While voter turnout was up, it still failed to indicate that people living in Kitchener were engaged in setting the city’s direction for the next four year. The modest increase from 25% ┬áto 28% was almost entirely due to the creation of new wards–many of which featured competitive races. I believe the low turnout can be attributed in part to the virtual acclamations of the Mayor of Kitchener and the Chair of the Region of Waterloo. But even so, we clearly have a lot of work to do if we are to see a significant increase in the next election.

While advance voting was up 37% that is one area where I think some changes can be easily made:

  • Greater opportunity to vote in advance. Kitchener had less than half the number of hours of advance voting than any other city in the Region or nearby Guelph
  • Have advance polls in every ward and at least one downtown. Advance polls should be easy to access. An advance poll downtown should be mandatory. People working or living downtown needed to find their way to a suburban community centre when they are within easy walking distance of city hall and the downtown community centre. If you are living without a car or are experiencing homelessness, you essentially had no access to vote in advance.
  • Hold advance polls closer to election day. A friend couldn’t vote due to a last minute business trip. By the time he knew, he had no opportunity to vote. If my memory serves me correct, he could have still voted if it was a provincial or federal election.

One other easy change that should have been in place this time was to put links on the city’s website to candidate’s websites. I don’t buy the arguments about why that didn’t occur this time. If the city gives information that allows me to phone a candidate or knock on their door, why can’t they help voters to educate themselves online? Maybe I shouldn’t complain since this blog benefited from the many people who naturally go online to decide how to vote.

Online and phone voting may be a part of the solution but they are not a panacea. Stratford had both this time and only saw their turnout increase 2%. Of course, their turnout was 46% in 2006–a rate that would have thrilled me in Kitchener this time around.

How would you increase voter turnout in municipal elections?

9 thoughts on “Poor voter turnout continues to be cause for concern

  1. Maybe if politicians didn’t hide for 3.5 years (stay out in the community and let us get to know them) it would be easier to make a decision about who’s best for us and make a vote worthwhile. Who are these people anyway – other than what we see in the news two weeks prior to the election?

    1. Only the mayors and Regional Chair are full-time politicians – most of the councillors here have day jobs. Candidates tend to be active in community organizations, business groups, boards, committees, etc. I’m not sure what you expect people to do — marketing?

    2. I hear what you’re saying but it’s a two way street. Most incumbents would say that’s what they are already doing but that they still hear that they disappear between elections. So there is likely a disconnect somewhere.

      I think you’ve made a good point for new candidates. Don’t expect to get elected if you only start being active and visible in the community when the campaign heats up.

  2. In today’s Record, Peter Shawn Taylor says the answer to low turnout is to have local political parties. I think he’s right that it would increase turnout. It would for example ensure there are viable alternatives for Mayor and Chair of the Region of Waterloo.

    But would it be good for local government? I have my doubts as people would more likely vote for parties than on who is the best candidate with the best ideas and who has demonstrated leadership in the community.

    What do you think?

    1. I respectfully have to disagree with you on the political party thing James. As you yourself have pointed out, by having parties involved- people don’t actually vote for the candidates themselves. And let’s face it. When it comes to municipal politics, you can’t be any one thing all the time to be effective. One issues of property tax, I’m conservative. When it comes to green space initiatives, I’m…well, Green. On other issues, I may have a more Liberal approach, etc. Why try to polarize it?

      Not only that, often times party affiliations mean that the elected official tow the party line, as opposed to acting in the best interest of those who elected them. Just look at what that meant when it came to the long gun registry.

      The reason voter turn out is so poor is because people are jaded towards the political system, and that jaded feeling comes primarily from what they are seeing from our provincial and federal governments. Municipal politics just suffers from the trickle down.

      By trying to make the municipal system more like the system the voters already resent, you are only going to hurt the process.

      Just my two cents worth.

      1. Feel free to disagree with me! On this one though, I agree with you. While I agree that local parties would help increase voter turnout, I am reluctant to see them introduced in Ontario.

        It’d be interesting to see if there are differences in voter turnout from wards like your ward that were hotly contested and wards with fewer candidates running–especially the ones featuring an incumbent. One thing I heard a lot over the election was a desire for voters to have candidate’s come to their home or at least deliver literature. To me that indicates a desire to be engaged by voters that candidates are not tapping into–and if they could, turnout would increase. But it’s just a theory which is why I’d like to see if turnout increased where campaigns would have touched more voters than others did.

    1. Thanks Rudy! Technology could definitely make it easier to vote but would that make people more likely to vote? Some but I’m not sure if it’d make a large difference. Worth doing though!

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