I’ve noticed that, in school board elections, even the bottom candidates tend to get a fairly large number of votes compared to the bottom candidates in other elections. I’ve always supposed that’s because school board races are famously obscure, and some voters have no idea about any of the candidates and vote randomly. I figured I’d use the recent Toronto municipal election to try to get a sense of the size of this random vote.
Here are the lowest 5 vote totals for councillor positions in Toronto’s 2014 municipal election:
- Edmund Bueno-Bradley (Ward 2): 58 votes
- Dave Searle (Ward 6): 64 votes
- Bohdan Spas (Ward 13): 55 votes
- Sammy Shaltout (Ward 28): 51 votes
- Markpaul St. Bishoy (Ward 44): 37 votes
So there seems to be a floor of about 35 votes – presumably friends, family and a few random/protest votes – for any candidate for council.
Here are the 5 lowest totals for Toronto Public School Board (TDSB) candidates (I’m using TDSB because it has the largest number of votes among school boards). Note that TDSB wards are double the size of council wards, but some voters vote instead for the Catholic or two small French school boards.
- Eli Sivalingam (Ward 1): 666 votes
- Kasim Dogan (Ward 4): 509 votes
- Hans Bathija (Ward 10): 534 votes
- Naser Kaid (Ward 18): 522 votes
- Sameer Rabbani (Ward 19): 770 votes
So there seems to be a floor of around 500 votes for any public school board candidate in the election, over ten times the number for the floor for councillor elections. One explanation could be that all of them campaigned at least a little, but on the City of Toronto elections website, of these 5 candidates only Kasim Dogan provided contact information or a website.
Even if we generously double the floor of the councillor vote to take into account the double ward sizes, that still leaves a roughly 400 vote difference between the lowest councillor vote totals and the lowest school trustee vote totals. It seems like a reasonable hypothesis to attribute the difference to some voters choosing their trustee randomly, with the random votes more or less equally distributed among all candidates. That would mean that every trustee candidate’s total has a few hundred votes that went to them randomly.
One take-away is, if you need an ego boost and want to feel like a few hundred people think you’d be the right person to help manage a multi-billion dollar organization, run for trustee of the TDSB.
Figuring out the percentage of the votes that were cast randomly is a bit trickier, since there are different numbers of candidates and votes in each ward. To try to get a ballpark figure, for each of the above wards I’ve divided the total vote by the number of candidates to get the average votes per candidate (AV/C), and then checked what percentage of this average vote the lowest vote candidates received (rounded to 1 decimal place).
- Edmund Bueno-Bradley (Ward 2): 4.1% of AV/C
- Dave Searle (Ward 6): 3.0% of AV/C
- Bohdan Spas (Ward 13): 2.7% of AV/C
- Sammy Shaltout (Ward 28): 2.8% of AV/C
- Markpaul St. Bishoy (Ward 44): 2.2% of AV/C
For TDSB trustee:
- Eli Sivalingam (Ward 1): 22.2% of AV/C
- Kasim Dogan (Ward 4): 24.4% of AV/C
- Hans Bathija (Ward 10): 11.9% of AV/C
- Naser Kaid (Ward 18): 17.5% of AV/C
- Sameer Rabbani (Ward 19): 18.2% of AV/C
If we take the difference between the lowest trustee percentage (Hans Bathija in Ward 10) and the highest councillor percentage (Edmund Bueno-Bradley in Ward 2), we get just under 8% of the vote as being random. But TDSB Ward 10 was an outlier, in that it got a lot of media attention because of racist comments made about front-runner Ausma Malik, so that it’s likely more voters were aware of candidates in that race than usual. The other races are more clustered, and if we use the next lowest trustee percentage (Naser Kaid in Ward 18) instead, we get just over 13% of voters making a random choice.
These are obviously extremely rough calculations, and if anyone wants to make more sophisticated or thorough calculations, I would love to see them. The unusually high turnout this election might also affect the results. But my rough estimate is that, on average, something like 10%-15% of voters make a random choice for their trustee vote.
How many voters, by contrast, vote for a councillor but don’t vote for a trustee at all? The City breaks down trustee votes by council ward, so the comparison can be made (I’ve included both TDSB and Catholic School Board votes but ignored the very small French boards). Here’s a random sample of what percentage of voters voted for a councillor but not a trustee, based on the city council wards above:
- Ward 2: 5.7%
- Ward 6: 14.2%
- Ward 13: 10.9%
- Ward 28: 15.0%
- Ward 44: 9.7%
Again, City Council Ward 2 is a bit of an outlier because it’s part of TDSB Ward 1, where Michael Ford, of the Ford clan, was running for trustee, an event which again got lots of media attention. Awareness of his running appears to have encouraged more people to vote for trustee. The others cluster around the 10%-15% range, similar to the range of voters who choose randomly.
Overall, it seems maybe a quarter of voters go to the polls with no idea about who they want to vote for as their school trustee. Roughly half of these choose not to vote at all, and the other half vote randomly. However, the examples of TDSB Wards 1 and 10 do suggest that the number of voters who arrive at the ballot box without a choice for trustee drops if there is some media attention paid to the trustee race in a particular ward.
Photo by Sean Marshall