Crossfield's Oct. 19 byelection brought to our attention an interesting procedure in Alberta municipal elections. While Kim Harris gained a clear majority of the votes, Justin Gustafson and Jo Lambert tied, with 194 votes each. To decide the election, the Local Elections Authorities Act dictated their names be placed in a hat. Gustafson's name was drawn and he was declared the victor.
We have no qualms that the process was followed correctly or with the outcome of the election. However, the rule itself struck us as strange. It seems to place the fate of a council seat up to luck as much as to a true vote by the people.
Jurisdictions across Canada have a variety of ways of breaking election ties. Deadlocked results in a federal election and most provincial elections result in a byelection, but there are exceptions – ties in Nova Scotia are broken in a similar fashion to Alberta's municipal elections. In Ontario, the returning officer casts the deciding vote, while it all comes down to a coin toss in Prince Edward Island.
We'll admit we struggle to find an alternative. A second round of voting, where ballots can only be cast for the tied candidates, makes the most sense to us as the best way to ensure elected officials are actually chosen by the people they represent. This does beg some logistical questions, however. For example, when would a second round of voting take place? How long does this extend the process of deciding the election?
In the case of Crossfield's election, it may not have been feasible. A second round of voting would have eaten into the already truncated term the recently elected councillors will serve.
At any rate, the tie in Crossfield's election underscores the importance of turning up and casting your ballot. As Albertans look ahead to municipal elections in 2021, we feel it's important everyone votes for their preferred candidate. Municipal officials have a direct impact on the place you live and work, and their elections shouldn't be left up to a lucky draw.