page contents Vote Dylan Bressey, candidate for Grande Prairie City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Municipal Election Rules

At tomorrow’s Corporate Services Committee meeting, I’ll be bringing up rules for municipal elections. There are two changes I would like to see considered: an increase to the number of signatures needed for nominations, and an overhaul of rules governing campaign signs.

Following is my thinking behind those changes.

Elections are a very sensitive thing. Arguably, they are THE thing any democratic institution needs to get right. So, change needs to be made carefully and with open conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ll be proposing. I think these ideas are worth consideration, but I also have an open mind as they get discussed.

Nomination Signatures

Having lots of quality election candidates is positive. But the community is also best served if all candidates are serious about earning a spot on Council. If someone has no intentions to actually campaign, them being on the ballot can detract from the election.

In general, having lots of candidates in an election is a good thing. Voters should have diverse choices when they head to the polls. However, having many candidates also creates more work and complexity for voters as they do their own research. More candidates also provides less opportunity to require in depth responses at Candidate Forums and in media Q&As.

For this reason, the province’s Local Authorities Election Act has provisions to discourage people from running if they don’t intend to actually campaign. One provision: it requires potential candidates to provide a deposit and to get nomination signatures by a minimum of 5 eligible electors. It also allows local Councils to increase the amount of signatures needed.

It strikes me that requiring signatures is a perfect way to discourage non-serious candidates without getting in the way of an actual campaign. If someone won’t actually campaign, asking 25 people to nominate them and doing the physical work of getting their signatures is a significant barrier. However, for someone that is campaigning, getting those signatures isn’t a challenge at all. In fact, it is helpful for them to meet with voters as they organize and spread the word about their campaign.

Last election, we had a record number of candidates. This was exciting to me. But many voters also told me this made their research difficult. That difficulty is well worth it if every person on the ballot actually wants a seat on Council. But it should also cause us to ask if we should be tweaking our nomination requirements.

I’ll be asking Council to consider upping the signature requirement from its current 5 to 25.

Something that is important to note: my mind isn’t set on this topic. I think it is a worthwhile conversation. But I want to hear all positions on it before making up my mind about whether or not I support it.

Election Signs

The placement of election signs is governed by the Use of Public Lands Bylaw (Appendix B). It’s approach is to allow signs on City land anywhere not specifically prohibited by the bylaw.

There are two big complications the rules create:

  1. It can be very difficult to determine where signs are allowed. For every spot, you need to first determine whether or not it is City land. Then you need to measure how far away it is from construction zones, intersections, and other prohibited areas. During the last municipal campaign, I spent many hours figuring out where signs could go. I still put some in wrong locations by mistake. And I wasn’t alone: I noticed misplaced signs from every campaign which was utilizing signs. I also noticed problems during the recent provincial election. I heard from several campaign managers as well as from City staff that they were having troubles figuring out whether or not particular spots were permissible.

  2. Allowed spots are fluid. Signs aren’t allowed within 500m of a construction zone. However, construction zones are constantly changing. Throughout an election, where signs are allowed can change day to day.

There are a number of problems introduced by these complications. They include:

  • Increased work for City staff. Complicated sign locations leads to misplaced signs. Our staff need to spend time figuring out whether or not signs are in permitted spots, and enforcing the rules when they are not.

  • An unfair advantage to candidates who ignore rules. Limited campaign resources need to be expended to get sign locations right. However, some campaigns care more than others about whether or not they are following the rules. With complicated rules, a candidate who isn’t as worried about following them as other candidates can get a significant advantage.

  • Decreased transparency to voters. For some voters, it matters whether or not candidates are paying attention to rules surrounding signs. Complicated rules make it hard for voters to know whether or not candidates are following them.

  • An incumbent advantage. Incumbents and other experienced campaigners have already spent time learning where signs can or cannot go. This gives them a significant advantage over someone who has to learn the complicated placement rules. Based on my experience placing signs, I estimate I’ll save ~20 hours on my next campaign. This will give my team time to knock on 500+ more doors, which is a huge advantage over someone who needs to take the time to learn sign rules for the first time.

Due to these challenges, I believe that our rules governing election signs should receive a significant overhaul.

There are a number of ways to make this less complicated. Perhaps the simplest approach is used by the City of Red Deer. It establishes several dozen areas throughout the City where election signs can be placed. Its Election Sign Placement Guide lays out where each of these zones are. They are the only places where signs are allowed on public property. This makes it a very simple matter to decide whether or not an election sign is following the rules. It’s an example I’d love to see us follow.

Transparent and fair election rules are very important. For that reason, this is a topic I think it is especially important for the public to chime in on.

So what do you think about my proposed changes? Are they good they way they are? Should the be tweaked? Are there any other changes to election rules you would like to see? Or should we just leave them all alone?

Thanks for taking the time to read! I look forward to hearing from you.