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A better process needed, says council candidate Evans

September 24th, 2008 · 24 Comments

There’s a whole lot of scrapping still going on about Saturday’s vote, but something that people haven’t addressed yet was whether there was a fundamental problem with the process.

Catherine Evans, who ran for a council-slate spot, said that if had any advice to give anyone in future campaigns, it would be not to get into a competition process when there is no equitable access to the members’ list.

Evans, who has worked with the federal Liberal party for a long time and ran for a nomination in Vancouver-Quadra, said it’s standard in federal and provincial parties for people trying to get a nomination in a riding to have access to the members’ list.

“I didn’t expect it to be such a big issue before the race began but later I saw how uneven the ground was,” said Evans, who sounded pretty philosophical about a race that has been quite emotional for a lot of people.

“It’s an interesting problem and Vision’s going to have to deal with it.”

Obviously, as anyone who has followed any kind of politics at all knows, having access to members’ lists doesn’t stop people from forming alliances in a campaign to try to bolster each other.

But it did seem evident to all of us watching this race that the lack of access meant that people who did have control of parts of the membership list, like those who had signed up a lot of people during the mayoral campaign, had big bargaining chips that they could use. They would still have those bargaining chips to a certain extent, even if the general list were available, because they would presumably have some influence among those they signed up when it came to recommending who else to vote for. But they wouldn’t have had exclusive control of those names.

This, by the way, isn’t a problem unique to Vision. The Non-Partisan Association also declined to give out membership lists to those campaigning. But since its competition was so weak, with almost all positions being decided without a race, it didn’t become as big an issue.

The position both parties take when asked about this is that they don’t want to subject their members to endless rounds of solicitation by multiple candidates and they don’t want to violate their privacy. But it was obvious in the Vision race that a) lists of people’s names, numbers and so on were in wide circulation and b) it didn’t prevent mass bombardments. As I noted in a post on Saturday, one man said a friend of his had received 42 phone calls in the previous couple of weeks from various candidates.

Evans said her experience in campaigns at other levels is that, when people join a political party, it’s because they’re interested in politics and therefore aren’t as likely as the general public to object to getting political material in the mail. Some will object and ask to be removed from mailing lists, but in general, they want to know what’s going on.

It’s certainly something to think about because if there’s anything I heard throughout this campaign, it was a lot of bitterness about who had hooked up with who for the sake of their access to membership lists. Veteran campaigners tended to pooh-pooh some of this as the whining of naive rookies who thought the race was going to be run like a high-school election. But it did produce a bad taste in the mouths of some of the newer members to the party and that’s not to be discounted.

The slate formation and trading also did produce a lot of conspiracy theories about the motives of everyone involved, i.e. Raymond Louie is just re-running his mayoral campaign and trying to show he’s in control, Andrea Reimer is trying to play all sides of the fence, and so on. It’s a shame because Louie and Reimer’s coalition-building could also be seen as really positive moves to build bridges to the city’s many ethnic communities.

That kind of conspiracy theory is never going to die off completely. As I’ve noted here before, very few candidates in campaigns think they lose because of bad campaigns and personal qualities. There are always dark suspicions about how the race has been rigged in some way. But given that that’s the tendency in elections, anything that can reduce the number of avenues for conspiracy theories to go down can only be a good thing.

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  • There is a lot to be learned about how to run a fair and open democratic process. Having access to membership lists is, I would suggest, the same as having access to the general voters list. Procedures and policies can be put in place that limit misuse.

    Unless things have changed, COPE doesn’t allow candidates access to the membership list either.

    The sign up to collect votes has always struck me an seriously anti-democratic. All of the parties do it, but one of the side-effects can be a form of capital accumulation that rewards those with the resources to hire and entice supporters.

