Monday, December 5, 2022

What would a ward system mean for future Lethbridge civic elections?

LETHBRIDGE, AB – If you’re voting in Lethbridge’s civic election this month, you’ll be asked a question about whether you support a ward system.

“Do you support using a ward system to elect City Councillors starting with the 2025 municipal election?” That’s the exact wording of the question on the municipal ballot.

It’s a different way of electing councillors, in which candidates would run for office in small constituencies, called wards around the city.

University of Lethbridge Political Science Professor, Dr. Lars Hallstrom says a ward system has always been considered to be more democratic and typically drives higher voter turnout too.

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“It generally does help people vote,” says Hallstrom. “Because they know who’s running, what they stand for and they’re (voters) thinking about local issues. Lethbridge, like most municipalities, has a low municipal turnout. I think it’s something that would help drive local voter turnout up.”

During the 2017 Lethbridge election, only 27% of eligible city residents cast a ballot.

Hallstrom says for instance in Lethbridge, there could be 8 wards with roughly 13,000 people in each of those wards. He notes typically there would be a smaller number of candidates running each ward, as opposed to the number of people running at-large around the city in the current system we have.

Candidates do not have to live in a specific ward in order to run there.

Hallstrom says given Lethbridge’s size at being over 100,000 in population, there could be a couple of different scenarios. Like 8 different wards or perhaps a hybrid model such as a smaller number like 6 wards and then two councillors elected at-large across the community.

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In a ward system, the way residents would vote for mayor wouldn’t change.

Hallstrom says a ward system can also increase what is referred to as “pork-barrel politics” where the elected candidates try and get certain resources or projects into their ward or to keep certain types of projects or infrastructure out of their ward.

He notes overall, a ward system is very much viewed as a positive step forward for a community democratically.

The ward system question on the Lethbridge municipal ballot right now is non-binding, however it would give this new Council coming in a good idea whether residents here want the voting system changed in 2025.

The City of Lethbridge has posted some information about ward systems vs. at-large voting systems. You read that here: Question on the 2021 Municipal Ballot – Ward System

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