voting election

Photo: Keith Ivey/Flickr

A lot can happen in a city in four years. It’s something that Bonita Pietrangelo, Director of Elections and Registry Services at the City of Toronto, knows very well.

Part of her job includes tracking changes in every one of Toronto’s 44 wards to make sure that, come the election, there are enough places to accommodate all the voters in the city. That means not only visiting each and every voting place throughout Toronto in the year before an election, but also tracking which voting places will no longer be available and seeing whether new stations need to go up.

The total amount of voting places in Toronto has skyrocketed since the last election. The city had 1,562 places for residents to vote in 2010, a number that’s surged to 1,679 for the election coming up on October 27th.

Toronto’s population growth doesn’t just mean extra work for the clerk’s office come election-time: it’s also a major democratic issue when densely populated wards get the same political representation as wards with far fewer residents.

In a city witnessing an incredible amount of change and uneven population growth, the flurry of new residential developments is impacting where and how Torontonians vote. The boom also means we may see an entirely different ward map when we go to the polls again in 2018, as the City grapples with the issue of how to ensure rapidly growing wards are getting proper political representation.

“Population growth and development is something that we monitor closely to understand what impact it will have on our locations,” said Pietrangelo.

“Every year when we are looking at our voting subdivisions, we take what we have in existence and we look at the numbers to confirm the [voting place] can accommodate it. We also track the new developments, the new condos and apartments that are going up, to see how that will impact it.”

A new condo doesn’t automatically get its own polling station, even if it’s a tower that could bring 500 new voters to a ward.

There are lots of factors that go into choosing a voting location, with accessibility being a key consideration. According to the Province of Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act, seniors residences that have 50 beds or more automatically get a voting place, as do institutions with 20 or more beds occupied by persons who are disabled, chronically ill or infirm.

Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), which is currently home to 68 voting places altogether, saw 13 new voting locations introduced since 2010, nine of which are in condos.

In general, the City tries to ensure that voters won’t have to travel outside a radius of more than 800 metres to cast their ballot, or traverse major arterial roads, valleys, rivers and man-made boundaries that don’t have pedestrian access. Or, as Pietrangelo says, “wherever reasonable and wherever possible.”

There’s no hard and fast rule about how many electors a voting places must fit and many of the locations are based on historical precedent. The City tries to use public spaces where possible, but according to the elections act, if a condo has 100 dwellings or more, a condominium corporation must make a common space available if requested by the clerk’s office. Generally, the condos that end up having their lobbies or party rooms turned into polling stations in Toronto have 300 units or more.

Which ward saw the biggest surge in new places to vote? Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), which is currently home to 68 voting places altogether, saw 13 new voting locations introduced since 2010, nine of which are in condos.

Just how big are these condos with new polling stations? The Cinema Tower contains 444 suites and just a block away, The Pinnacle on Adelaide brought 588 new homes into the area. By the waterfront, Quay West at Tip Top brought 364 new residences to the ward.

It all adds up to a pretty big bump in potential voters, and even though the clerk’s office keeps an eye on new developments, anything can happen on election night.

In 2010, Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina) saw 5,527 voters ask to be added to the voters list, the highest amount among the wards. Not far behind, Ward 20 had 5,155 voters who weren’t on the official list show up to cast ballots.

These shifts mean some wards have significantly bigger populations than others, but only one voice at City Hall. On one end, there’s Willowdale (Ward 23), which according to 2011 Census figures, is home to 88,440 residents. The smallest population can be found in Ward 29 -Toronto-Danforth, which is home to almost half of Willowdale’s amount with 44,935 residents.

Running contrary to Mayor Ford’s repeated belief that Toronto would be fine if it cut down its wards to just 22, the City hired consultants earlier this year to review the boundaries.

According to their first report, “Draw the Line,” Toronto’s ward map doesn’t “meet the requirements of effective representation” with huge differences in ward populations.

Based on the 2011 census, the average population for a Toronto ward is just under 60,000 people. A number of development-heavy wards are far above the average, with Ward 23 (Willowdale) 48.8 per cent more than the norm. Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) is next on the list with 78,670 people, a total of 32.4 per cent more than the city-wide ward average. For a better sense of each ward’s population, check out the map below.

If the City doesn’t change the boundaries, the issue would mostly likely land in front of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) again, which could force a re-alignment.

The consultants, led by the Canadian Urban Institute, should have their final report and recommendations ready by March 2016, in time for the next election. With no end in sight to the city’s growth and development boom, who knows what might happen – we could be voting 50 councillors into office in a much, much different municipal landscape.

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