    Given the calls that I received (I signed up directly as a Vision member long before any of the campaigns got off the ground) it seemed clear to me that some candidates were working off of NDP supporters lists. Others appeared to be working off of federal Liberal party lists. And then there were those who had access to one of the three mayoralty candidates’ lists (all of whom managed not to have my name 🙂

  • Based on the calls I received its clear to me that one of the successful “slates” had access to Robertson’s mayoralty race lists. My wife and I signed up at a Gregor event. I’m not an NDP member, never a Vision member before the mayoralty race, never once had a phone call regarding a civic election, from any party, ever.

    In short there was no reason why I should be receiving daemon-dialer phone calls and direct mail pieces from a small subset of candidates and get out the vote calls on the morning of the election if lists were not made fairly to all candidates.

    But lists are merely a side show, however distasteful.

    It’ll be interesting to see how some of the alliances bear up. Not all were made between candidates of useful value to the next and most important race, or to working council and boards.

  • I spoke to Catherine about this in the middle of the campaign, and it made me realize then how lopsided the competition might be. Access to lists and strategic coalition-building seemed to make the difference in the council nomination race. At the time of our conversation I wondered what might happen if I started getting mail and phone calls from 17 candidates, and it wasn’t an appealing thought. However, given that candidates have other ways of connecting with members (sign-up sheets at events, Facebook groups, etc.), I don’t think it would be too problematic to restrict mail-outs to one or two over the campaign. And there should be an easy way for members to opt in to supporter lists of the candidates, perhaps through a general email with links to each candidates list-serve.

    I am glad, though, that I was never asked to contribute to the campaigns of some candidates that I hadn’t even heard of.

  • Patrick

    Sign-up sheets at what events? How do you contact someone on Facebook if you don’t know who they are, or if they’re a member of Vision?

    Do you realize there are 16,000 members in the party… no matter how many Facebook friends you add, someone with a Gregor, Raymond or NDP email/phone/address list has you smoked.

    Moral of the story: ethics or no, if you’re not an existing powerhouse you better buddy up with someone who has a list(s) – or else you get left out on the cold.

  • Rick

    I would offer a bunch of counterpoints to Evans:

    1) the De Genovas — because Vision is new some see it merely as a vehicle for their ambitions. I would be very upset if Al could have taken the entire Vision membership list with him and handed it off to Jr for her Parks board run. Vision didn’t have nominations in 05, this year they did, maybe a further step is providing lists in some fashion.

    2) People who made coalitions/slates/etc understood how to get things done — Doesn’t that bode well for how they’d act once elected? I think the last thing the city needs is more ideologues a la Tim Louis who would rather eat glass than compromise on ANYTHING.

    3) People who had access to partial lists, lists from the mayoralty race, from a provincial party had a history with Vision or the Axe the Tax Party, etc — Sure this is an advantage but I don’t see how it can be considered an unfair advantage. Reimer must of had a wack of contacts from when she was on school board, is she supposed to shred these contacts when she enters a Vision nomination campaign?

    4) If Evans thinks that any party can take cues from the federal Liberal party about being more democratic good golly I am SO glad she didn’t get nominated! While Quadra nominations may be tea and crumpet affairs Liberal nominations in other parts of the city are complete circuses. Or maybe she was just expecting to be appointed?

    Having said this Vision could have done more to keep members informed about the race. Candidates could had the option to contribute content to a weekly e-mail instead of the few members got ,etc.

  • Counterpoint to Rick’s re: the De Genovas – I sit on one of the Vision neighbourhood committees. We send emails out to the member list, but we do it through the office, so we don’t actually get a list of contact info. This could be done for the campaigns as well, though it would mean more work for the Vision staff.

  • rfk

    I find it interesting that any potential reality in politics that might be distasteful or challenging to the powers that be is immediately labeled, boxed, and dismissed as a “conspiracy theory”. The fact that “coalition-building could also be seen as really positive moves to build bridges to the city’s many ethnic communities” doesn’t negate the fact that Raymond hasn’t stop campaigning to be mayor (at least this is what I saw) nor that Andrea was doing what Andrea does.

