On October 20, voting for the 2018 Kelowna municipal elections opened across the city, excluding those places with advance polling stations. Sadly, out of the approximately 100,000 eligible voters in Kelowna, only 30,000 actually voted.
These results are nothing new, according to The Daily Courier, which states that ‘in recent memory’, voter turnout has never reached 50%. The lowest turnout was in 2008, with 20%, with 1990 following closely with 29%. The highest was in 1962 with 49.6%.
Even though the advance polling stations seemed to do well, with around 8000 voting in any of the locations, the numbers weren’t enough to bring up the total percentage. There are even rumors that the UBC Okanagan advance poll will not be returning because of small turnout. The City of Kelowna did not respond when contacted about this.
So why is civic engagement so low? Some suggest that civic engagement used to be higher, although the numbers mentioned above may disprove that. There’s also evidence that shows that divisive or competitive elections draw more voters. This is supported by the 20% turnout in 2008, when there was little to no competition for the mayoral candidacy. Some would say, however, that the competition between Basran and Dyas was a close one; meaning the voter turnout only spiked 10% with competition.
Accessibility is another deterrent that the voting office has thought of. Karen Sheppard, Chief Voting Officer, has voiced that there are more opportunities than the previous year to vote. Advance polling stations allow students to vote on their campuses, as well as individuals who may work in specific areas of the city, or have no means to travel downtown to vote. Voting stations have also been moved away from the traditional areas, and are being positioned in busier places to attract more voters.
Personally, I believe that voter turnout is a result of people’s faith in the voting system, and in the candidates. This year, I was disappointed by the candidates, and our lack of commonality on issues such as homelessness, drugs, and the like. My vote this year was solely strategic, to avoid a candidate I perceived as the lesser of two evils. Other students felt the same, that they were losing faith in a system and in a community that rarely represented their views.
Others feel that municipal elections are unnecessary as a result of the lack of authority municipalities have in our current political system. Since the provincial and federal government have so much more power and authority over important aspects of life like healthcare and education, it may not seem worth it to voters to vote in their municipal elections.
Hopefully, the next election sparks a trend in the rise of voter turnout, or a rise in newfound faith in our system. For now though, lets see how Basran does in his second year as mayor.