Randomized ballot didn’t go over well in Vancouver’s 1993 election

COPE council candidate Anne Roberts says ward system best way to improve political process

Vancouver city council’s decision June 6 to switch from alphabetical to randomized name order on the 2018 municipal ballot will be confusing to voters, according to a COPE candidate for city council.

Anne Roberts, a retired Langara journalism instructor who’s served as a school trustee and city councillor in past years, came to that conclusion through experience.

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Roberts ran successfully for school board in the 1993 race when the ballot order was determined by a draw. She kept the sample ballot from that year to use for class discussions about civic elections.

“I do remember we were told after this one time … that people found it very difficult. There were lots of problems and so they decided to abandon it. I never heard anybody on our side complain [about abandoning it] because it was difficult to try and find who you were looking to vote for,” she said.

“If you only have one vote for mayor, that’s easier to find — you can go down the list. When you’re choosing 10 for council out of 50-some people [it’s more difficult],”

 

A July 9, 1996, administrative report from city staff recommended ballots be switched back to alphabetical order. It stated: “In 1993, the City Clerk recommended, and Council approved, the order of names be determined by lot. With the number of candidates seeking election for city office, the resulting random order made it difficult for voters to locate candidates names on the ballot. This proved confusing for voters, and resulted in numerous complaints from voters at the polls on election day. It is therefore recommended the city return to the practice of arranging the names of candidates alphabetically by their surnames, as provided by Section 78.”

The winners from the 1993 election can be found listed on the city website here. Their vote count isn't digitized but it can be found through the City of Vancouver Archives. (See 1993 results posted at the end of this story. Vote results from elections between 1996 and 2017 can be found on the city website here.)

Council’s decision to adopt a randomized ballot for the upcoming election was out of concern there is a bias towards names at the top of the list. Six of 10 current councillors have last names beginning with A, B, C or D. Similar results have been noted in other recent Vancouver elections. Some suspect the bias is towards both the top and the bottom of the ballot, with those in the middle earning fewer votes, while party affiliation also plays a significant role.

(Council’s June 6 decision only affects the mayoral, council and park board races. The Vancouver School Board is considering its options and must make a decision by Aug. 6. School Board staff, in a June 11 committee report, recommend the school board follow the city's example and switch to a name order chosen by lot.)

The Vancouver Charter, meanwhile, allows for one of two types of ballots — alphabetical or one where name order is determined by lot. Roberts told the Courier she was surprised news reports about the ballot order proposal, and subsequent decision to switch to a randomized list, didn’t include mention of the 1993 experience.

Information about that election wasn’t in the June 6 report to council, although staff did outline concerns that voter confusion and longer voting times might be an issue — the Township of Langley, for example, had a randomized ballot between 1993 and 2011 but reverted back to alphabetical order after the 2011 race due to complaints. Its 2011 ballot listed 41 candidates.

Vancouver’s election ballot in 2014 had 119 names.

To address concerns about potential voter confusion, council approved a $235,000 increase to the 2018 election budget. The money will be spent on communicating the name order change to the public and adding staff at voting stations. The Vancouver elections office also told the Courier that the current ballot style differs from what was printed in the 1993 race. Names are now listed by last name and then by first name, with party affiliation listed to their right. Names are aligned to the left of the box, rather than the right. Voters fill in ovals to the left of each name rather than connecting the arrows.

Roberts suspects people might think she’d be in favour of the randomized ballot style because her last name starts with R but she says that’s not the case because she believes the list of candidates in an at-large system can run too long.

“Under an at-large system it's just too confusing, especially for a city as large as Vancouver. If you’re in a small community and just had a few people running, great, but Vancouver needs to go to a ward system for a lot of reasons. I’m just saying this is not a real fix when you’ve got 50 names to go through. Now you’re making it even more confusing.”

Although 54 per cent of Vancouver voters rejected a proposal to switch from the at-large to a ward system in a 2004 referendum, Roberts thinks it’s time to revisit the idea. She argues the move to a randomized ballot is “not good enough.”

“There’s no real fix, in my mind, for an at-large system. I don’t think this will help… It just makes it harder to find who you want to vote for."

 

SAMPLE BALLOT 1993 ELECTION (election results below ballot)

 

The sample ballot fro mthe 1993 Vancouver election.
A sample ballot from the 1993 Vancouver election.

 

MAYORAL RACE 1993

Top 5 finishers (23 candidates)

 

Ballot                     Candidate                                           Party                     Votes

Placement

(2)                          Philip Owen                                       NPA                      46,687

(11)                        Libby Davies                                       COPE                    37,812

(9)                          Bob Seeman                                                                       4,834

(1)                          Jonathan C.F.D. Himsworth                                               683

(21)                        Stu Campbell                                                                         581

 

1993 CITY COUNCIL (46 candidates)

Top 10 (elected)

 

Ballot                     Candidate                                         Party                     Votes

Placement

(11)                        Lynne Kennedy                                NPA                       44,542

(10)                        Don Bellamy                                    NPA                       42,281

(27)                        Gordon H. Price                               NPA                       41,982

(28)                        George Puil                                       NPA                       41,970

(42)                        Maggie Ip                                           NPA                       39,409

(9)                          Jennifer Clarke                                  NPA                       39,377

(8)                          Sam Sullivan                                      NPA                       35,770

(39)                        Nancy Chiavario                                NPA                       35,214

(26)                        Craig Hemer                                      NPA                       33,954

(2)                          Jenny Wai Ching Kwan                   COPE                      32,150

 

1993 PARK BOARD (41 candidates)

Top 7 (elected)

 

Ballot                     Candidate                                       Party                     Votes

Placement

(4)                          Malcolm Ashford                            NPA                       37,146

(5)                          Tim Louis                                         COPE                    35,092

(39)                        Duncan Wilson                               NPA                       33,615

(14)                        Allan De Genova                             NPA                       33,314

(17)                        David D. Chesman                         NPA                       33,258

(28)                        Alan P. Fetherstonhaugh               NPA                       31,705

(16)                        Donna Morgan                                COPE                    30,130

 

1993 SCHOOL BOARD (29 candidates)

Top 9 (elected)

 

Ballot                     Candidate                                         Party                     Votes

Placement

(3)                          Sandy McCormick                            NPA                        41,802

(10)                        Ken Denike                                       NPA                        41,419

(7)                          Carol A. McRae                                 NPA                        40,283

(12)                        John Cheng                                       NPA                        38,650

(23)                        Ted Hunt                                            NPA                       37,438

(29)                        Bill Brown                                          NPA                       36,992

(17)                        John R. Robertson                           NPA                        34,297

(6)                          Yvonne Brown                                   COPE                    33,307

(24)                        Anne Roberts                                    COPE                     32,202

@naoibh

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