Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elections BC’s recommendations for legislative reform include Saturday e-days

Elections BC has submitted a report to the BC Legislature detailing its recommendations for electoral and legislative reform. Much of it is technical, but there are a number of interesting reccomendations, including moving elections to from Spring to Fall and Tuesdays to Saturdays, and pre-registering 16 year olds so they’re already on the voter’s list by age 18.

You can read the full report here in PDF format. While Elections BC cautions that it’s role isn’t to advocate specific changes (other than technical bureaucratic problems) but rather to identify areas for the legislature to consider and debate, the report does raise some interesting topics and present a few interesting specifics. Among the highlights:

*Let’s vote on Fall Saturdays: Like many jurisdictions, B.C. now has fixed election days, on the second Tuesday in May every four years. Since the throne speech and budget usually come in the spring, Elections BC says the rules around advertising that come into force 60 days before the campaign overlaps the throne speech and budget, causing headaches for those groups that wish to comment on them as they are/may be required to register with Elections BC and obey reporting requirements. TO make things easier, they suggest considering Fall elections instead, with an e-day preferable before the end of October before it gets too chilly.

Also, Elections BC wants to re-visit Tuesday e-days. Since most polls are at schools, there are security issues given the presence of students. They say moving to Saturday e-days would eliminate that concern, as well as make it easier for find e-day staff, and possible increase turnout.

Personally, fall or spring matters not to me. They haven’t sold me on Saturday voting though. While I’m sympathetic to the security concerns, we’ve had polls in schools for years. Have there ever been any incidents? Staffing is an issue, but I don’t recall it being a huge problem in past years. And would it really increase turnout voting on the weekend? Sure, people wouldn’t have work. But I’d argue they’d be less likely to interrupt their day off to go vote then just ducking out of work, or doing it on their way to or from. Is there any comparative data between jurisdictions with weekend and weekday voting?

*Registering 16 year olds: Unsurprising given their low turnout, but voter registration for the 18 to 24 age group is the lowest of all age groups. The voting age is 18 but most are out of high school at that point, making registering them much more difficult. Australia allows voter registration at 17 (with voting age of 18) and apparently several U.S. states have or are looking at registering at 16 or 17. Elections BC says by allowing voter registration at 16 they could ensure more youth are eligible and able to vote by 18, and they say high schools are supportive of bringing this into schools.

Sounds like a good idea to me, anything that could get more youth voting is a positive.

*Nomination deposits: The report gives a statistic I found interesting: Since 1996, the number of candidates in BC elections has dropped by 33% while the number of seats rose by 13%. So less people are running for office, which I’d argue is a bad thing. Elections BC identifies nomination deposits as one barrier, with others being the need for solemn oaths to file, which cost money and can be hard to obtain in some communities .

BC currently requires a $250 nomination deposit, refundable if 15% of the vote is obtained. Elections BC notes a 2007 Ontario Superior Court ruling that found requiring a vote threshold for deposit return unconstitutional, and says the trend in Canada is to either require no deposit or make it refundable on filing required financial reports. Elections Canada now returns the $1000 deposit if financials are filed as required, while Ontario now requires no deposit.

I’d favour making the nomination refundable if all the paperwork is filed as required after the election. I do think there should be some level of deposit required, though. I think $200 is an OK figure, it’s fairly low, and a good balance between accessibility vs. discouraging the crazies.

Anyway, those were the highlights as I saw them, but lots more in the PDF.

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Greg said...

It is tinkering around the edges, which is about as much "reform" as our owners will allow.

Jeff said...

Greg, keep in mind this is a report from the non-partisan organization charged with administering elections in the province. It's not it's mandate or role to propose or advocate substantive changes. That's the job of the elected legislatures. And any group of citizens so inclined.

I would add, too, that in BC they've had two province-wide referendums on wide-spread electoral reform, following a lengthly citizens assembly and consultative process.

Both failed, for assorted reasons, but to say substantive electoral reform hasn't been on the agenda, certainly in BC, just doesn't hold.

Greg said...

Oh, I have no doubt the committee means well, but it is still tinkering around the edges and in my opinion, will do little to stop the hemorrhage of voters. A question for you if you know, will these "reforms" be put to a vote by the population and if not, why not?

Jeff said...

It's not really a committee. It's Elections BC. Like Elections Canada, but for the province. It makes its recommendations to the legislature. It will be up to the MLAs to introduce and pass legislation.

Greg said...

Sorry, I meant commission, but it isn't that either.