Out of Left Field: Looming byelection a political roulette

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
July 4th, 2013

Another election! No, don’t moan and groan – municipal byelections are interesting and fun! And dangerous.

In fact, they’re interesting and fun because they’re dangerous – absolutely anything can happen in a byelection – think of it as a kind of political roulette game in which that little ball can land anywhere at all!

So why is it byelections are so volatile and unpredictable, you ask? Well, fewer people show up to vote for a single councillor than you’d see in a regular election, in which the electorate is choosing six councillors, a mayor and school district trustees.

Take a look at Castlegar’s last byelection, in 2008. Just 1,071 people voted (as compared to 1,845 in 2011’s regular municipal election). The winner, Raymond Koehler, won with 256 votes, by a margin of only 39 votes.

What this means – a win/lose margin of 39 votes in a community of more than 8,000 people – is that the field is wide open, and anyone who can effectively mobilize their following has a serious shot at winning. Most people I know have more than 256 Facebook friends – it’s honestly shocking to me that that is all it took to win Koehler the seat in 2008. Here’s hoping that your Nazi neighbour doesn’t have 39 more voting sympathizers than more legitimate candidates, or that the lady a block over, the one who keeps forgetting to take her anti-psychotics, doesn’t talk her fellow patients into casting a ballot, you know?

I wonder if your average drug dealer has 256 clients he could persuade to attend a polling station?

Of course, candidates rarely show up on such extreme ends of the spectrum (although one gentleman in Alberta ran entirely on a platform of how he got screwed in his divorce, although I remain unclear as to how he felt that translated into municipal governance) … but make no mistake, a poor byelection choice can be an incredibly destructive influence on council.

Consider it – they represent one-seventh of the people making decisions at that table. They chair committees and can direct city staff. They travel to other communities and represent Castlegar and her people, as well as attending local events representing the city. They have one-seventh of a say over a more-than $21-million budget. Kinda wishing she took those anti-psychotics after all, now aren’t you?

Municipal politics are arguably the most important of all electoral choices, in that they determine the quality of your day-to-day life in many ways – how clean your water is, how much you pay in property tax, whether you have good roads and safe intersections … even, to some degree, the city’s policing budget …etc.

I don’t like the implication of byelections – I find it truly frightening that such important governance decisions might be made by someone solely by virtue of their ability to work a Facebook account better than the next guy, and I think the protest vote that this kind of election often attracts is typically (but not always) a destructive phenomena.

That being said, don’t confuse a byelection with its often-hum-drum brother, the general election. Byelections are many things … but they’re rarely boring.


Categories: Op/EdPolitics


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