Opinion Column

No excuse for low voter turnout

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Stop me if you have heard this before, the election had a low voter turnout. 

 

On Monday, voter turnout dropped for the second consecutive municipal election in Camrose, going from 44 per cent in 2010, to 33 per cent in 2013, to 30 per cent this time around. That’s 4,548 votes out of a potential 14,733. 

Mind you, it could have been a lot worse. Lethbridge had a turnout of 27 per cent, Leduc 26 per cent and Airdrie was in at 24 per cent. It was not all bad across the province.  

Calgary, in a heated mayoral race hit 58 per cent. They actually ran out of ballots and had to print more while voters stood in line. 

For returning officers and city managers who are in charge of organizing local elections, it is the $64,000 question, how do you increase voter turnout? 

Camrose returning officer Kim Isaak cannot be faulted for her efforts. She increased polling stations, advanced voting days from one to three — I myself used this past Saturday to beat the rush — loosened regulations on absentee votes, brought in a mobile institutional vote, and held several information sessions at high-traffic events like the downtown market, a Camrose Kodiaks game, and the Community Registration Night. 

Local politicians who won their seats have an easy answer in that people are happy with what’s being done, and that they were not motivated enough to push for a change. 

That may be, however, this was not necessarily the case four years ago when Norm Mayer was motivated to come out of retirement to run for mayor and there were 20 others who threw their hat in the ring for the job of councillor. Voter turnout dropped nine per cent from the previous election. 

Happy with the current record — and really Camrose is in pretty good shape, though every city does have its issues — should not be an excuse to not exercise your democratic duty to vote. 

It is strange that municipal elections have a bigger challenge in motivating the base than provincial or federal elections. 

I maintain that your municipal leaders will have a bigger impact on your day-to-day life than those at the higher levels. Every decision they make impacts you directly. Your councillors and mayor are also more accessible than MLAs, MPs, premiers or the Prime Minister. Go ahead and try to get a personal audience with Justin Trudeau without shelling out big bucks to attend a dinner. Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley and Battle River-Crowfoot MP Kevin Sorenson do a good job at getting out into their local constituencies and meeting with people, but they are also stretched out over a much greater area and spend a lot of time in Edmonton and Ottawa, as they should. 

To get a hold of a councillor you do not have to go through a riding office, you can send a direct email to them or call them up out of the blue and likely get them on the phone. 

Voter apathy is more of an issue of failing to, excuse the poor English, give a care. 

As a colleague of mine in Lacombe suggested today, it comes down to voter engagement, and that’s the trick of it. We can drown the electorate in information, and make voting as easy as possible — you did not even need to register or bring picture ID to vote, just proof of residence; I used a utility bill — but if the voting public cannot be motivated, they will still not pry themselves away from a busy life to do so. 

The closest I have to an answer comes from a town hall style meeting from the PC Leadership race back in January when Richard Starke stopped at the Bill Fowler Centre. He was asked then, in a room filled with grey hair, how do you get young people to come back to the party. His answer was simple. Make the young people not just feel involved but make them integral to the process. 

Elections are famous for the high voter turnout among senior citizens, and while there is no demographic data available for the municipal election beyond numbers of who voted at different polling stations, I would wager it was a likely story in Camrose this year.  

I’m not saying you have to pander to the younger voters and try to buy their vote with promises to legalize marijuana, but there has to be a way to knock them over the head with how important it is to get out and fill out a ballot.  

And for those who did not vote, I cannot say that you lose the right to complain, but remember your frustrations at the next election. 

You quite literally have no real excuse not to vote. 

 jaldrich@postmedia.com



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