Advance voting kicked off Tuesday in a Victoria byelection that observers say could offer a rare mid-term temperature check on the public’s view of city council.
Chris Coates, city clerk and chief election officer, reported a “steady” flow of voters casting ballots at the Crystal Garden after the poll opened at 9 a.m.
Voting continues today through Saturday and will resume again Monday, with general voting day set for Dec. 12.
As well, thousands of people are expected to vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coates said the city had sent out more than 3,000 mail-in ballots as of Tuesday morning and was continuing to receive requests for packages.
“As anticipated, the uptake is significant,” he said.
David Black, an associate professor in the school of communication and culture at Royal Roads University, said voter turnout could play a significant role in deciding who wins the council seat vacated by Laurel Collins in 2019. She resigned after winning the Victoria riding for the NDP in last year’s federal election.
Byelections tend to attract fewer voters than general elections, and the pandemic could reduce those numbers even further.
If so, Black said, that could favour candidates such as Stephen Andrew and Stefanie Hardman with name recognition and strong campaign teams that are able to raise money and get out the vote.
“You can see this if you look at the level of organization they bring to this race, to the signs, to the networks that they are both activating,” he said.
Andrew is running as an independent, but has mounted previous campaigns and ran as part of the NewCouncil slate in 2018, finishing just 1,147 votes behind Coun. Marianne Alto, who won the eighth and final council seat.
Hardman, meanwhile, was nominated in January by Together Victoria, the registered elector organization that helped Collins, Sarah Potts and Sharmarke Dubow get elected to council in 2018.
Black said council’s political direction over the past two years, as influenced by Together Victoria and its left-leaning allies, is one of the biggest issues in the byelection.
“It’s coming, kind of accidentally, at the midpoint of this council’s term in office, and I think it will be, in some way, a barometer of the public’s view of this council.”
In that sense, Black said Hardman represents “someone who will kind of affirm the more progressive orientation of this council.”
Hardman said in an interview that there’s more council needs to do. “But I believe we’re moving in the right direction to address the housing affordability crisis, to address homelessness, to ensure there are child care spaces available and that we have an inclusive, thriving city,” she said.
Andrew, by contrast, is positioning himself as the candidate of change and someone who will focus less on issues beyond the city’s jurisdiction and more on public safety, taxation policy and things that have a direct impact on residents.
“It’s a referendum on the direction of council,” he said. “Are you happy with the way things have been going for the past two years or do you want to vote for a change of direction?”
Daniel Reeve, a political science instructor at Camosun College, said Andrew seems likely to pick up the support of people who feel like they haven’t had a voice on council. And they may be more motivated to get out and vote.
“In a byelection, where getting voting turnout is so difficult, that’s an advantageous position to be in,” he said. “Does he have a team behind him to deliver some votes? I guess we’ll see.”
The other nine candidates rounding out the ballot are Rob Duncan, Riga Godron, Bill Heflin, Jason Heit, Sean Leitenberg, Hailey McLeod, Keith Rosenberg, Alexander Schmid and Roshan Vickery. Heit and Rosenberg announced last week that they were shutting down their campaigns and endorsing Andrew.
More information on the candidates and their priorities can be found here.
The city is reminding residents that completed mail-in ballots should be in the mail by Friday. After that, the ballots can be dropped at city hall, at the Crystal Garden on advance voting days or before 8 p.m. at one of the six voting places on general voting day.
For more information on the byelection, go to victoria.ca/election.