UBC prof sees minimal impact of randomized ballot on Vancouver election

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      In this year’s fall election, candidates in Vancouver will be listed on the ballot in random instead of alphabetical order.

      The new system is supposed to remove the advantage of candidates whose names are on the top of an alphabetically ordered ballot.

      Richard Johnston, a professor at UBC’s department of political science, agrees that a randomized ballot is generally fairer than an alphabetical listing.

      However, Johnston doubts whether the new system of listing candidates is going to affect much the outcome of the October 20 election.

      “At the end of the day, I don’t think it will be a big story in terms of consequences for success or failure,” Johnston told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview Wednesday (August 8).

      The UBC professor explained that it’s because party affiliation matters more for voters.

      “In Vancouver elections, we know the party affiliation of most of the candidates. It’s a meaningful label,” Johnston said.

      This means, for example, that if voters are indignant with a certain party, they will purposely not vote for candidates representing that electoral organization.

      If certain parties expect to benefit from the randomized order of candidates, Johnston said that their gains will probably be “minimal”, especially for seats in council.

      “The most important single piece of information would be the party with which the candidate is affiliated, and then to the extent that there are departures from that, it would tend to reflect the fact that some councillors are more prominent than others,” Johnston said. “Some councillors, almost regardless of party, have had very long careers, and that makes them more prominent.”

      Of the current 10 councillors, only three are running for new terms, namely Adriane Carr of the Green Party, Heather Deal of the ruling Vision Vancouver, and Melissa De Genova of the Non-Partisan Association.

      New names will be in contention for council, and according to Johnston, this is a situation wherein party affiliations matter even more.

      “Party names may be more important than in the recent past because of the very novelty of the candidacies,” Johnston said. “You know, we won’t be relying on tried and true names quite as much, although I think that probably that the handful of returning councillors, Adriane Carr for example, will probably benefit on balance. But again, not because of any change of the ballot, but because simply the field of competitors is…less well known.”

      Council voted last June for a randomized ballot for mayor, council, and park board. The move followed a motion in April by Vision councillor Andrea Reimer.

      School board approved in July to adopt the same listing system. 

      According to a city staff report that council considered in making the shift away from alphabetical listing, "If the proposed by-law is enacted, the upcoming 2018 municipal general election will be the first time that Vancouver voters will vote with a randomized ballot order."