Media Releases

Is the municipal electoral system in need of reform?

October 17, 2017

As voters in Alberta and Quebec head to the polls, and a year before municipal elections in Ontario and through much of the rest of the country, a new paper looks at the potential for electoral reform and its consequences

Toron­to, ON – With munic­i­pal elec­tions in Ontario, British Colum­bia, Man­i­to­ba, PEI, and the Ter­ri­to­ries just one year away, it is a good time to look at the way we vote. Is it in need of reform? In a new paper released by the Insti­tute on Munic­i­pal Finance and Gov­er­nance at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Munk School of Glob­al Affairs, Pro­fes­sor Aaron A. Moore demys­ti­fies the munic­i­pal elec­toral sys­tem. He looks at the pros and cons of var­i­ous reforms so that pro­po­nents for change, sup­port­ers of the sta­tus quo, and those sim­ply wish­ing to expand their knowl­edge of demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions may be bet­ter informed about the poten­tial for reform and its con­se­quences.

“Despite often sim­plis­tic dis­cus­sions sur­round­ing changes to elec­toral sys­tems, no sin­gle change will address all the prob­lems in the exist­ing sys­tem,” says Pro­fes­sor Moore. “Although change can improve vot­er turnout and alter elec­toral out­comes for the bet­ter, change can also intro­duce new and unin­tend­ed prob­lems.”

Among oth­ers, Pro­fes­sor Moore com­ments on the fol­low­ing ques­tions about pos­si­ble reforms:

  • How big should city coun­cil be? Larg­er coun­cils can lead to bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of cer­tain mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties and encour­age greater vot­er turnout and engage­ment at elec­tion time. How­ev­er, larg­er coun­cils tend to spend more per capi­ta, and may make it more dif­fi­cult for vot­ers to make informed deci­sions and hold their city coun­cil­lors account­able for their actions.
  • Should coun­cil­lors be elect­ed at-large or by ward? Ward elec­tions may lead to bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of eth­nic minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties when they are geo­graph­i­cal­ly con­cen­trat­ed. On the oth­er hand, coun­cil­lors elect­ed by ward tend to focus more on indi­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ty needs, where­as coun­cil­lors elect­ed at-large are more like­ly to focus on city­wide issues.
  • Should votes be tal­lied using first-past-the-post or ranked bal­lots? Ranked bal­lots can reduce strate­gic vot­ing and should make it hard­er for incum­bents to win when a major­i­ty oppos­es them. On the oth­er hand, a ranked bal­lot can be con­fus­ing and lead to vot­er fatigue.
  • Should there be polit­i­cal par­ties at the local lev­el? When local par­ties are in place, the needs of con­stituents may take sec­ond place to the needs of the par­ty. How­ev­er, munic­i­pal polit­i­cal par­ties may lead to bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in local gov­ern­ment, sim­pli­fy vot­ing, and make it eas­i­er for vot­ers to hold elect­ed offi­cials to account.

Read the paper


About the Author

Aaron A. Moore is a Fel­low at the Insti­tute on Munic­i­pal Finance and Gov­er­nance at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Munk School of Glob­al Affairs. He is also an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Polit­i­cal Sci­ence in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Win­nipeg, an Adjunct Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of City Plan­ning at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Man­i­to­ba. Aaron has pub­lished a book on the pol­i­tics of urban devel­op­ment in Toron­to, and arti­cles and book chap­ters on urban plan­ning, munic­i­pal gov­er­nance, munic­i­pal elec­tions, urban pub­lic pol­i­cy, and pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships.

About the Insti­tute on Munic­i­pal Finance and Gov­er­nance (IMFG)

The Insti­tute on Munic­i­pal Finance and Gov­er­nance is a research hub and think tank that focus­es on the fis­cal and gov­er­nance chal­lenges fac­ing large cities and city-regions. It is locat­ed with­in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Munk School of Glob­al Affairs.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:
Sele­na Zhang | Man­ag­er, Pro­grams and Research
Insti­tute on Munic­i­pal Finance and Gov­er­nance, Munk School of Glob­al Affairs, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to | 416–978-5117

Oth­er Recent Pub­li­ca­tions
How Much Local Fis­cal Auton­o­my Do Cities Have? A Com­par­i­son of Eight Cities around the World
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(Re)Creating Bound­ary Lines: Assess­ing Toronto’s Ward Bound­ary Review Process
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The Evolv­ing Role of City Man­agers and Chief Admin­is­tra­tive Offi­cers
IMFG Paper No. 31, by Michael Fenn and David Siegel

Cli­mate Change, Floods, and Munic­i­pal Risk Shar­ing in Cana­da
IMFG Paper No. 30, by Daniel Hen­stra and Jason Thistleth­waite

Account­abil­i­ty Offi­cers and Integri­ty in Cana­di­an Munic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment
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