Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Vancouver Pioneered PR

Oct 27, 2018

Here in British Columbia we are voting, again, on possibly changing the way we vote. In this context, I keep reading that London, Ontario, was recently the first Canadian municipality to use a ranked ballot system in its civic election.

This is not true. Vancouver introduced such a system, briefly, almost a century ago. And bad news for those on both sides of the current debate who argue that, for better or for worse, a ranked ballot would result in significant change: it didn't change a thing.

In 1921 Vancouver introduced a ranked ballot for mayor and aldermen. Voters marked their choices in order of preference. When ballots were counted, candidates receiving the fewest votes were eliminated and their second preferences were distributed among the remaining candidates until eventually a winner emerged.

The system turned out to be confusing for voters and a headache for the officials who had to count, and recount, the ballots. Remember, this was before computers. Much to everyone's surprise, in the overwhelming number of cases, the candidate who led on the first count ended up winning the election. In other words the preferential system had hardly any impact on the results. And so, after three elections, the city returned to the single-choice ballot.

I'm not saying this experiment is definitive. I'm just saying Vancouver was first.