19 Maple Ridge candidates and counting

Does number of municipal council candidates dissuade voters?

Dean Barbour is trying for a seat on Maple Ridge council.

Dean Barbour is trying for a seat on Maple Ridge council.

The tally is at 19 or so and counting.

That’s the fewest number of people who’ll be seeking your vote Nov. 15, when six council seats and the mayor’s chair will be up for grabs in Maple Ridge.

It could grow to 28 candidates, as happened in the 2011 election.

That could lead to voter confusion and fatigue and to people just not bothering to get out to a polling booth, says SFU political scientist Patrick Smith.

With only quarter of those eligible bothering to vote last time, raising participation is a constant goal.

And because Maple Ridge is growing and reaching the 80,000 size and becoming a sizable city, even the natural interest of a small-town politics may be starting to fade.

“You’re in a category of cities, by size, where the at-large system tends to work against [voter] participation,” Smith said.

Studies show that voter interest wanes when the list of candidates grows, he added.

One remedy could be introducing party politics to Maple Ridge council. With councillors running under familiar party labels, the average voter may perk up his or her ears and find a reason to relate to a particular candidate.

The key word is could. While partisan politics in Vancouver – with Vision Vancouver and the NPA fighting for votes – produces a higher voter turnout than in Maple Ridge, other neighbouring cities which also have party politics also suffer from low turnout.

Maybe Maple Ridge is ready for a ward system, each represented by a councillor.

“There’s no silver bullet that answers all the problems,” Smith said. “I think wards would re-invigorate things in the short term.”

With lengthy lists of candidates, name recognition becomes important. Voters may be overwhelmed by the choice available and may just support those they recognize, regardless of their politics.

That ends up favouring the incumbents or those candidates who are better known. Even the ranking of where your name appears on the ballot can help, with those at the top of the list getting more votes than those with names that begin with Ys or Zs at the bottom.

One factor that could determine the length of those candidate lists is the number of signatures a candidate must secure in order to get on the ballot.

Maple Ridge requires only two people to sign candidate nomination papers for those wanting to get on the ballot, while Pitt Meadows requires 10. And opinion is split among current politicians on whether that affects the number of people who decide to run.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters, who will not seek re-election, says the number of names required on candidate nomination forms has no bearing on the number of people who decide to enter the race.

“I don’t believe it does make a difference.”

In the 2011 election, 13 people ran for six spots on Pitt Meadows council, half the number of candidates in Maple Ridge. Voter turnout was 30 per cent, compared to Maple Ridge’s 25 per cent.

Neither does it dissuade fringe candidates from entering who may be discouraged by having to get 10 people to sign their papers, she adds.

Walters does agree, though, it’s tough to get people out to vote.

“Everyone’s willing to complain, but they’re not willing to come out and vote. Why aren’t we having online voting? I really don’t know how you can get people to come out and vote.”

Pitt Meadows Coun. Dave Murray says the requirement to have 10 names does weed out flippant candidates and keeps the more serious ones. That’s the main benefit of such a clause, he adds.

And Murray hasn’t heard of those who sign a candidate’s forms worrying about being labelled as supporters of that candidate.

“It’s never been an issue.”

For Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse, though, requiring two or 10 names on candidate nomination forms makes no difference.

Requiring 10 names, “I don’t think it would limit the number of people who would run.”

Masse said he can’t think of any candidate who ran last time who couldn’t have rounded up 10 supporters to sign the candidate’s forms.

“I don’t think it will be a significant influence on the number of people who will run.”

Neither will it play a factor in determining voter turnout. If anything, with lots of people running, voters might pay more attention.