BREAKTHROUGH: City Hall launches system to publish Council voting records online

Praise should be given where praise is due. And here is one announcement that deserves praise for Vancouver Mayor and Council, and for the City Clerk’s office, but especially for Councillor Adriane Carr for getting the wheels turning. It is worth including this as one breakthrough to mark 150 years after the City of Vancouver was established.

Voting records of Council members are now being posted on the City of Vancouver website.

CityHallWatch has for years been asking our elected officials and City staff to provide the exact track record of votes done in City Council (see bottom of this post for past articles). We often lamented how difficult it was to figure out who voted how on crucial topics. But as of today, council voting records will be made public. On first glance, there could be some improvements made to increase the usefulness of the data, but at least the raw data is now going to be publicly available. This is a huge step forward to make our elected officials publicly accountable, and the data may be useful at election time to review their track records. It will also expose bloc voting, even when it may appear to be contrary to the public interest. We will add further comments later. The data will be fertile ground for people with the skills to compile and present information visually. Though the City’s formal announcement makes no mention of this, it was Councillor Adriane Carr who got the wheels turning with her motion in Council in February 2014, “Improving Transparency and Public Access to Council Voting Records” (see our story here).

The data is posted at this link, in spreadsheet format (comma separated values, or in Excel):

http://data.vancouver.ca/datacatalogue/council-voting-record.htm

Below we copy the gist of the City’s Corporate Communications department, followed by the explanatory text on the relevant web page.

City of Vancouver, Information Bulletin, April 12, 2016

City makes Council voting records public

As part of the City of Vancouver’s ongoing commitment to open, transparent and proactive disclosure of data, voting records of Council members are now being posted on the City website.

This year, City Council started using an electronic voting system which allows the City to capture individual Council member vote records for Regular Council, Special Council, Standing Committee, and Public Hearing meeting types.

Voting records will be posted in the Open Data catalogue on the City website under Council voting record : data.vancouver.ca/datacatalogue/index.htm. Records for the April 5 and 6 meetings are now posted.

The voting records extract is updated following Regular Council, Special Council, Standing Committee, and Public Hearing meetings. The most recent data will be available within two business days of the meeting minutes being published. Meeting minutes are published in each council agenda and a link to the open data will also be posted there: vancouver.ca/your-government/city-council-meetings-and-decisions. [CityhallWatch note: The Clerk’s office has a goal of releasing meeting minutes 2 to 3 business days after the meeting.]

Following complex meetings with a large number of agenda items, data release may be delayed by several business days. Voting results can also be seen by attending council meetings which are open to the public.

The Open Data catalogue provides free and open access to over 145 City datasets. New datasets are added on a continual basis.

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Text from web page (as of 12-Apr-2016). data.vancouver.ca/datacatalogue/index.htm.

Open Data Catalogue

Council voting record

Data set name

Council voting record

Data custodian

City Clerk’s Office

Data currency comments

The voting records extract is updated following Regular Council, Special Council, Standing Committee, and Public Hearing meetings. The most recent data will be available within two business days of the meeting minutes being published.

Note: Following complex meetings with a large number of agenda items, data release may be delayed by several business days.

Data set description

The posting of voting records for City of Vancouver Council members is part of the City’s ongoing commitment to open, transparent and proactive disclosure of data. In 2016, City Council began using an electronic voting system which has enabled the City to capture individual Council member vote records for Regular Council, Special Council, Standing Committee, and Public Hearing meeting types.

Note: Please consult corresponding meeting minutes for official vote records.

Data accuracy comments

  • Erroneous and test votes are not included in the data sets, therefore vote numbers will not appear in sequence.
  • Consent agenda item votes are recorded after the meeting and will therefore not appear in sequence.

Attributes

The following definitions are listed for convenience to help users understand the data set terminology being used. For official definitions and procedures, refer to the Procedure Bylaw.