    As much as we here in BC love our bipolar politics life isn’t binary. The fact that “dark suspicions” exist about the fix being in months ago as to who would win the council seats doesn’t negate the fact that people might not have won anyway due to “bad campaigns and personal qualities.” One doesn’t necessarily rule out the other.

    Nothing personal Frances, but as a scutineer at the count, I find it interesting that you knew the final vote totals before I did. No conspiracy theory there, just the acknowledgement that there were larger forces at work –they’re called campaign machines.


  • Anthony

    I am not a political junkie nor am I a staunch member of any political party, However I am a strong believer in democracy and its use to promote the beliefs that I hold strongly. It is for that reason I went on Saturday to vote for the candidates that I felt best represented what I stood for.
    However the experience was far from democratic and I left disgusted, not casting my ballot, as I did not wish to partake in such a sham.
    While I was filling out my ballot on three separate occasions the individuals alongside me had their blank ballot taken away and replaced with an already filled in ballot, I pointed this out to an Officer who when he attempted to rectify the situation was met with a barrage of profanities.
    I had enough, not wishing to be part of this kind of sham I tore up my ballots’ further complained to another officer, mentioned it to Raymond Louie who happened to be at the door on the way out.
    I left without voting, If this is how vision conducts its affairs they will not be getting my vote in November.
    I am not a conspiracy theorist, nor am I an insider my only association with Vision is that I became a member in order to vote for Gregor Robinson whom I thought at the time would be a good Mayor.
    Perhaps I’m too naïve in believing that anything got to do with politics could be fair and honest
    Anthony Tucker

  • While ‘campaign machines’ may be a reality; one can still hold onto a dream of a time when such a political structure is not the norm and when voters select candidates by merit and quality as opposed to political/social capital. Naive, Utopian, but an ideal worth striving for I believe.

  • cluck

    If the candidates were given the list what were they going to do with it. Send out 16,000 letters at a cost of at least $20,000. Or would they phone the members. Which would have meant 20 phoners a night talking to 20 people a night for 40 days. I don’t think any campaign could sustain that.

    So the candidate is left with email blasts or slate building. With every candidate pestering the members everyday with emails I am sure the result would have been a lot angry members and email contact being totally ineffective.

    So really all you are left with is slate building and making sure that the people who support you support others you are working with and vice versa.

    Of course that favours those who have been involved in the community and have worked for different groups, which are really the people that you want to run anyway.

  • Hi…Resolving Timeline Issues pointed me to you..
    Did you read the Couriers’ article about the Vision nomination stuff on Sat?

    I was not impressed..And am with Anthony on how unethical it all seems.

    And ranted on my blog about it…

    these people don’t deserve our votes

  • rfk

    “While ‘campaign machines’ may be a reality; one can still hold onto a dream of a time when such a political structure is not the norm”….

    ..and in the meantime, political parties will sell that dream back to you in the form of a new leader, “a new vision”; all the while the backroom boys fear real change and do whatever they can to make sure that the political process remains the same ol’, same ol’. Thanks. But no thanks. There are better ways than city politics to see “merit and quality” succeed.

  • Dawn Steele

    Yes I got a lot of calls, e-mails and mail from individual candidates and had no idea where most of them got my contact info from – I just assumed Vision had given it to them until I realized I was just hearing from some over and over and not all of them.

    There are plenty of ways that Vision could try to level the playing field next time around. This is a new group and a few stumbles at the outset are only natural — the strength of any organization lies in being able to learn from mistakes and engage in continuous improvement.

