Editorial — Boosting voter turnout

Councillor Kim Richter didn’t get too far with her idea of a voter grant, equivalent to a year’s property tax payment, as a way to boost voter turnout.

For starters, it likely isn’t legal at present, as the Community Charter makes it clear there are to be no inducements for voting. This portion of the law is meant to prevent the outright purchase of votes. It is one reason that liquor establishments used to be closed during voting hours, as at one time it was a common practice to buy someone a drink in exchange for their vote.

Several members of Township council were clearly troubled by the grant idea. They do not think that people should think of voting as they do the lottery, where one lucky winner gets a big prize.

While Richter’s suggestion was seen as impractical or unpopular, finding a way to boost voter turnout is a serious issue. The recent turnout of less than four per cent in the board of education byelection shows that most people simply can’t be bothered to vote in local elections. Turnout in the last three Township general elections has been about 20 per cent, and the turnout of voters in Langley City is usually around the 15 to 20 per cent mark.

Even in provincial elections, where traditionally turnout has been good, the participation rate is falling. In the 2009 election, about 50 per cent of eligible voters showed up at the polls — a very low number and one which saw many people stay home rather than choose between the BC Liberals and NDP.

One of the challenges of voting in municipal elections is the sheer number of names on the ballot. In the 2008 election, 14 people ran for the eight seats on Township council. With two candidates for mayor, and another 11 seeking the five Township seats on the board of education, potential voters had to look over 27 names and try to make informed choices about which of them would be best for the positions they were seeking.

While it is up to potential voters to gather information about candidates, many don’t bother. Others feel they know enough about the incumbents, based on what they have done in the past term, to make their choices.

But most people simply choose not to take part at all, and leave the voting up to others. While that is their right in a democracy, it is not a good trend.

People in Egypt, for example, would welcome genuine choices, with no opportunity for reprisals.

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