Western students will vote for their new USC president this week using ranked ballots — a unique system that made headlines in city politics last fall.

Ranked ballot voting allows voters to place candidates in preferential order rather than vote for a single candidate or party. The candidate who gets the least first-place votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the voter's second choice candidates. This process is repeated until one candidate wins a clear majority.

Julia Crump, the chief returning officer of the University Students’ Council Elections Governance Committee — which oversees most USC voting — believes the ranked ballot system is ideal for representing student voices, as it combats vote splitting.

She also believes ranked ballots — which were introduced to USC elections as early as 2012 — makes the election process more collaborative and less aggressive between candidates.

“It has actually resulted in more positive campaigning and far less smear campaigns,” said Crump.

Despite the local popularity of this system, ranked ballots haven't been adopted on a wider scale. London used ranked voting in their 2018 mayoral election — but were forced to return to first-past-the-post by a Queen's Park bill.

The previous Ontario Liberal government allowed municipal governments to decide their own method of carrying out elections, leading London to invest in a new system. But, Premier Doug Ford's government stepped back from this freedom given to municipalities in November.

Among other reasons, Ford explained ranked ballots would be confusing to voters, and a first-past-the-post system was still the most viable option for Ontarians.

A recent report from Unlock Democracy Canada, however, decided there were major positives to London’s ranked ballot election, which included more representation, civility and diversity.

The 2018 election also saw the first Black woman, Arielle Kayabaga, elected to the London city council. Kayabaga said she was largely motivated to run because the ranked ballot system, that allowed more "equitable outcomes of representation."

Ranked ballots ideally let candidates communicate with their opponents' voters, according to Crump, as it creates a wider range of support from voters who can rank candidates.

Crump believes rank ballots also allow a more diverse range of candidates to run. Where a traditional voting system may invalidate alternative options in favour of two more popular candidates — with voters feeling pressured to vote for “the lesser of two evils” — a ranked system allows candidates to have a more equal footing in an election.

This also benefits voters, as they can vote for the representation they want, rather than being strategic and not splitting votes.

Students can also choose to vote for only one candidate in the USC elections, effectively giving them the freedom to opt out of the ranked ballot system.

As a result, ranked voting is quite popular and accepted among USC candidates and the student body, as it is often recognized as a better alternative to traditional elections and many outside the student body, including provincial politicians, agree.

Kate Graham, the Liberal candidate for London North-Centre and Western political science professor, believes Premier Ford interferes with municipal issues too much and that London should be allowed to keep its ranked ballots.

“It was a really good step for the province to say that local governments are fully capable democratically elected governments who can make their own decisions about how they hold elections, and taking that away is an erosion of local control.”

Graham stressed that ranked choice ballots are a clear indication of the freedom and representation voters deserve in elections and the Ford government’s decision to step away from that process is a mistake.

“It’s, again, a step back, because it takes away choice from people.”

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