by Roger Stonebanks
If history is any guide (and it often is), the winner in the Nov. 15 municipal and school board elections will be – apathy. The majority of voters will simply chose not to vote – and in significant numbers.
In the District of Saanich, the most populous municipality in the region, three-quarters of eligible voters are likely to give election day a pass. In the 2011 election, there were 84,546 eligible voters but only 21,134 turned up at the polls – 25 per cent. It was worse in 2008 – the turnout was 20.61 per cent. And worse again in 2005 – 19.13 per cent. In 2002 it was better – 24.6 per cent. The turnout does get better in the smaller Saanich Peninsula municipalities. In 2011 it was 32.93 per cent in Central Saanich, 41.2 per cent in North Saanich and 31 per cent in Sidney.
Why is there such disinterest – and what to do about it? Exhortations to “civic duty” clearly haven’t worked and neither has general hand-wringing about a sorry state of affairs. “If you discover the magic key, let me know,” said Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff.
Saanich council decided this year to reinstate mobile voting stations for seniors’ facilities – and to continue mail-in ballots. As well, a new advanced polling station will be established at UVic.
“Over the years I ask people why they don’t vote,” said Coun. Brownoff. “The answer has been they are satisfied with Saanich council. Young families tell me they are too busy to get engaged. I’m not sure how to engage university age youth to vote at the municipal level. The level they are more concerned with are provincial and federal. They don’t seem to appreciate what can be accomplished at the local level.”
Coun. Brownoff thinks the importance of voting at the local level needs to be captured in the school curriculum by engaging youth at the middle school level; try to connect councils with university and college students; more advanced polling times, which Saanich is doing, and more information about what municipalities have the power to manage; and education on the Capital Regional District and roles of directors. Mobile voting units for seniors facilities and more advanced polling stations would help.
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said that in campaigning in neighbourhoods, “in a good year, you’d hope one-third vote, one-third might have voted but didn’t, and one-third wouldn’t vote no matter what convenience we provided. As for my own experience, I find that door-to-door canvassing identifies people who are likely to vote (so two-thirds at best) and campaigns work to get those that are sympathetic out on election day. So, by default it becomes apparent at the door who is not going to vote – the one-third – just not engaged in community, perhaps moving from home to home frequently, and don’t identify with any local issues or candidates.
“So as for those who seem interested enough to vote, sadly I think only half of them still vote – some of that their own lack of motivation and some of that issues of convenience. Motivation? The candidates and issues are key. So are the candidate campaigns, since we are low-budget compared to federal and provincial, the voters are not reached in the same way as we don’t have the media or volunteers to get out the vote.
“Convenience? That’s what our staff keep trying to overcome – mail-in ballots, more advance polls, mobile polls, where polls are, on and on.”
Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock says that, “On the doorstep I hear a lot of families talk about the cost of housing, frustration
over traffic, or lack of proper sidewalks. These are all things that your council can work to change or influence. Paying attention to who is on the ballot and casting a vote for candidates that will fight for your concerns is how we effect change.”
He supports “all possible steps to improve access to voting” and specifically mobile advance polls and a polling station at UVic. Voter information cards are a good way to raise awareness about where and when to vote. “There is always more that can be done and I am keen to hear ideas that would get more people to the polls.” He added that Saanich staff have been asked to look into putting voting stations at places like shopping centres and recreation centres.
For info on where, when, and how to vote: