The 2016 U.S. presidential election ended just a few weeks ago, raising many issues about how elections are run. B.C. civic elections are set for October 20, 2018. Vancouver City Council created the “Independent Election Task Force” with terms of reference approved by Council on February 3, 2016. Its last scheduled meeting (see agendas and minutes) was on September 10, and it is expected to produce a final report for consideration by Council in December. Looking at the Council schedule, that means December 13 or 14. The report is probably complete now but not yet made public.
So stay tuned. The public will likely have a few days to review the report, and then Council may quickly discuss and adopt policies that will affect the October 20, 2018 civic election. Recall that one party in the 2014 civic election garnered absolute control of City Council on a razor, thin margin.
An election should provide results that are accurate and credible. The recent U.S. election raised many issues that challenged the public trust on both points, and the story is still not over as of today. What will the Task Force recommend?
The official purpose of the Task Force “is to recommend changes to Council concerning the delivery of municipal elections in the city of Vancouver that will lead to improved public confidence in the electoral processes at the municipal level and increase voter engagement – with a key goal being to increase voter turnout to at least 60 percent by 2025.” For more detail on the scope of work, see the Administrative Report dated November 16, 2015, entitled “Municipal Election – Report Back on Independent Election Task Force.” We note that improving “public confidence” in the election and increasing “voter turnout” are related goals — but very different.
The Task Force met six times seven times from June through September 2016, and addressed five “key strategic actions” (KSAs):
- KSA 1: Reform Campaign Financing
- KSA 2: Adopt a Proportional Voting System
- KSA 3: Conduct an Online Voting Pilot
- KSA 4: Increase Voter Turnout by:
a) Increasing positive cues
b) Targeting voter registration
c) Extending voter rights to permanent residents
d) Employing best practices for other jurisdictions
- KSA 5: Make Anonymous Balloting Data Available in Open Data Format
CityHallWatch and others raised a number of concerns during and after the 2014 civic election in Vancouver (see our links below: slow/lack of response to legal violations on election signs, etc., unexplained discrepancies in automatic voting machine results, destruction of ballots before concerns addressed, excessive corporate/union donations, extended hours at some polling stations, etc.). How many of them will this task force address in its final report?
All of the KSA’s are important, but special ones we will be watching in terms of “public confidence in the electoral processes” will be what the Task Force recommends on #1 (reform campaign financing), #2 (proportional voting), and #3 (online voting).
On KSA #1, Vancouver has a huge problem with the excessive influence of corporate and union donations, no dollar limits on donations or expenditures, and no requirement to report donations for three years of the four-year election cycle.
On KSA#2, the current “first past the post” system typically gives one party absolute control of the municipal government despite winning a much smaller proportion of the popular vote. That fails all the voters who did not choose the party that has absolute control.
On KSA#3, some Councillors at City Hall is pushing hard for online voting, but checks and balances must be put in place. This article in Wired is a must-read: “Hacked or Not, Audit This Election (And All Future Ones)” (23-Nov-2016). In it, Andy Greenberg suggests that any electronic voting system have audits cooked into it. He quotes Ron Rivest, a cryptographer and computer science professor at MIT: “Auditing ought to be a standard part of the election process…. It ought to be a routine thing as much as a doctor washing his hands.” If the Task Force recommends online voting, will also call for extensive auditing?
Below are CityHallWatch stories, media coverage on the Task Force, and excerpts from the Terms of Reference.
