October 11, 2022

Can We Just Make Vancouver Civic Elections Less Confusing?

Let’s go back to the last century where it was a bit simpler to elect ten city councillors and one mayor for the  City of Vancouver.  In Vancouver the Mayor has no special powers at city hall, but he does get a nice office with a board table, a private washroom, and gets to wear the chain of office (it is 14 carat gold and made by Birks)  on special occasions.

It was during Gregor Robertson’s mayoral time when council terms went from three year to four year terms. That extra year seems to have brought more people that have intended political careers as opposed to what the last century brought-business owners, private citizens, and even a librarian or two.

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.

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.

Here we are in 2022 and you can take a look here for the City’s complete (and yes, randomized) list that will be on the ballot. There’s 14 people running for mayor, 58 for Council’s ten positions, 30 for Park Board and 31 for School Board.

Until last year in the  City of Vancouver,  it did 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 at the time had the dubious distinction of being the longest ever ballot by any place in Canada. In 2021 Council voted to have 200 signatures required if you were running for mayor, and 100 signatures if you were running for Council. There are still over 130 people on this 2022 civic election ballot.

CTV’s Penny Daflos has written that nearly every big city in Canada has a ward system-except in British Columbia. Those councillors represent certain parts of the city, and give residents someone to speak directly with regarding issues. Ms. Daflos notes that the current “at-large” system has increased the municipal political party system, as a way to navigate those big voting ballots and also provide a  way for voters to choose a slate to support.

A ward system was rejected  by  54 percent of Vancouver voters in 2004, but a survey by Research.co Mario Canseco suggests that 58 percent of Vancouver residents now would support it. You can also read this article by CBC’s Bridgette Watson that weighs out the pros and cons of wards, and includes the table below, showing that cities with wards have a more manageable number of people running for office on the ballot.

Is it time to go to a ward system for a shorter, more comprehensive ballot and personal accountability?

images:cityofvancouver,cbc

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