Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Crowded field in Orléans could yield election squeaker

The men and women running to represent Orleans on Ottawa city council will be splitting the vote 17 ways on Oct. 22. That has some wondering, what's the bare minimum a candidate would need to get elected?

With 17 candidates on the ballot, winner could take all with a sliver of the vote — theoretically

A city pamphlet at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orléans tells residents how to vote in the upcoming election. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The men and women running to represent Orléans on Ottawa city council will be splitting the vote 17 ways on Oct. 22. That has some wondering, what's the bare minimum a candidate would need to get elected? 

In the 2014 election, only 38 per cent of eligible voters in Orléans cast a ballot. The popular incumbent, Bob Monette, reclaimed his seat with a solid mandate backed by 10,662 voters, or 75 per cent of those who turned out on election day.

Monette isn't running for re-election, and it's highly unlikely his successor will enjoy a similar majority. Monette has promised to stay neutral, and with fewer than six weeks to go no clear front-runner has emerged.

If last election's voter turnout is repeated, a candidate could theoretically take the ward with as few as 840 votes, normally fringe territory.

Turnout trending down

Of course, the vote won't be split so evenly among all 17 candidates. Nor will voter turnout in the ward necessarily be so low, though that's the way it's trending: it was 43% in 2010, and 51% in 2006.

Some candidates make better impressions than others by knocking on doors, attending community events and performing well in debates. Some enjoy local name recognition. Some have more to spend on signs and other campaign materials.

Two registered candidates say they've abandoned their campaigns, but Doug Feltmate and Louise Soyez will appear on the ballot nonetheless.

The majority of the 17 people vying to represent Orléans appear genuinely interested in the job.

Colum Grove-White of Ottawa 123, an organization that promotes ranked ballots, believes voter turnout will rise in Orléans because so many candidates are reaching out to residents this campaign.

Grove-White predicts the next councillor for Orléans will win with 15 or 20 per cent of the vote.

It's happened before, and candidates tend to flock to races where there's no incumbent running.

In 2014, Coun. George Darouze was on a ballot of 11 candidates vying to replace Doug Thompson. Even with Thompson's endorsement, Darouze was elected with only 1,783 votes, or 21 per cent.

It's not always such a squeaker. Catherine McKenney faced off against 10 rivals in Somerset ward, but won handily with nearly 4,000 votes, or 40 per cent. River ward saw a 10-way race to replace Maria McRae, but Riley Brockington pulled in a solid 37 per cent of the vote.

Vote-splitting fears

Orléans resident Ian Gadbois follows municipal politics the way his friends follow the goings-on on Parliament Hill.

He's been trying to research the candidates and narrow down his choice, but fears others might not take the same time to get it right.

Gadbois also worries about a split vote.

"You could have an unqualified person ... who doesn't have the credentials, who sneaks up the middle and wins with a very small number of votes. That would make me unhappy."

Grove-White of Ottawa 1-2-3 said a ranked ballot system would ease that worry.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to number candidates in order of preference on their ballot. If no candidate wins a majority, low-ranked candidates are eliminated and the vote is redistributed until a winner is declared.

The system, which is used in other jurisdictions and is similar to the method Canadian political parties use to elect their leaders, is designed to ensure no candidate is handed a mandate without a significant level of support.

"With ranked choice voting you don't have this problem of vote-splitting," Grove-White said. "Certainly it's more reflective of the will of the voters."