by Devon Rowcliffe

There has been considerable discussion recently about whether Vancouver should change its plurality-at-large electoral system. The topic is certainly not novel to the city, as this debate has been stumbling along without resolution since at least 1968.

Vancouver has used the at-large system for its elections since 1936. While this voting system does have some redeeming qualities, such as encouraging councillors to maintain a city-wide perspective and avoid parochialism, at-large unfortunately has numerous downsides. Extremely long ballots that feature upwards of 120 names make it impossible for even the most committed of voters to learn about all of the candidates in detail. At-large also skews geographic representation, as several politicians who live in one area of the city may get elected, while other areas might not elect any of their local candidates.

Under at-large voting, financially-impoverished neighbourhoods usually find themselves with less representation due to lower voter turnout. At-large also makes it nearly impossible for independent candidates to get elected, as they must campaign across the entire city at considerable expense, and they are often an afterthought for citizens who vote by slate due to the incredibly long ballot. Additionally, the at-large electoral system has made it extremely difficult for candidates of South Asian descent and other minorities to get elected in Vancouver; the system’s tendency to hinder certain groups from getting elected has led to American courts forcing hundreds of U.S. municipalities to abandon at-large voting.