Weeks ago, I hopped into a small car with two friends and drove 14 hours to Minneapolis. We weren't travelling for business, a wedding or a sports game. We visited the Twin City to see an election.
More specifically, we wanted to witness a municipal election that uses ranked ballots and runoff voting. What we saw surpassed all our expectations.
In Minneapolis, no one was distracted by discussions about "vote-splitting" or "strategic voting." The campaigns were friendly and informative. And on election day the citizens chose a female mayor, a 46-per-cent-female council and their first Somali, Latino and Hmong councillors. It was inspiring to see, a breath of fresh air.
Meanwhile here in Toronto, we're entering yet another municipal election year that's guaranteed to feed public cynicism and apathy toward our political system. Many candidates, for both mayor and council, will be politely asked to drop out of the race to avoid "splitting the vote."
Many of these so-called "spoilers" are youth, women and people of colour. Voters will be told to vote strategically, making decisions based on their calculator rather than their heart. Negative campaigns will be rife with personal attacks.
And at the end of the process, half of our new council will likely be made up of politicians who "won" their seats with less than 50 per cent of the vote (i.e., most voters didn't want them in office).
We need to liberate our elections. Anyone should be free to run as a candidate without being accused of being a spoiler. And every voter should be free to cast a ballot without having to calculate the benefits of a strategic vote. And, of course, a candidate should not be able to "win" a seat without the backing of a majority.
The prescription is simple: ranked ballots. I've seen it in action. Each winner requires 50 per cent to win. There is no strategic voting or vote-splitting. And candidates tend to act more positive and friendly toward each other.
Our city council has already asked permission from the Ontario Government to use ranked ballots in future elections. The decision now lies with Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak.
Which one of them will stand up for democracy? Toronto's voters deserve more. Let's make sure that 2014 is the last negative, alienating and demoralizing election we have.
Learn more at 123Toronto.ca.
Dave Meslin is a Toronto-based community choreographer and creative activist whose interests include democratic renewal (pigeonhat.ca).