It’s no secret that when election ballots were alphabetized in the City of Vancouver that they seemed to favour people who had names at the top of the alphabet. You can take a look at this list of Mayors and Councils dating back to 1887. From my unscientific examination that there appears to be a heck of a lot of Councillors with last names beginning with the letters “A” to “D”.
In 2005, six councillors had their last names with the initials “A” to “D”. In 2008 there were four Councillors that had their last names starting with “A” to “D” initials. The City of Vancouver Council has ten members, as well as the Mayor.
If you have a slate of councillors you want to get elected with, knowing that their last name started with a letter from the front of the alphabet has historically helped.
It made sense to randomize the ballot, but what to do with the very long slate of names, many names people voting for Councillor might be unfamiliar with? Alex Strachan reported in a 1993 article in the Vancouver Sun that “studies show voters choosing a slate from the list of 40 names or more may choose several selections at the top of the list before realizing they have a few choices left”.
Sadly it appears to be human nature that people go to the bottom of the list and then work their way up~”overlooking the names in the middle”.
In 1993 the ballot was randomized, with the order of ranking on the ballot being decided by names being drawn from a ballot box. The successful mayor, Phillip Owen was number two on the ballot; his main opponent, Libby Davies was in the 11th spot.
Anyone that voted in that election with randomized ballots or in the 2018 civic election will tell you what a surprising melange of names there were~and it must have been truly intimidating to anyone not working in or breathing civic processes on a daily basis.
Indeed the 1993 randomized election ballot was so confusing that in 1996 the alphabetized ballot returned.
In the City of Vancouver it does not take a lot to be on the Mayoral or a Councillor ballot~just a mere 25 signatures. It was not unusual at City Hall to be asked by a potential person running for Council to sign your signature for them to bag their 25 signature requirement to be in the race.
In the 2018 election City of Vancouver had 158 candidates on the civic ballot, and it has the dubious distinction of being the longest ever ballot by any place in Canada.
Thankfully the City of Vancouver Council is voting today on the effectiveness of the random order ballot, and examining how to make the process more understandable to voters. The City is proposing that one hundred signatures be gathered to run for mayor, and 75 signatures garnered to run as a councillor.
The proposal also recommends that the date for nominations be moved up to earlier in the year, so that nominations for mayor and council be accepted from May 1st to the end of July, to allow a longer period for the citizens of Vancouver to learn who everyone is that is running.
You can take a look at that Council report here.
Of course the higher number of signatures and earlier closing window for nominations may also deter some candidates from being on the ballot. But to be able to say you have run for Council or Mayor will now mean that you have more than 25 friends sign their name on your nomination.
The classic case of course is Vancouver’s Mr. Peanut, artist Vincent Trasov who ran for mayor in 1974. He did not speak, but would do a twenty second tap dance and had his emissary, John Mitchell speak for him. Mr. Peanut ran on a platform that nearly five decades later looks surprisingly progressive: subsidized mass transit, a voucher system for higher education, and free umbrellas and rubber boots at all libraries during inclement weather.
You can take a look at the Youtube video below to see Mr. Peanut interrupt a Mayoral panel discussion starting at 13:00. George Puil was running for Mayor along with Art Phillips and Mr. Puil can be seen complaining about the “barricading of west end streets” (it was traffic calming) and why Granville Mall had become a transit mall without having a mall of stores. It’s all pretty classic.