A look at the effects of municipal election rules in the 2014 Toronto ward elections

Taylor, Zack and Sandra McEleney. 2017. “Do Institutions and Rules Influence Electoral Accessibility and Competitiveness? Considering the 2014 Toronto Ward Elections,” Urban Affairs Review.

Electoral and campaign finance reforms are believed to improve the competitiveness of elections and the accessibility of the electoral process; however, the interaction between electoral institutions and competitiveness and accessibility in nonpartisan municipal elections remains understudied. This article examines the City of Toronto, which exemplifies many of the reforms proposed in the American context, including a strict campaign finance regime and low barriers to candidate entry. Analysis of campaign finance disclosure data and candidate characteristics for Toronto’s 2014 ward elections reveals that electoral and campaign finance rules increase electoral accessibility while doing little to limit incumbency advantage. We argue that crowded nonpartisan races are low-information environments in which candidates, donors, and voters cannot assess challenger quality, which reinforces incumbent name recognition and access to campaign resources. The Toronto case highlights the limits of institutional and regulatory change as a means of increasing local electoral competitiveness and accessibility.