An Education from a Stranger on How to Vote

An hour into last night’s All Candidates meeting in Crofton, I was yawning. Same old question-answer format; with 22 candidates the answers take forever. But I stayed for the duration because I received an unforgettable education from a stranger on how to vote.

I noticed the man sitting next to me was taking notes. He had written down each candidate’s name and the main points they had made in their one-minute opening speech. Then, as the candidates answered a question posed to them from the audience, he either put a check mark next to their name, or scratch them out entirely. Once, he put a question mark next to a candidate’s name. I was so intrigued I broke my silence.

“A question mark?” I asked. “Why did that person get a question mark?” He laughed. Until then if he knew I was reading over his shoulder, he didn’t let on. “I wasn’t convinced of his answer, but I’m not sure he’s out yet,” he said. So all those people he scratched out were definitely out because they hadn’t answered the question. A simple yet brilliant system: If they don’t give a straightforward answer now, they probably won’t when they are on council.

During the candidates’ final thoughts, he divided a page into two columns with the headings Yes and Second Choice. As the candidates spoke, those who were not scratched out fell into one of these columns. After we heard from all 22 candidates, he had three names in the Yes column and three in the Second Choice column. He left that meeting knowing exactly who he would vote for on November 19th.

Afterwards, we talked about his process. Here is what I learned:

Lesson 1: Choose a candidate who is focused on municipal issues. 
We heard some candidates speak about environmental causes and international issues. But as my new friend says, it’s great to have a cause, but will that person know how to get us a new fire truck when we need one?

Lesson 2: Choose a candidate who treats other candidates with respect.
He did not abide by candidates with abrasive tone or disrespectful comments towards others. Amen brother.

Lesson 3: Choose a candidate who believes in something.
And then make sure you believe in it too.

Lesson 4: Choose a candidate who defines the actions they will take when elected.
With all the rhetoric, all the same language used by all the candidates, who is giving specific actions they will take while on council?

Lesson 5: Have a process
This is the unforgettable lesson for me. There is so much noise in an election: Advertising, signs on the roadsides, news articles. It’s hard to know what to believe and who to trust. His process helped him ignore the noise and focus on each candidate’s message, and how well that message fit with his beliefs.

I left the meeting wondering if, armed with these lessons, my peers would feel more empowered to vote with conviction. I’m clearer on who I will vote for, even if my choices differ from those selected by my new friend in Crofton. Perhaps we all need an education from an informed, non-partisan, political junkie on how to vote.


Some notable moments from the meeting:

When the kid (must be just 18) interrupted the chairwoman (who had just selected a person in the crowd to ask the next question) to say she should let the young girl at the back with her hand up ask the next question because, “She is young and we should encourage her, yo.” (Yes, yo). Which he followed with, “We’re younger, so we have to live here longer.”

When Jennifer Woike told Hilary Huntley (who advocated for “fresh ideas about growing grain on the Island as the proprietors of True Grain bakery in Cowichan Bay do”), “I have 20,000 cattle and 70,000 chickens, there’s not enough grain on this island to feed my farm.” (Forgive me if I got those numbers wrong, but you get the point).

When John Koury answered the question of whether people who run for council should reveal their past criminal activities with an impassioned speech that would leave JFK’s “Ask not what you can do for your country” in the dust. (One wonders why he was so passionate about the issue).

15 days and counting….


  1. Love your “lessons”! I would like to borrow them (with credit to you) for my Socials classes. My grade 10 Socials classes are hosting an All Candidates Meeting for the school trustees next week.

    1. Diana,

      By all means share this with your Socials class; I was hoping others would benefit from what I learned. But please don’t credit me with the lessons. I am indebted to my new friend in Crofton for enlightening me on how to vote decisively.

      Let me know how it goes!


  2. Just discovered your blog, and really enjoyed these past two entries. The lessons are spot on – making decisions requires having a strategy to organize one’s thoughts.
    I confess I left the meeting early, as the crowd, noise and chaos when the group exercise began was just too overwhelming for me. I understand they abandoned this idea shortly after I left and followed the plenary Q&A approach – now I wish I had stayed.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jean. The meeting was LONG and it was no mystery why my peers (under 40s) didn’t bother to show. I was excited that Crofton’s organizers attempted a different setup with the break-out groups, but unfortunately that didn’t work with the number of the people in attendance (packed house!). At least they tried.


