Improvement District Elections
Improvement district trustees are typically elected to staggered three-year terms to ensure continuity on the board of trustees and to pass on corporate knowledge to newly elected trustees. Clear election procedures are key to running fair and transparent improvement district elections.
Electing a Board of Trustees
Each improvement district's letters patent and the Local Government Act contain provisions for the election of trustees and the number of trustees on the board. Most elections of trustees occur at the improvement district's annual general meeting. If staggered election terms are set out in the letters patent, the term of one or two board positions expires annually depending on the number of trustees on an improvement district board.
Establishing a list of duties and responsibilities for the trustee positions can assist those persons seeking election to better understand the expectations and obligations of being a trustee if they are elected.
Legislated Election Requirements
The basic procedures for electing improvement district trustees are set out in the Local Government Act and each improvement district's letters patent.
Improvement district trustees are elected by eligible landowners within the improvement district boundary.
Persons entitled to vote at an improvement district election and run for the board of trustees must:
- Be a Canadian citizen
- Be 18 years of age, or older
- Be a resident of B.C. for at least six months prior to the vote
- Own land in the improvement district
If more than one person is registered on title as a landowner, each person may vote as long as they meet the other voter eligibility requirements.
Each corporation or society that owns land within the improvement district has one vote and must designate, preferably in writing, a person to vote on its behalf. That person can also be an owner of other property in the improvement district. If so, that person could vote twice, once on their own behalf as a landowner and also as the agent authorized on behalf of the landowning corporation or society.
No person can have two votes unless they meet the qualifications to be an elector and are also designated as authorized agent to vote on behalf of a corporation.
The eligibility requirements to be a trustee on an improvement district board are the same as the eligibility requirements to vote in an improvement district election; however, candidates for trustee may also be required to be nominated.
Many letters patent allow any person who qualifies to vote in the improvement district election, and their spouse or common-law partner, to qualify to be a candidate for a trustee on the board of trustees.
Letters patent may, or may not, specify that a trustee must resign if they no longer own land in the improvement district. Most improvement districts' letters patent allow a trustee who sells their property during their term to remain in office until the end of that term. When a trustee no longer owns land in the improvement district, they cannot run for election again.
Timing & Notice of the Election
While most elections take place at an improvement district's annual general meeting, some larger improvement districts hold their elections on a separate date. Most letters patent require that annual general meetings be held between January 1st and May 1st each year.
The Local Government Act requires that improvement districts give all landowners at least 14 days notice before the annual or special general meeting at which an improvement district trustee(s) will be elected. The notice must include the date, time and place of the meeting. Publishing the notice must also be in accordance with the procedures established in the improvement district's meeting procedure bylaw, although additional methods of giving notice can be used. Some methods of giving notice include advertising in a local newspaper, posting on the improvement district's website, mailed notice and placing posters in prominent places.
Statutory Period to Appeal
Following the election there is a period set out in the Local Government Act in which the election result or decision to accept or reject a ballot can be appealed. A person who voted in the improvement district election may appeal to the Supreme Court in writing within two weeks after the election. The Supreme Court may uphold the decision or result, or declare the election of no effect and order a new one. But the election results must not be set aside because of an innocent irregularity, unless the Supreme Court determines that the irregularity affected the election result.
The improvement district board of trustees has discretion to decide all other election procedures. Improvement district boards of trustees that adopt written election procedures increase fairness and transparency and ensure consistency from one election to the next. Election procedures may include details about the following.
The improvement district board of trustees must appoint a returning officer to preside at the election. The returning officer may be an improvement district employee, such as the corporate officer, or a private contractor hired to preside over the election process. Retaining an outside contractor may assist in assuring landowners of the neutrality of the process, particularly if the election is expected to be contentious.
Where a large voter turnout is expected, provision may also be made for a deputy returning officer and/or poll clerks to assist the returning officer administer the election.
Election procedures can be used to establish the candidate nomination process, such as whether the nomination must be in writing, when nominations close and what written evidence confirms that the nominee has accepted the nomination. There is no requirement that a nominator be an eligible elector. The returning officer presiding at the election must be able to determine whether a candidate meets the eligibility requirements.
A candidate can appoint a scrutineer to observe the voting and counting proceedings of the election. The person appointed must not be a trustee or a candidate. The scrutineer may observe the distribution of ballots and be present when the returning officer conducts the final count. The returning officer may designate one or more locations in the voting place where the scrutineer may observe the election.
Improvement districts may include in their election procedures the process to register voters. Improvement districts can maintain a voters list and/or conduct same-day voter registration on general voting day. If an eligible voter is not on the voters list they may be added to the list using a same-day voter registration.
An improvement district voters list contains the names and addresses of all landowners that are qualified to vote in the election and is used to administer an election. The voters list may be based on the improvement district's property assessment roll or from the provincial assessment roll.
Using a voters list may simplify and speed up the election process for election officials and voters. A voters list also helps track that the number of ballots cast equals the number of voters who were given a ballot.
The improvement district's election procedures may set out whether or not a copy of the voters list would be provided to each candidate for campaign purposes. The election procedure may also prohibit anyone other than the returning officer presiding at the voting place from having a copy of the list, however the list may be made available for viewing by candidates and scrutineers during voting proceedings.
Voting typically takes place at the annual general meeting; however, improvement districts may select a different time. Election procedures ensure voting processes are consistent in each election. Improvement districts are encouraged to conduct voting using a secret ballot. Voting must be in person at the election—proxy voting is not permitted.
If there is only one candidate for a position on the improvement district board of trustees, then that person is elected by acclamation.
Ballots are the critical evidence of the election results. Improvement district election procedures generally set out:
- The form of the ballot
- How a ballot must be marked
- How ballots are collected, for example, a sealed ballot box
- How and when ballots are to be counted
- How ballots are to be kept safe until the statutory period of two weeks for challenging an election has passed
By-elections are conducted in accordance with the improvement district's letters patent using the same election procedures as the annual election of trustees. For many improvement districts this means that by-elections must be held at a special general meeting.
If an improvement district trustee position becomes vacant due to resignation, death or disqualification, a by-election must be called to fill the position for the remainder of the term. A by-election does not have to be held if a trustee position becomes vacant within the 60 days prior to the annual general meeting. Trustees cannot be appointed on an acting basis—all trustees must be elected to their positions.