Voting strategically in municipal contests can make a difference

For a good portion of this year, there has been a lot of frustration on the past of many Langley Township residents. They have been frustrated with council actions on the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan; on development in Willoughby; on plans to develop housing in the midst of the Agricultural Land Reserve near Trinity Western University and on the Coulter Berry project in Fort Langley.

The Times has received many letters from people about these issues. Some, notably on the Coulter Berry project, have been very supportive of council. But the vast majority of comments, in the form of letters to the editor, comments on our website, or on The Times Facebook page, have been quite negative.

I’ve heard, over and over, that “it’s time to get rid of this council.” But it is very difficult to do so. I say that from the perspective of having watched elections as a local newspaper reporter and editor for the past 36 years. Even before getting involved in this line of work, I worked as a poll clerk during several municipal elections.

The trends I observed while counting ballots then have continued, and in fact are more pronounced than ever.

Back in the mid-1970s, voters elected councillors and mayors for two-year terms, and in most municipalities (Langley City was an exception), they elected half the council one year and the other half the next. This made for plenty of accountability, as at least some members of council were up for re-election each year.

Despite that, incumbents were almost always re-elected. It was rare for an incumbent to lose — unless that person had been closely identified with a very unpopular decision.

The last time an incumbent councillor lost a seat in Langley Township was in 2002.

The reason is that voters select names they are familiar with, and those are usually incumbents. It is often done simply to fill out the ballot.

In those days in Langley Township, three members of council were elected each year. In the City’s elections every two years, voters elected six councillors (and the mayor.)

When there is a ballot with three, four, six or eight members to be elected,  most voters tend to vote for that  number. Some think they have to. Others want to select a variety of people.

In fact, when voting for councillors or school trustees, votes count even if the voter chooses just one name. When a voter does that, the vote is actually much more powerful. This practice is known as “plumping,” and it ensures that the vote cast for a favourite isn’t overshadowed by another vote for a less favourable candidate.

Many people who haven’t voted in past elections say they want to vote this fall. The people they elect will be in office for four years, as terms have been extended.

My advice — Commit to voting, and don’t let the busyness of November crowd out that pledge. Read up on and check out all the candidates, and look at incumbents’ voting records.

If you feel comfortable with your choices, vote for them — and no one else. Your vote will be more powerful that way.

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