    Thoughts that come to mind:

    1) you don’t have to give away the secret list to anyone to provide equitable access – just ask the candidates to submit their material and have the party distribute it centrally to the entire list.
    2) place some limits on the solicitation that candidates can do on their own over and above that – is that realistic? I’m sure many Vision members felt the constant barrage was all a bit too much. And expensive strategies like those automated phone calls would also seem to offer an unfair advantage to candidates with deeper pockets.
    3) Provide a section of the Vision website for candidates to post info about themselves – provide the link to members and let them come and get the more detailed info they want to the extent that they feel appropriate.
    4) Give all candidates the opportunity to translate their material into key languages so that they can all communicate directly with different communities.
    5) Make the all-candidates debates more accessible – U-Tube, web transcript or synopsis, etc. for those who couldn’t attend in person.
    6) I also wonder about the wisdom of the leader endorsing incumbents and whether it would have been sufficient to just note who was an incumbent, along with their contributions, and to let voters assess for themselves the value to attach to incumbency in picking their selections.
    7) Allow people to vote for as many candidates as they choose instead of forcing them to guess or accept someone else’s recommendation in order to fill out a full slate. (I’m sure someone had a very good reason for requiring people to vote for a full slate but I haven’t figured out yet how this benefitted the democratic process if most or many of those votes were not based on an informed assessment of individual merit.)

    These are just the thoughts of a newbie, so any further enlightenment would be appreciated.

  • “Nothing personal Frances, but as a scutineer at the count, I find it interesting that you knew the final vote totals before I did. No conspiracy theory there, just the acknowledgement that there were larger forces at work –they’re called campaign machines.”

    And I was a counter and I’m not surprised. All of Science World knew the results before we did.

  • rfk

    “And I was a counter and I’m not surprised. All of Science World knew the results before we did.”

    My understanding is that those at Science World were told the winner but not the actual vote totals. Same with us at the count. I had to read the final totals on this blog.

    As scrutineers we should have been watching and consulted when the final totals were determined. That never happened. Nor after repeated requests did one find out the total ballots cast -which should have been the first info released.

  • jf

    I was standing by the media table when the results came out. The media and the candidates were given the results on paper just before they were announced. Later I went to a candidate and asked to see the results and they happily let me see them. Don’t know why the numbers weren’t given to everyone…

  • jf

    Also, the ban on plumping (voting for less than the required number of candidates) seems to be a holdover from COPE and the unions. I don’t understand why as a member if you only know/favour 3 candidates you have to vote for more. Seems silly. In the civic election I can vote for one, two, three, etc. up to nine school board candidates or none if i don’t like any of them. Forcing people to vote just encourages the slates and voting for people you don’t know.

  • Allison McDonald

    I scrutineered for a good portion of the Vision Vancouver nomination and for all of the count and while there were some questionable practises during the count (not knowing the total number of ballots cast, being sent to the hallway for the final tabulation) I am convinced that it was honest and above board (and the recounts, in fact, attest to this).

    However, I have serious moral objections to some of the behaviour in the voting room. If what I, Anthony and others (above) witnessed, and are reporting now, had taken place in an underdeveloped country we would all be outraged, that it happened in Vancouver Canada, nobody seems to care…just sour grapes we have been told; you lost because your candidate or your effort was lacking, you got out played – get over it!

    To be clear some of my candidates won and some of my candidates lost and I didn’t vote a slate. And every citizen needs representation in government (for some of us this is still so difficult) – thankfully the hegemony of white, middle-aged, middle-class, men in government is dwindling but we have got a long way to go to achieve equity.

    It is on this that I am most concerned; there was nothing equitable or ethical about some behaviour in the voting room; when translators physically fill out voters ballots, when husbands fill out their wives, when the same young men bring group after group of senior citizens behind the ballot boxes and fill out their ballots, when groups compare ballots before putting them in the boxes, see one of these things once or twice during a vote, its an anomaly, see it multiple times, it’s a plan.

  • Dawn Steele

    Providing a translator is fair and reasonable; providing a suggested slate is too. But people filling out ballots for other people is not. How was this allowed to happen? Where’s the benefit of giving women the right to vote if it just means two votes for their husbands? Not much that can be done at this point – but why wasn’t it addressed at the time?

    I forgot to take off my buttons when I went in to vote and was sternly admonished to do so at once, lest I influence another voter. Totally correct, but I don’t see how that squares with what Allison’s reporting above…

  • Julianne Doctor

    Hi Dawn;
    It was reported several times to the returning officers that there were problems, such as Allison has mentioned above. I didn’t see a lot of effort to fix the problems, I did see eyes glaze over.