Official website of Independent Election Task Force
CITYHALLWATCH STORIES ABOUT 2014 CIVIC ELECTION
2014 election followup: Irregularities swept under carpet. Transcript of City Council meeting (Dec 16), Vancouver. January 8, 2015
Election 2014: City Council passes motion on “Review of the 2014 City of Vancouver Civic Election” – Text, comments. January 26, 2015
25 things the Chief Election Officer should analyze/report on: Election 2014 Vancouver (topic for Council Jan 20). January 19, 2015
Vancouver Group Attempting to Improve Voter Turnout (Roundhouse Radio, June 6, 2016)
Task force aims to get people to the polls (Vancouver Sun, 23-June-2016)
Below is from City website:
MEMBERS (11) OF TASK FORCE:
- Hilary Farson
- Shoni Field
- Mark Friesen
- Ela Esra Gunad
- Antony Hodgson
- Sonu Kailley
- Cynthia Kent
- Robert Matas
- Shona McGlashan
- Halena Seiferling
- Jordan Simmons
- Jessica Nelson, election manager
- Amanda Mitchell, public engagement specialist
- Diana Bulley, facilitator
EXCERPTS FROM CITY CLERK REPORT TO COUNCIL “Municipal Election – Report Back on Independent Election Task Force” (20-JAN-2016)
At its Regular Council meeting on February 3, 2015, Council directed staff to provide
recommendations to Council on the membership and terms of reference for an independent committee with a broad mandate to:
(i) survey candidates and parties as to their experience in the election;
(ii) review whether the allocation of resources from Council is sufficient to meet
expectations in an election; and
(iii) create a plan for advancing previous Council directives to staff regarding electoral
(a) Request to Province for ability to implement campaign finance reforms including
limits to contributions and a ban on corporate and union donations;
(b) Request to Province for ability to use proportional voting systems;
(c) Request to Province to make anonymous balloting data available in open data
format after an election;
(d) Request to Province to conduct an online voting pilot; and
(e) The priority actions from the Engaged City Task Force and the Healthy City
*The Engaged City Task Force and Healthy City Strategy priority action items include:
• Increasing the number of “positive cues” to encourage voting;
• Targeting voter registration;
• Investigating the extension of voting rights to permanent residents;
• Using the election ballot to get feedback on voter satisfaction with the current voting system;
• Taking action on campaign finance reform; and
• Increasing municipal voter turnout to at least 60 per cent by 2025.
Staff have begun planning for the 2018 election and this work will intensify beginning in
September 2017. In November 2017, staff expect to begin implementing the election plan
developed for the 2018 municipal election.
It is important that any changes to the governing provincial legislation become law by
November 2017 in order that the changes can be addressed by City staff as the 2018 election
plan is finalized. This is particularly important if the Province agrees to allow municipalities
to use a proportional voting system and/or allow the City of Vancouver to conduct an online
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Terms of Reference – City of Vancouver Election Task Force
The purpose of the Task Force is to recommend changes to Council concerning the delivery of municipal elections in the city of Vancouver that will lead to improved public confidence in the electoral processes at the municipal level and increase voter engagement – with a key goal being to increase voter turnout to at least 60 per cent by 2025.
The Task Force is directed to produce a final report for consideration by Council not later
than December 2016. The scope of the Task Force’s work will include:
- a. Reviewing the existing legislation that governs municipal elections in the Province of BC with particular emphasis on legislation governing the Vancouver municipal election;
- b. Surveying a representative sample of past candidates and election organizations to
obtain their input regarding possible changes to the existing legislative framework for the conduct of municipal elections in Vancouver – including those changes previously approved by Council;
- c. Conducting a literature review and research concerning election best practices that
have been implemented either nationally or internationally and have resulted in an
increase in public confidence and voter engagement;
- d. Reviewing the previously approved Council directives to staff and determining/
confirming which of the directives should be pursued on a priority basis as they
contribute to the key goal of improving public confidence and increasing voter
- e. Identifying other changes to the delivery of the municipal election in Vancouver that will contribute to improved public confidence in the electoral processes and increased voter engagement based on their review of best practices;
- f. Determining which of the Council-directed and other proposed changes can be
implemented within the existing legislative structure of local government in BC, and
which require legislative change in order to implement;
- g. Identifying the budget implications of implementing each proposed recommendation and prioritize the recommendations; and
- h. Proposing a plan for Council’s consideration regarding the implementation of the
recommendations that are within Council’s ability to control and how to influence
change at the provincial level.