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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Call for civic ballots to be randomized in Vernon, B.C.

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When it comes to city council elections, some in Vernon, B.C., are concerned a candidate with the last name Jones might have a better chance of getting elected than a candidate with the last name Smith.

That’s because candidates are listed on ballots in alphabetical order, and research suggests being at the top of the list could be an advantage.

A Vernon resident says her group believes the issue is important enough that local officials should re-consider listing candidate names in alphabetical order.

“We are asking that councillors direct staff to study the issue of randomizing the ballot,” said Vernon resident Sue Young, who says she is not planning to run for office herself.

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“I think, as a concerned citizen, a citizen wanting to see democratic process without a bias perceived or real, that I just think it is really important that councillors be put on the ballot in any order.”

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Young points to academic research done in Quebec that found candidates who are at the bottom of the list of names on a ballot are at a disadvantage in municipal elections.

Co-researcher Alexandre Blanchet said in some cases, the name order disadvantage was large enough that it could make a difference between winning or losing.

The research didn’t find the same impact of ballot order in provincial elections.

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“Municipal elections are not as well structured by political parties and so, lacking information, voters are influenced by irrelevant factors, by these very small cognitive biases that we all have. They are influenced by [as] simple [a] thing as the name order on the ballot,” said Blanchet, a researcher at the École Nationale d’Administration Publique.

Under the rules governing local elections in B.C., ballot order should be alphabetical by last name unless a municipality passes a bylaw to allow the ballot order to be determined by drawing names.

Young’s group plans to present to Vernon council next week to urge them to consider it.

“Vancouver did it in 2018, they are going to do it again in 2022: bring people into a room, put the names in a hat, draw them out… it’s not onerous,” said Young.

“We just feel that for a fairer democratic process this…seems pretty obvious.”

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Young is hoping that the rule change is in place in time for civic elections in the fall of 2022.

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She believes it is too late in the process to change the rules for the upcoming Vernon byelection where nominations are already underway.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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