  • Meeting Type: Vote data is captured for the following meetings types: Regular Council; Special Council; Policy & Strategic Priorities; City Finance & Services and Public Hearing
  • Vote Date: The date that the vote was recorded in yyyy-mm-dd format.
  • Vote Number: A unique vote number which identifies an agenda item for consideration by vote. This number is also referenced in the corresponding meeting minutes.

Note: This field will not appear in sequence due to removal of test and error votes. Consent agenda item votes are recorded after the meeting and will therefore not appear in sequence.

  • Agenda Description: The agenda item title which is noted in the minutes of the meeting.

Note: The following vote types are excluded from the vote data:

    • Adoption of Minutes
    • Matters Adopted on Consent
    • Resolution to move into/rise from Committee of the Whole
    • Adopt Report of Committee of the Whole or Standing Committee
    • Bylaws adopted by blanket motion
    • Administrative Motions adopted by blanket motion
    • Motion to hold an In Camera Meeting

Where an item is referred to another meeting or back to staff, the vote is noted as referred in this field.

  • Vote Start Date Time: The date/time that the vote was called at the meeting. This field is in yyyy-mm-dd hh:mm:ss format.
  • Council Member: The name of the Council member conducting the vote.
  • Vote: A Council member’s response on a motion. Votes are recorded as follows:
      • In favour: In favour of the motion.
      • In opposition: In opposition of the motion.
      • Absent: Absent from the current meeting or absent from the Council Chambers, but present at the meeting.
      • No Vote: Not eligible to vote (on a Public Hearing item due to absence from the Public Hearing) pursuant to s. 18.26 of the Procedure Bylaw.
      • Abstain: Formally decline to vote (recorded as a vote in favour of the motion pursuant to s. 145.1(3) of the Vancouver Charter).
      • Declared Conflict: Conflict of Interest declared pursuant to s.145.2 of the Vancouver Charter.
  • Decision: The outcome of the vote.
      • Carried Unanimously: A motion that is passed by the affirmative vote of all Council members present at the meeting. Note: Some agenda items with this decision type may have been adopted on consent.
      • Carried: A motion that is passed by the affirmative vote of the majority or two-thirds of the Council members present at the meeting, depending on the requirements for a motion.
      • Lost: A motion that is defeated by the negative vote of the majority of Council members present at the meeting.
  • Vote Detail ID: Unique identifier for each data row.

Websites for further information

Coordinate system

Not applicable

Data set details

Note

None

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RELATED:

  1. Important motion Feb 18 & 19 – Improving Transparency and Public Access to Council Voting Records (Clr Adriane Carr). CityHallWatch, 17-Feb-2014. https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/carr-motion-on-council-voting-records/
  2. Council voting records are obscure and very difficult to read. Improvements needed now! CityHallWatch 29-January-2014.
    https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/voting_record_transparency/
  3. Independent or block voting in (Vancouver City) Council? The Failings of a Democracy. Contributed by Grant Fraser, September 16, 2012. Detailed analysis, showing how difficult it was until now to get data on how our elected officials voted. Article researched by Grant Fraser, representing his many hours of analysis and review of all votes cast by the Vancouver City Council (Nov 2011 to Aug 2012).
    https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/block-voting-in-council-g-fraser/
  4.  Vancouver Council VotesJoseph Jones in his Vancouver Council Votes blog analyzes a previous Council’s voting behaviour (2008 to 2011).

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS (FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE)

  • 1886: City of Vancouver established. Many Mayors and Councils come and go.
  • 2010: CityHallWatch established. Soon thereafter we call upon the City to compile and publish Council voting records.
  • 2008-2011: Joseph Jones tracks Council voting and published online with Vancouver Council Votes blog.
  • 2012: Grant Fraser publishes his analysis of Council voting records.
  • 2014 (Feb): Councillor Adrian Carr motion calling for “Improving Transparency and Public Access to Council Voting Records.”
  • 2016 (April): 150 years after City established, City Hall announces it will be publishing Council voting records online from now on.

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