Across Ontario, voter participation for the October 24 municipal election was down an average of seven per cent. South Dundas saw an 8.3 per cent decline in participation this election. In 2018, only 53.7 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot: Monday night that was 45.4 per cent. Clearly unless an election is highly contested, few care to exercise their civic duty to vote. In fact, only four-in-nine eligible voters in South Dundas thought it was worthwhile to take part, which leads to the question: How easy does it have to be to get people to vote?
Many municipalities, including South Dundas, had two ways to cast their ballots: in-person; and online. In-person voting meant going to the South Dundas Municipal Centre on voting day, or going to advance polls in Iroquois, Williamsburg, and Dixon’s Corners. Online voting meant going to a person’s computer, cell phone, or tablet and pressing buttons. Yet a majority of eligible voters did not do this simple task.
South Dundas is not alone in its lack of voter participation: there may have been some campaign reasons for this. In North Dundas, only 31.7 per cent of voters cast ballots. Voters there only had to select three councillors as the mayor and deputy mayor positions were acclaimed. All five council positions were contested in South Glengarry, but with a small field of candidates. Voter turnout there was 41.8 per cent. North Stormont, which had a more highly-contested municipal campaign saw voter participation at 54.1 per cent. All these have online voting. In Cornwall, where online voting was not available, voter participation this election was 28.6 per cent. Recent provincial and federal election votes also have seen lower turnout as well.
If the selection of candidates does not draw voters out, issues do not draw voters out, and the availability of multiple voting days/methods do not draw voters out, what will it take?
Perhaps it is time to look at changing voting systems and consider ranked ballots, proportional representation or other styles where a voter’s preference for party and candidate can both factor in an election result. Maybe allowing political parties into the municipal election process like in Quebec and British Columbia will attract more interest. Australia has mandatory voting for federal elections. Not casting your ballot can mean a monetary fine.
It is clear that something has to change. Low voter participation means fewer people get their say in how you are governed and the risk is that government will more likely not reflect you. How easy do we need to make it for you to do your part?