    1. It’s a special council meeting to discuss the Chemainus Revitalization Plan.
      Where: Chemainus Secondary School.
      When: November 8th
      Time: 7 p.m.

  3. Maeve,

    I am truly humbled! I had no idea my scribbling a few notes while listening to the candidates had made such an impression – and thank you not only for the credit, but for stating so clearly the points you observed about my “process”. As I read them, I can hardly believe that I articulated them! With your permission, I will use them myself – as they say what I believe far more clearly than I could ever state myself.

    1. Jim,

      I love that you are asking me for permission to use the lessons. It’s your process! I am ashamed of how uninformed my peers (Gen-Xers) and I are when it comes to elections, politics, etc. I talk with friends about how dangerous it is that we don’t pay attention, but we don’t often come up with solutions for how we can engage. I wonder if we would pay more attention if we knew how to cut through the theatrics to reveal the truth. Your process helps us do just that.

      Thank you again for being so candid about the candidates! 🙂


  4. OOPS – I didn’t realize both the Crofton and Chemainus All Candidates Meetings were last week. Sorry I missed both of them but like Jim I have a similar system and am clear on my votes!

    1. Lezlie,

      There are “Coffee with the Candidates” sessions in Duncan next week. You can find the list at the bottom of this page: A young (19-year-old) girl named Devann Stafford organized them because she was fed up with the current (stale) process. I’m looking forward to seeing her name on a ballot one of these years!


  5. I get the impression that this lady has done absolutely no homework. When you vote for someone based on their skills as a spinner or orator with no idea of their track record, knowledge and honesty, you get exactly what we have as a council right now. Ruth Hartman looks people in the eyes 🙂 So does a snake.
    Really troubling.

    1. Robyn,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You are right about me not having done my homework. I vote, but rarely with conviction. This time around I am hoping to make an informed decision on election day, which is why I have attended two All Candidates meetings and will attend one of the Coffee with the Candidates sessions next week. Hopefully you will see some growth in my remarks about the candidates, as I move away from judging them on first impressions and towards their knowledge of municipal issues.

      I encourage you to share your ideas about the candidates or process. It all helps!


  6. We love elections and this year has been exciting in that regard. We made popcorn and watched the leaders’ debate for the federal election — better than a movie! There is only one contender to represent our area in the municipal election, who has been acclaimed, so we haven’t been as involved in the local election drama as we would have otherwise. At least we get to vote for the school trustees. There seems to be significantly more people running for municipal and school trustee positions in many B.C. communities this time around, and that is inspiring to see. Good on ya, Maeve, for being part of the process and encouraging others to partake as well. (And thank you to our local candidates, for putting your time and energy into this experience.)

    1. Thanks Heather. Having attended the two All Candidates meetings, I can see why you think debates are better than movies. It’s entertaining to watch people put themselves in the vulnerable position of public speaking and answering random questions from a (sometimes) angry crowd. Who knew reality could be so good without the TV?


  7. I disagree with Robyn. Being able to communicate an idea, platform or agenda is part of being a successful politician. A politician’s track record is of course a valuable part of our evaluative process, but so is having good ideas and the ability to articulate them effectively and convincingly. To dismiss all politicians’ communication skills as “spinning” or “deception” is cynical at best, but more likely bitterness with the political process in general and a need to let the “naive” know that she isn’t fooled. Great.

    1. I took what Robyn was saying as…don’t just use what is said at an All Candidates Meeting to make your choice. While it is good to have process to cut through all the noise, it is also good to do additional research on candidates to come out with a well informed decision.

  8. Hi Maeve,
    I must confess I am just learning myself. I do think it is important to learn about councilors’ and candidates’ track records and knowledge. I also agree with Jon that it is important for a candidate to communicate effectively. In my attempt to learn more about the candidates I’ve been searching the internet and try to open a dialog with some candidates via the internet and/or in person . Mostly, I am lucky to have mentors who share their knowledge.
    Thank you,

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