Election 2014: Addressing the address issue

Were downtown condo dwellers misled about voting locations? Will it harm turnout of aged or disabled voters?

In at least three cases, cards sent to City of Vancouver electors appear to direct voters to voting stations that are actually not near their homes. If you haven’t seen the Canada Post-delivered cards, here is what they say:

Dear Vancouver Resident

Saturday, November 15, is municipal Election Day! Whether you’re out shopping, going to the gym or running errands, there are almost 120 voting locations near you.

You can vote anywhere on November 15 between 8 am and 8 pm. Head to one of the voting locations close to your activities or stop in to one of these voting locations near the address on this card.

(List of 3 locations) 

Find the voting location that (sic) that’s right for you at vancouver.ca/vote. Phone 3-1-1 or look for the brightly coloured Municipal Election Voter Guide delivered to mailboxes last week and available at your local community centre or library.

Voting is easy and convenient. Get out on November 15 to be a part of Vancouver Votes.

For complete voter information, visit vancouver.ca/vote or phone 3-1-1. 

I have been shown three cards sent to downtown apartment dwellers. For example, a voter at third floor of 1500 Howe Street received a Vancouver Votes card with three recommended voting locations: Vancouver Art Gallery (750 Hornby), Vancouver Public Library (350 West Georgia) and Morris Wosk Centre (580 West Hastings).

Based on Google Maps, the distance to VAG is 1.3 kilometres, VPL 1.8 km and Wosk Centre 2 km.

Oddly, when I entered 1500 Howe on the city website’s “where to vote” page, it correctly displayed Vancouver Aquatic Centre (1050 Beach) as the nearest location, only 350 metres away, followed by False Creek Community Centre (1318 Cartwright) and the Roundhouse Community Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews), which are both 900 metres away.

It appears that city hall incorrectly calculated distances based on the resident’s unit number, not the building number. Entering a third-floor suite number and Howe Street resulted in the list of VAG, VPL and Wosk.

“I hope that the mailing from the city does not disenfranchise voters of our city, but fear it may,” said Marc-David Seidel, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources at the University of British Columbia. “If this problem is city-wide the implications on voter turnout are quite substantial. If my non-informed guess about the issue is correct then one example would be someone who lives in Marpole on Granville Street in a low apartment number who would be told to go downtown to vote!

“Perceived distance to a polling station can be the deciding convenience factor in choosing to vote for many people, and distance can disproportionately impact voting behaviours based upon age and physical mobility — suppressing voter turnout disproportionately for certain demographic groups,” Seidel said. “There is significant academic research on perceived distance to polling stations.”

He is right. In Distance, Turnout, and the Convenience of Voting, University of Maryland’s Joshua J. Dyck and James G. Gimpel found:

“Greater distance to election-day precinct sites also increases nonvoting, at least to a point, but the effect is nonlinear. Voters in the very outermost reaches of the metro area use absentee votes in very high proportions. At extremes of distance, voters are sufficiently conditioned to its effects on so much of their daily routine that it plays less of a role in their calculations about voting. These citizens have often already taken steps to cast absentee ballots through the mail as our findings suggest the vast majority of them do so.”

In Location, Location, Location: Precinct Placement and the Costs of Voting, Moshe Haspel (Spelman College) and H. Gibbs Knotts (Western Carolina University) cited Anthony Downs’s 1957 book, An Economic Theory of Democracy, which said: “Time is the principal cost of voting: time to register, to discover what parties are running, to deliberate, to go to the polls, and to mark the ballot. Since time is a scarce resource, voting is inherently costly.”

Haspel and Knotts found “distance has a statistically significant impact on the voting decision..”.

To illustrate the range of the effect of distance, we plot our predicted probabilities at the lower and upper bounds of our continuous vehicle available variable. When no one owns a car (vehicle available=0), the likelihood of voting drops from .664 at a distance of .01 miles to .418 at the median distance of .69 miles. When automobiles are universally available (vehicle available=1), voters are much less sensitive to changes in distance: the likelihood of voting drops from .444 to .392 over the same distance range. Using the method for predicting changes described by Wolfinger and Rosenstone (1980) yields similar results: the likelihood of voting drops from .464 at .01 miles to .385 at .69 miles. These are sizable differences in the context of an election where the overall probability of voting was only .414.

However, we are left with the puzzle of how to explain why voting might increase when the polling place moves. It turns out that one result of Atlanta’s post-census reapportionment of city council districts was an increase of the number of precincts from 160 to 168. We decided to examine the impact of changes in distance on voters registered before 2001 whose precincts had moved.

The second column of Table 1 (“Moved Polls”) shows that existing voters are sensitive to changes in distance from their respective polling places. It appears that the gain in turnout that accrues from splitting precincts outweighs the loss due to any confusion over the location of the polling place (information costs) that also occurs. However, it is also possible that postcards sent 30 days before the election to voters whose precinct has moved, as required by Georgia state law, have an offsetting effect by reminding citizens to vote.”

So what does city hall say?

“A concern about the City of Vancouver Voter Location Card addresses was brought to the attention yesterday. To date we have only had two enquiries about this,” according to a statement attributed to Janice MacKenzie, who is both the city clerk and chief election officer.

“The Voting Location Cards were prepared with a supplier that provides Voter Information cards for municipalities across the country, including Vancouver. These cards were prepared using City voting locations, residential building addresses and Canada Post postal codes to determine voting locations near the residential address on the card — the word ‘near’ was used on purpose recognizing that in some instances, there may be some locations closer to the address.”

This election is unique, because voting is not geographically restricted. Officials said they are allowing any registered elector to cast their ballot at any of the 120 voting stations in the city in a bid to increase voter turnout, which was a lowly 35% in 2011. More information is available at the city’s website. Polls close at 8 p.m. Vote wisely: the next election will be in 2018, after local government councils were given a one-year term extension by the B.C. Liberal government.

Meanwhile…

Here is the official Voter’s Guide. Here is the Candidate’s Guide, containing all the rules you need to know.

If you have proof of local election irregularities in Vancouver or elsewhere in British Columbia, whether it may be parties offering free coffee in exchange for votes or a person voting more than once or anything else that doesn’t look right, don’t hesitate to promptly contact the authorities. Then, please drop me a line at bob (at) bobmackin (dot) ca

 


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