Australia’s deadlocked election last winter has been held up as a grim example of the chaos that could be unleashed in Canada were this country to adopt a system of ranked ballots — as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at one time openly preferred. Instability. A plethora of tiny, extremist or vanity parties. Unholy alliances among the micro-parties that wind up holding the governing party to ransom. There’s just one problem with the warnings: neither Trudeau nor anyone else thus far has suggested that Canada adopt the Australian model. In fact, Australia has two different voting models — a simple ranked ballot system for its House of Representatives (equivalent to Canada’s House of Commons) and a single transferable vote system (STV) for its elected Senate (Canada’s Senate is appointed). STV is actually a complex form of proportional representation, which includes a ranked ballot. Yet some of the purported dire consequences of adopting a simple ranked balloting system here have been based on the worst features of Australia’s Senate elections.
“The ranked ballot in the Senate in Australia is a proportional system and that’s why typically you have quite a few independents and small parties, like the Green party, represented in the Senate,” says Arend Lijphart, professor emeritus at the University of California San Diego and a world-renowned expert on voting systems. “The (simple) ranked choice ballot for … the House of Representatives, that has worked in Australia for a long time.”
Under a simple ranked ballot system, voters indicate their first, second and subsequent choices. If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, the contender with the fewest votes is dropped from the ballot and his or her supporters’ second choices are counted. That continues until one candidate emerges with a majority.