Blame non-voters, blame the city, can it be about saving money?
Last Saturday, October 14, 2017, Vancouver had a by-election to elect one city councilor and 9 School Board trustees. It seems that money may have been a factor in the low voter turnout. A voter turnout so low, it left those who voted in shock, or bewildered.
Money to send out actual voter cards, money to pay workers to attend seniors homes, and money to put more than one voting machine at a busy voting place was not there. Had the city focused on voter engagement, would the voter turnout have been higher than the dismal low turnout of 10.99%.
Now that the election is over and citizens are discovering other reasons that the voter turnout was so low, it’s angered many. Take senior citizens, especially those in nursing homes for example. This election they were not given the right to vote as in previous elections. The excuse seems to be money, the budget was not big enough.
It is customary for the City of Vancouver to send out mobile election workers to senior homes to ensure our elders have the opportunity to vote, this time the city did not send mobile election workers to senior homes so residents could actually vote, and some seniors waited all day to vote and then were told no one was coming. They were denied the right to vote. Do the math, that’s thousands of votes. It turns out that senior homes were not even contacted about this change, giving them the false belief that they would be able to cast their votes.
No Voter Cards
It would have cost the city an extra 500K to mail-out actual voter cards. Given the low turnout, this extra investment would have seen more voters participate. With just over 10% turnout, and a voter base of 442K voters, it’s one of the reasons this election saw a low turnout.
The city decided only a single flier would be mailed out. This flier, called Municipal By-election Voter Guide did not mention that no voter cards would be mailed out on it’s cover. The mail-out appeared to be a simple information brochure. The No Voter card for 2017 was mentioned on page three.
I assume, many people threw this brochure in the garbage, just like they do with other fliers. Had an actual voter card been mailed out, citizens would have received an important document in their mail boxes, with their name on it, and not likely to be thrown in the recycle bin.
Voting Place Inadequate
I will speak only of the West End/Coal Harbour areas, which has a large population and only two voting places, the annex of Lord Roberts School and King George High School on Denman St.
I personally voted at King George High School at 10 AM, and the line up was significant. My first impression was it’s a good turnout, especially since I am voting in the morning. I was wrong in assuming this would be the case. I saw people leaving without voting because the lineup was long. My co-workers who went in the afternoon also left without voting because the lineup was too long. I asked my co-worker if she saw anyone else leave without voting while she waited, and the answer was yes, 5 people left while she was there.
I waited only about 10 minutes to register, was given my voting card and told to stand in line to actually drop my vote. It took me 20 minutes in line to just hand in my completed voting card. When I finally arrived at the actual single machine, I asked why there were not more than one voting machine. The election officer said “ we asked for another one, the city said maybe”. Image one of the busiest voting places in the city and there is a single machine. What if that machine malfunctioned, broke down? No doubt what so ever, that votes were not cast because a single machine was all the city planned for.
I believe the voter turnout would have been higher had the city spent the extra 500K. That’s just over a dollar per voter on the voter list. While the city admits more should have been done to alert senior homes, the money spent on online and TV advertising would have been better spent on actual voter cards.
Been There Before
In 2014, the headlines read “Vancouver voter turnout highest in more than a decade”, it reached 44%. The 2011 election saw only 34% voter turnout. The lowest in our city’s history was in 2008, when only 31% cast a vote. Are citizens disengaged in the electoral process, and are budgets being wasted on other items other than engagement?
In 2008 the city had a plan to encourage voter participation with a stated goal of increasing voter turnout to 60% by 2025. Can the goal of 60% be achieved in the next 7 years?
The City’s Chief Election Officer was hopeful this by-election would see a turnout of 25%. It was unusual to elect a school board during a by-election, given that only one city council seat was up for grabs. The last time only one city council seat was up for grabs was in 1992, and that by-election saw a voter turnout of 10%.