If more than one community candidate stands in the same ward, they might split the vote of people who want to take back control from political parties and this might result in a political party candidate winning the ward. If we are going to win then we need to choose a single candidate through a democratic process.
Taking part in nominating a candidate is one of the best ways to include people in local democracy and build a campaign to elect a community member. Residents coming together in every ward have to determine what will be the best way to take nominations.
Everybody living in the ward should be able to take part in a process that is transparent and fair and it should be widely advertised and easy to engage in. At first, many people won’t understand what we are trying to achieve so we need to be able to educate and explain to as many people as possible.
Ultimately it is up to potential nominees to campaign in the Ward, spread the word and secure support. This may take some work – most people don’t want to get involved in politics because they see it as a dirty game. We may need to encourage well-known people with standing to step forward and be nominated.
Sometimes, a particular nominee in the community will have such a clear ability to lead and will galvanise support and momentum. This is normal and we should encourage natural leadership – but their nomination should still be open to scrutiny and democratic contestation.
We should hold public debates, town-hall meetings and local assemblies where members of the ward can listen to nominees speak and make up their minds who they would like as the community candidate.
Robust debate and contestation of ideas are both healthy and necessary in a democracy, and so the more nominees there are and the more diverse these candidates are, the better.
Open Caucuses or Primary Elections
We can choose who the best candidate is by organising our own open caucus or primary election in the ward. Choose people with experience to manage the process and choose people with standing to verify the results in a way that builds trust.
An open caucus is a meeting where everybody in an area comes together in the same place to choose who should be the candidate. Caucuses can be held in lots of venues across the ward to improve participation.
A caucus is unique because everybody who wants to vote has to be present. We vote by standing in an area of the room with the other supporters voting for the same nominee as us. The nominee with the least supporters is dropped from the list and their supporters are given the opportunity to support their next preferred nominee. Essentially you repeat this, transferring votes until it is clear which nominee has the support of a majority of people, rather than just a plurality of votes (more than anyone else). We’ll need to think carefully about access and inclusion to make sure that everyone can get involved.
A primary election is held by ballot on paper or online. We can choose what system to use when counting the votes but it should be done in a public way:
- Residents vote for one nominee and the nominee with a plurality of votes wins (more than anyone else). This is the simplest but it does mean that the candidate may not have a majority of support in the ward.
- Residents vote for one nominee but the nominees with the least support in the first round are eliminated and the top two nominees go head to head in a second round. This ensures the winner has a majority but may be hard to organise considering the logistics of holding multiple elections.
- Similar to a caucus, residents rank the nominees according to their preference and the nominees with the least votes are eliminated one by one. Each time we transfer those votes to the next preference that the resident voted for. This ensures the candidate has the support of most people and can be achieved in one round of elections but can be complicated to manage in a transparent way, though not impossible.
Some thought needs to be given to how you will verify who is eligible to vote in a ward caucus or primary election as this will be managed by volunteers from the Ward Platform and won’t be overseen by the IEC. We can easily check if a resident is registered to vote in the ward by checking on the IEC website using their ID number.
While only citizens are allowed to vote in local government elections, a Ward Councillor represents everyone who lives in the ward including immigrant families, refugees and asylum seekers. So we should consider allowing everybody who lives in the ward to take part in the open caucus or primary election if they can prove that they live there.
Justice Democrats – Nominations for Progressive Democrat candidates
In the USA, the Justice Democrats are trying to get more progressive leaning ordinary people from poor and working class communities elected into safe seats that the Democratic Party has historically won in the US House of Representatives. They look for bold leaders, grassroots campaigners, and movement builders.
They call for nominations and select and train potential candidates in the skills and tactics they will need to win in primary elections without taking money from large corporations.
In the US general election in November 2018, a number of young progressive identified by Justice Democrats were elected to the House of Representatives, including 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who had been working as a waitress and bartender in New York and who became the youngest woman elected to Congress.