Fixing the Vote – or Why Toronto Needs to Find a Better Way to Choose Its Politicians

vote-ballot-boxIt’s the day after election day, and like most people, you’re probably exhausted and feeling full of ennui. After a 10 month campaign, Toronto finally got rid of Rob Ford (sort of, but not really) and chose that other guy, solely because he is not a Ford.

The problem is less about our actual politicians, however, and more about how we got here in the first place. This election has been full of chaos, drama, racism, misogyny, and assorted other clusterfuckedness that made the whole process horrific.

So here are my humble suggestions…

Make It Shorter
A shorter campaign duration would be beneficial to everyone; candidates and voters. A 10 -month campaign just drags out the worst parts of the process (debates, mud-slinging) and by election day everyone is just frustrated.

There would need to be a way to allow candidates to raise funds, so we could begin registration in July, but prohibit debates, etc. until after Labour Day.

Speaking of fund-raising, we should also look at tightening campaign financing rules. The City of Toronto will be writing large tax receipts to residents of Mississauga who donated to Rob Ford’s campaign. This really shouldn’t happen and there needs to be a rule that candidates can only accept donations from Toronto residents.

Make It (Slightly) Harder To Run
Right now, anyone can run for office if they pay the registration fee. Which is how we ended up with 65 people on the mayoral ballot. Raising the price is not a fair option, as it would mean that only richer people could run (already a problem), but how about candidates have to show up to register with a list of signatures from the area in which they wish to run (500 for council seats, 1000 for mayor), demonstrating support for that candidate within the community? This would weed out a number of fringe candidates with no community support or intention of running a serious campaign, which would in turn, work to the benefit of those hosting debates when the discussion of who to include comes up.

Fewer Debates
The debate process of this recent election got completely out of hand, with over 100 mayoral debates, arguments over which candidates should be invited, temper tantrums by candidates (guess who) over a variety of issues, and all-out chaos as audience members hurled racist remarks at candidates.

So, really, fewer debates; no more than 2 per week. Debates chosen by Elections Toronto, based on relevant topics, and invite-only audiences relevant to the debate theme (ie. arts workers at the arts debate).

Enumeration and the Voter’s List
Many people don’t realize that the Municipal voter’s list is not related to Federal and Provincial lists, which are created from your most recent income tax return. The Municipal list is created from property tax returns, and in the case of tenants, by lists submitted annually by your landlord. If you have a lazy or sketchy landlord, you might never see a voter registration card.

Although I received a voter card for the 2010 election, I never got one for 2014, even though my husband did. We’ve been living in the same place for 9 years so there’s no reason we both shouldn’t be on the list. At the voting station, I was told this was happening a great deal – the system was dropping names so that only 1 person per household got a voter card.

To offset this problem, Toronto should offer some form of online registration system. Online voting would be better, but at least a place where residents can register so they’re on the list when they get to the polls.

Door-to-door enumeration (as is done Federally and Provincially) would also help to catch mistakes and ensure people know that they’re eligible to vote.

Longer and Better Advanced Polling
Because of my lack of a voter card I figured it would take me a long time at the polls so I went to the advanced poll on a quiet weekday afternoon, and was processed easily and voted within 5 minutes. Compare that to election day when people were in line for over an hour.

By extending the advanced polls to a full week – and heavily promoting the option – this would help to clear some of the traffic at polls on election day.

Make Election Day a Saturday
Most people who vote on election day have to wait until after work to vote. They rush from work, get stuck in traffic, have to wait in a huge line for an hour or more, just to do their civic duty. In addition to a more robust advance poll system, we should consider moving election day to a Saturday when fewer people are encumbered by tight schedules.

Better Training for Voting Place Employees
There were horror stories about the mess at polling stations yesterday. Elections Toronto was calling for people to work the polls right up until Sunday night – so how much training do you think those people got? This happens at the Federal and Provincial level as well, but seriously, this really needs to be improved.

Ranked Ballots
A ranked ballot system has been approved for use by the province, but municipalities have the option of choosing to use it or not. John Tory is not in favour of a ranked ballot system, meaning we might not see it in place for 2018. Council might be able to overrule him, as he is only one vote, but this will require pressure on councillors by constituents to pass.

Term Limits
The new faces look a lot like the old faces, don’t they? Almost all of Toronto’s incumbent councillors were easily re-elected including WTF candidates such as Mammoliti. As much as there are some really dedicated council members who do great things for our city, we need a regular influx of new blood. Thus, I believe that councillors should serve a maximum of 2 consecutive terms and no more than 4 terms total.

And finally, I cannot say enough about de-amalgamation. The combining of Toronto with its outer suburbs was the biggest mistake that ever happened to our city. I see people defending the measure, insisting that we all just have to learn to work together, but I don’t think that’s possible. It’s not about race or class, have or have-not, left wing or right wing, but the simple fact that the downtown core and the suburbs have different needs and different priorities. Neither group is wrong, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to achieve a happy consensus on our most important issues as long as we try to combine the two areas in council.