Increasing Toronto’s voter turn out

Don’t like your choices for council, mayor?
Run, encourage good candidates to register, then vote
By Kris Scheuer

What if no one voted in the next election? What if we boycotted the election as a political statement and thumbed our noses at the whole lot? What would happen then?
Sure it has never happened yet, but you have to wonder what is at the root cause of why more people don’t go to the polls.
Voter apathy is nothing new, as anywhere from 36 to 47 per cent of those who have the legal right to elect a provincial rep choose not to show up to the party.
In the 2006 Toronto election voter turn out was a lousy  39.3 percent across the city.
Some circumstances appear to shift this such as in ward 26 where there was no incumbent and 15 candidates ran. In that ward, voter turn out was 52 percent, which was the highest anywhere in the city that election.
So why do so few eligible voters exercise this right? Is this because citizens don’t care who is elected? Or is it a political statement? When we don’t vote are we trying to send a message “why bother to cast my ballot when none of the candidates vying for my vote represent my views?”
So why is Toronto’s voter turn out is so low? What motivates you to vote? In Australia, one of a number of countries that have adopted compulsory voting, voter turnout averages at 95 per cent. According to the Australian Electoral Commission’s website voter turnout nationally since 1901 ranged from 50-78 percent until 1924 the year mandatory voting was passed. The next year, 1925 the voter turn out shot up to 91 percent and has been above that ever since.
So is that the answer? I don’t know if mandatory voting leads to informed voting or if people just show up because otherwise they are fined.
In some cases, the reason people don’t vote comes down to the fact they aren’t politically savvy and feel they can’t make an educated choice. If that is the case, it’s not too late – the next city election is Oct. 25. Think about the issues important to you and talk to candidates running in your area.
If none of these candidates appeal to you, consider making a run for it yourself or convince other qualified people to register.
Some are advocating for better ballots in fact a campaign has started to educate people and generate debate on a different form of voting system.
Fair Vote Canada with a chapter in T.O advocates for electoral reforms as well including proportional representation (at the provincial and federal levels) so political parties get a number of seats close to their popular support. So if Party A’s candidates get 16 percent of all votes cast across Ontario they would get about/or exactly 16 percent of the province’s seats.
Others want the province to change the Municipal Elections Act to allow all Torontonians the right to vote in city elections. FInd out more at I Vote Toronto.
Non-profit, non-partisan Student Vote encourages young Canadians, not yet of voting age, to get in the habit of casting ballots by educating them about parties, candidates and elections. There are mock elections where votes are tallied and students get in the habit of voting from a young age.
In 2006, a group of volunteer civic activists lead by Dave Meslin hosted City Idol recruiting 100 people to “audition” as city council candidates in front of live audiences. This was reduced down to 21 finalists and then four were “endorsed” by the organizers. The ideas was to encourage people to register in the city election and get engaged in the process and vote.
What will change lower voter turnout in Toronto?


6 responses to “Increasing Toronto’s voter turn out

  1. I modified version of this post formed a column I wrote for the Town Crier and Gary Dale, President of Fair Vote Canada’s Toronto Chapter wrote in. You can read his letter here.

  2. The government has to do a better job in promoting voting as an exciting experience that either keeps everything as they are or change life to a more positive one.
    The importance of voting should be promoted year round not just during election time.
    The movers and shakers of Canada should be recruited to do fifteen-second public service announcements or PSAs on why they vote.
    Get Justin Bieber to say “When I’m old enough I going to vote”.
    Put the message in the video games or TV shows say of the character coming out of a voting booth.
    Get the music group like the BNL to write a song about the importance of voting.
    Eventually more people will come out to vote.

    • Tibor,
      it’s true voter turnout among youth is lower than adults. So having some bands and celebrities promote voting wouldn’t hurt. In 2008, we saw that in the States with the US presidential election and the Rock the Vote message. I agree the government should promote voting all year not just at election time, but TO elections are almost a year-long process already with registration starting Jan. 4 and the vote Oct. 25.
      The importance of voting is very close to my heart as I feel Canadians generally take it for granted while people in other countries have died fighting for the right to vote or are murdered if they vote for a party that other groups don’t support.
      As well, I am not sure how much people trust the government to tell people why to vote.
      Why we vote can be many reasons including wanting better garbage pick-up or affordable housing and not every government in power would promote the “why” vote the same way because they have different priorities. In other words, the government may use the why vote message to promote why they are the best government, as a propaganda tool. Why vote? Because we (government) will deliver XYZ if you vote for us.

  3. I wonder if there is a list of voting turnouts by ward.

    I think that the turnouts are lower out of the downtown core where the vote is left of center for the most part.

    • Nussy, yes you can get voting turnouts by ward.
      It’s quite detailed actually.
      I put a link in my story to a map that breaks it all down. Willowdale Ward 24’s voter turn out was 34 percent, lower than the city average of 39.3.
      To break it down even further, you can find out how voters voted in each of the 99 polling stations in a local ward. So you get a list of each candidate, the number of votes per polling station and the total votes per candidate overall.
      So in Ward 24, there were four candidates in ’06: Ed Shiller, Colleen Ladd, Sanaz Amirpour and David Shiner. Shiner got more votes than his opponents in 97 of the 99 polls. And he got 50 percent of all ballots cast.
      See info for the 2006 race here.
      Suburbs vs downtown? It’s generally low everywhere: Etobicoke 33-40%, Scarborough 35-40%, North York in the mid 30% range, York 36-44%, East York in the 40% range, midtown low to high 40%, downtown 35-44% and highest turn out was Don Valley West Ward 26 with 52%.

  4. Fair Vote Canada advocates proportional representation in municipal elections too, and in student council and co-op elections, and fair voting whenever voting is required.

    Sign Fair vote Canada’s Declaration of voters’ Rights: http://www.FairVote.Ca

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