Vancouver election: City votes to spend $235K to randomize ballots

The City of Vancouver is planning to spend $235,000 to avoid "alphabetical bias" in the next municipal election.

Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in favour of a motion that will see candidates‘ names presented in a random, rather than alphabetical order when Vancouverites go to choose their next mayor, city councillors and park board commissioners in October.

"The update to the election by-law was requested by Council to create a more even playing field for candidates," the city said in a statement. "Research has shown many voters are more likely to vote for those listed first on a ballot, meaning that candidates at the top of an alphabetical list are perceived to have an advantage over those lower down."

Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer first introduced the idea in April, citing the fact that only 33 per cent of candidates in the last election had surnames starting with A, B, C or D, but made up 60 per cent of winners.

"The strength of a democracy is based on a number of factors but none more so than real or perceived bias and barriers in the electoral system," the document read.

suggests "alphabetical bias" has "a particularly negative impact on people who have last names that are Chinese, South Asian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese or Latino – among others – as people from these cultures are much less likely to have last names that start with A, B, C, or D."

Councillors Elizabeth Ball, Adriane Carr and Melissa De Genova—whose last names all start with one of the first four letters of the alphabet—voted against the motion Wednesday.

In a tweet after the meeting, De Genova expressed concerns that there had not been enough consultation with those who might have difficulty with the new format.

"Too bad #Vision Clr. calls out Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee for not discussing randomized ballot at last (meeting), where agenda was already set," she wrote. "Ignores email on behalf of committee asking for more consultation for people who may have trouble with new format."

An by the Standing Committee on City Finance and Services suggests the city spend $65,000 to prepare voters for the changes. Strategies include putting a list of candidates in local papers as a detachable insert that voters can bring with them on election day. The money will also be used to distribute voter guides and create biographies for each candidate on the city‘s website.

Another $110,000 of the anticipated costs willgo towards preventing in "voter confusion" come Oct. 20. The report recommends city staff communicate the new ballot style on the city‘s website ahead of the election. The money is also meant to cover the cost of a survey on the impacts of the new format after the election.

"The confirmed randomized list of names will be circulated well ahead of the election, supported by additional communications to ensure voters feel informed and know what to expect at the voting place," the city‘s satement read. "Voters will also be strongly encouraged to vote in advance in anticipation of longer vote times expected on Election Day."

The remaining $60,000 will be used to increase staffing at voting places in anticipation of longer wait times cause by voters who "will likely take a longer time to locate and vote for their desired candidates," the report read.

In total, the anticipated cost of the switch to a randomized ballot system will be $235,000.

This will be the first time Vancouverites for use randomized ballots in a local election, although the city‘s charter already allows for the format and outlines a process of writing candidates‘ names on paper and drawing them out of a "container that is sufficiently large to allow them to be shaken for the purpose of making their distribution random."