  • Allison McDonald

    Translators of course are allowed – one at a time – one per voter, but they are not allowed to touch the ballots, nor are 5, 6 & 7 people allowed behind a ballot box, I complained so much about infractions and inconsistencies I sounded like a broken record and there are only so many times on individual can ‘complain’ to the powers that be before they have heard too much.

    One issue was that the nomination vote was really too big to control and the Vision Volunteers were for the most part totally inexperienced, one of the marshals in the voting room came to me for advise on what to do about the man filling out the ballots – they had no concept of election rules, didn’t understand the need to go to a reporting officer with infractions, couldn’t find a reporting officer when one was needed, the orientation for the candidate scrutineers in the morning from one of the Deputy Reporting Officers was not about adhering to Election Canada rules but was an admonishment to not cause any trouble or we would be removed from the day. I had to insist on having a reporting officer at the actual ballot boxes because when the day started there was no one watching the boxes…our team was the only one who had a scrutineer at the credentials table or at the ballot boxes.

    I am totally surprised that Dawn was asked to remove her buttons before entering as many many many pole came through with buttons on. In the morning when Tim Stevenson came to vote I asked him to take off his buttons but a Vision Volunteer at the door over rode me and said it was OK, when I asked to have voters stop bringing in the campaign material from outside, I was told that the ‘official’ Vision Campaign material was acceptable and while people entering may have been asked to put the material in their pockets, it was a different story by the time they got to the ballot box…my point in all of this is that I assumed we were following Election Canada rules and I acted accordingly…I brought this forth to another Vision player and was told “If you think this is bad you should have seen the mayoral race…why they were campaigning in the voting room.” My response to this was either you follow the Election Canada rule or open it up to Bedlam…look Vision Volunteers were standing in the voting room reading campaign material…I guess ignorance is bliss…

  • Two things:

    1) This was an internal election, and as such doesn’t have to adhere to Elections Canada rules (as far as I know; I would appreciate it if someone checked).

    2) There are other groups that tell voters how to vote. If I want to educate myself, I can, but if I want someone to tell me how to vote I can go to, or one of many other sites that tell you who to vote for if you want to support a stance on an issue. For some groups, that issue may be ethnic representation, or representation by someone they’ve been told will help them out.

    I don’t know what to think about this issue. Obviously there is a level at which interference in the process shouldn’t be allowed, and some actions may be against Vision’s/Elections Canada’s rules, but I’m not convinced that having someone tell someone else how to vote is necessarily a bad thing. I trusted my friend to let me know who they thought were the best school board candidates, because she went to the debates and had an informed opinion. I didn’t let her fill my ballot in for me, but that might have simply been one step removed from the process. This may be anathema to many, but I think we all make trade-offs in the democratic process. For some, voting is the be-all-and-end-all, for others it’s merely ticking a box, a formality. Some people vote strategically, just so one candidate will get in, some vote how someone else tells them to, just so one candidate will get in. Or something like that. Like I said, I don’t know where I stand on the issue, because it isn’t as clear as some make it out to be.

  • Dawn Steele

    The fundamental principle that people are suggesting may be in violation here – and which I don’ t think anyone would suggest is optional in a credible democratic process – is secret balloting.

    At the end of the day, you get to cast your vote in private, without someone looking over your shoulder to see if you did as you were told or not.

    I most certainly would not want a friend, family member or someone who aided my participation in the voting process – and who may think I therefore owe him/her one – to be looking over my should when I vote. And no credible process puts a voter in the position of having to demand privacy during that final act of completing and submitting a ballot.

  • Dawn, you make good points, but there is the possibility (let’s allow for some agency of the voters) that some people want help voting, and while they are allowed to vote in secret (and I agree that it is a cornerstone of our democratic process) I don’t think it should be strictly enforced. Again, a much more difficult issue than it appears at first glance.