the other hand, help to cure some of these problems.
London Ontario has just become ground-zero for democratic reform in Canada. While almost every City Council in the province has put self-interest ahead of public interest by quickly (and quietly) rejecting the opportunity of using ranked ballots for the 2018 election, a handful of young and innovative Councillors in London have pushed for a full public consultation to explore the option.
You can be sure that status-quo defenders will be out in force, spreading lies about ranked ballots and trying to scare residents away from change. Let's make sure that advocates get their message out too, telling voters that ranked ballots are easy to use and easy to implement, producing elections that are more fair and more friendly.
Please share this with anyone you know who lives in London. Thanks!!
Learn more about municipal ranked ballots here:
My second-favorite political poster of all time is from the 1982 Hummer Sisters' mayoral campaign in Toronto. Their slogan, "This is no job for politicians", is just as relevent today as it was 35 years ago - especially when it comes to my favorite topic: democratic renewal.
Politicians, of all stripes, have shown us that they cannot be trusted with decisions related to electoral reform. Rigged referendums, misinformation and broken promises all take us further away from our goal of proportional government. Politicians are in a conflict-of-interest when it comes to voting reform, because they are the ones who won under the current system. If one system got you elected.... why would you change it?
So I say "Hands Off!". It's time for us to reclaim this important policy file and put it into the hands of regular people.
Does that mean we should use referendums instead? No, not necessarily. But it could. The devil is in the details. The problem with referendums, especially on a complex topic, is that many voters might not be informed enough to make a decision that is in their own interest. This is especially true when the referendum process is rigged with an intentional lack of education funding (as we saw in Ontario's referendum). But even with proper education, a referendum is still a non-deliberative process.
So how we do create a deliberative process, without politicians? The answer is called a Citizens Assembly or Citizens Reference Panel. Pioneered in Canada, starting with BC's 2004 Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, it's a really innovative process that removes partisan conflict-of-interest (..and partisan games, partisan bickering, partisan infantile behaviour, etc...) and replaces it with a randomly-selected non-partisan panel of regular citizens. Just like a jury!
The Reference Panel goes through three stages:
1) Education. They learn about an issue, intensively and in-depth.
2) Consultation: They hear advice and suggestions from experts, advocates and the public.
3) Deliberation: They go through a facilitated discussion, weighing all the options.
4) Decision: They produce a concrete recommendation.
This is precisely what the 2016 All-Party Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) was supposed to do. Except for one problem: the Committee was comprised of politicians.
While most eyes will be on the Trump/Clinton showdown this Tuesday night, many of us will be watching another vote just as closely. Residents of Maine will be voting on six "ballot initiatives" (referendums), one of which would switch ALL of their state elections to ranked ballots. The change would include their elections for U.S. senators, U.S. representatives, the governor, state senators, and state representatives.
It's fair to say that this would be the biggest step forward for electoral reform, anywhere in North America, in over a century.
Explaining voting systems can be difficult. Plurality, majority, proportional, vote-splitting, false majorities, etc. Without visual props, an audience will get confused and/or bored quite quickly.
Here a Unlock Democracy, our favorite two props are LEGO bricks and the Democracy Quilt!
We've been using our hand-made quilt for four years, leading interactive demonstrations in Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Guelph, London, and even on live TV! We were also invited to demonstrate our quilt at a FairVote conference in Washington DC.
Recently, we've had a few people ask us for advice and specifications, so they can make their own Democracy Quilt!
Here's everything you need to know about how we made our first quilt:
Three years ago, Toronto City Council asked the provincial government to allow them to use ranked ballots for local elections. A few months later, eight thousand people signed a petition asking the province to respect the request.
In 2014 the Ontario government promised that, if re-elected, they would allow all 444 municipalities to use ranked ballots.
After a year of public consultations, it seems the government is finally ready to move forward on their promise. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has just announced that they'll be making a major announcement about municipal democratic reform. Here are the details:
"Please join us at our upcoming event where Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ted McMeekin will make an announcement about important changes Ontario is intending to introduce to give municipalities more local choice in future municipal elections."
What: Changes Ontario is intending to propose to the Municipal Elections Act
When: Monday April 4th, 2016
Where: Pitman Hall Residence, Room 110
The event is open to the public - we hope you can join us! This is a historic moment for the voting reform movement in Ontario.
They aren't releasing many details yet, but we're hoping that the Minister will be introducing new legislation and we're also hopeful that the new proposed rules will allow for ranked ballots to be used by all municipalities, either in single-member districts or in multi-member districts. We'll find out on Monday!