Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Elections BC should handle all local elections in BC

A the moment we have local council elections every three years in BC but each election is run by each municipality in their own way and by staff that answer to the sitting council.  It seems to me less than ideal not having an arms length organization running local elections

I am not saying there is a problem with how local elections are run because I have no proof of anything, but there are rumours one hears.  At a minimum I can think of one recent example in this region where the staff used the election rules against someone for what seemed to be political reasons and the courts had intevene and reinstate the person removed from office.  The vast majority of time I do not think there is a problem but the system is not created so we can be certain it is free from potential interference.

Elections BC is a non-partisan office of the BC Legislature  - it does not answer to the Premier or Cabinet.   It is the sort of relationship that our poor American friends rarely see in their elections.  We can be proud of how Elections BC functions and how fair it is.   There is not even the hint of conflict, I only wish that our federal elections were run under the same rules and standards.   The potential for political interference is not there.

When we have local elections they are run by existing civic staff.  There is an inherent perceived conflict of interest because the staff has the ability to influence who will be their government.    Municipal staff are civil servants operating under the direction of the council  - they are not free to operate as they wish in their job.    Having election officials employed by councils is just not right under any system that follows the tenets of administrative fairness or natural justice.

Another problem with local elections being operated  by civic staff is that these people are not full time professionals focusing on elections.    No one has hired them first and foremost because of their skills with elections.   The nature of elections is much more than the black and white of the rules printed in the law but there is no real space for municipal staff to take this on in the way Elections BC can.

We may have our local elections every three years in BC all within the same rules, but we have no consistency on how these elections are operated.   Civic staff are people that have other jobs the vast majority of the time, but once every three years for a few months they suddenly have to run elections.   The ongoing corporate election knowledge is thinner on the ground.  We have different ways each municipality handles the election.   As an example we have several differing physical ways to vote in use.  We have pencil and paper in some places and we have scanners reading ballots elsewhere.   We also do not have consistent signs, ads or anything to let people know about the elections.

What I suggest is that all local elections be handled by Elections BC.  If we had this the elections would all be outside of the control of local councils and they would be run by full time professionals in a consistent way across the province.  Given that municipalities are creatures created by the provincial legislature, having an office of the Legislature run the elections seems very reasonable.

At the moment Elections BC has three and half years of calm and half a year of frantic work.   If they were to take on local elections they could have a more even work load keeping more full time staff employed.   The more people that full time staff Elections BC has the more ongoing corporate knowledge there would be to call on.   In some provinces the equivalent agency to Elections BC already handles local elections so what I am suggesting is not something from Mars.

The shift would improve our local elections and improve Elections BC, there is no real downside I can see to doing this.

To help manage the work load I think it would be beneficial to stagger local elections around BC so that only 1/3 of the councils would hold their elections in any given year.   There is no reason to have all the local elections in the same year.   In a region like Victoria I think it would benefit media coverage of the elections if they were staggered.

How would it be paid for?    Currently each council sets aside a budget line item for elections so it is a cost already considered as a reasonable expense for local government.   I would think some form of a per capita levy be paid by each council to Elections BC would deal with this well.
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