Buying a domain name of one candidate, then using it to redirect viewers to a rival’s website isn’t against the law, according to Elections B.C.
“There’s nothing under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act that talks to that,” said spokesman Doug Main.
He hadn’t heard of that tactic being used elsewhere during B.C.’s municipal elections, and there isn’t any reference to election websites in the Local Government Act.
In the weeks, before the Nov. 15 vote that saw a major reshuffling of Maple Ridge’s council, with Nicole Read winning as mayor, the former partner of one candidate bought three domain names – or website addresses – that contained names of two other Maple Ridge candidates.
When viewers clicked on either erniedaykin.com or nicoleformayor.com or nicoleread.ca, they were directed to Corisa Bell’s website.
John Peters, Bell’s former partner, purchased them.
Former mayor Ernie Daykin doesn’t like the practice, but says it’s part of modern politics.
“It didn’t affect the outcome of the election. I have no illusions or delusions or whatever on that front. And it is legal, I guess.”
Daykin said he may have used the erniedaykin.com name in the 2011 election, but it became available later and Peters bought the domain name in July 2013 for $1.95 for a year.
“There’s going to be people out there, they’re smart, Ernie’s dumb. Ernie let that slip or he wasn’t paying attention, all of which has some truth to it,” Daykin said.
“It’s done. It’s over with. Would it change anything? No. Is it something I would do? No.”
Peters is the ex-husband of Bell and supported her re-election to Maple Ridge council for a second term. However, Peters said he did the redirection without Bell’s knowledge.
“She didn’t know about this and if I had told her, she would have said no.”
Peters said he originally planned to create a website under the erniedaykin.com name that would have explained why he didn’t support Daykin for a third term as mayor. He would have then registered as a third-party sponsor with Elections B.C.
“I was going to set it up. I was going to advertise it. I was going to promote it. I was going to get it ranked in the search engine. I was going to drive a lot traffic to it.”
But once it became apparent that Daykin wasn’t going to win, Peters said there was no need, so he used the domain to redirect to Bell’s website.
He bought the Read domains so no one else could buy them because he supported her for mayor. He also directed those names to Bell’s website.
Only six people were redirected from the Read domain names, while 31 were redirected from erniedaykin.com.
Peters said he could have redirected the domain names to any website. To have any impact on the election he would have had to promote Daykin’s alter website, he pointed out.
Peters said he wanted to be involved in the election, helping other candidates, as well as Bell.
“This time around, I wasn’t Corisa’s campaign manager. I want to make that clear,” Peters said.
“This time around, I helped multiple candidates. I was just really unhappy with one – the way Maple Ridge has been run,” as well as the campaign itself.
Peters said he was trying to have input into the election.
“If it was a big deal, it would have come during the election.”
But, in hindsight, Peters said he would have let the domain names sit and not have redirected them to any website.
Bell said she didn’t support the strategy and didn’t know about it.
“I didn’t have any participation or knowledge about what took place. I don’t think John should have done what he did. I feel awful about it. I made a statement on Facebook about it, saying I’m extremely embarrassed.
“Anyone who knows me knows I would never participate in anything that’s not above table.”
Peter Chow-White, an SFU communications professor who specializes in technology and social media, said he hasn’t heard of that tactic during the civic elections.
But candidates have to control their online profiles by acquiring the rights to website domain names and social media accounts. Not doing so is a “tactical error.”
Such strategies are common in the business world.
“Candidates need to be in control of their brand. But in order to control it, you need to own it,” Chow-White said.
He didn’t know how it ranked in terms of ethics.
“There are just no rules around the things.”