Who Votes and Why?

by David Biltek

Although many people are eligible to vote very few people vote in Municipal Elections. Over the last 40 years turnout rates in Grande Prairie elections have hovered around 29% and once fell as low as 17%. It has not changed significantly in those years, while participation rates in provincial and federal elections in Canada have also been in a slow decline.

So who votes in Municipal elections? People who have a sense that their vote matters, that their opinions and involvement matter. They have feelings of efficacy. More specifically these  people tend to be: older, involved in business, senior managers, some professionals, resident for some time, community activists, leaders in community groups (church groups, business, service, eg Rotary, sports), home owners.

This is NOT to say that others do NOT vote, it is just that they do not “tend” to vote. Young people for example have one of the lowest participation rates, always have, and despite the notion that they SHOULD or that THIS TIME, or THIS GENERATION is Different, the fact is they do not tend to vote. Even in my long ago, misspent youth in the 1960’s during a time of peace, love, protest, etc, young people did NOT vote in any greater numbers. In a City like Grande Prairie with a low median age of  30 years (compared to an Alberta median of 36) with seniors (65+) only 6% (national percentage is 15%) , the fact that young people do not vote has great significance. 

Newcomers, not just recent immigrants also do not tend to vote, likely because they do not know the people, the issues, etc  About 17 – 25% of our population is new  since the last election. This is another reason why our particular turnout is among the lowest in Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary experience turnout rates of 40% plus)

The turnout rate in 2007 was 29.2%, while 2010 it was 24.5%. The 2010 election saw a close race among 5 candidates for Mayor and 14 people for Council  and despite this tight race, there was only 24.5% turnout.

Based on all this what might we expect this year? If we do not see more activity or controversy, it may be even less than the recent past. And despite our growth in population we may only see the same number as the last two elections, around 9100 people.

In 2010, 9057 ballots were cast for Mayoral candidates, and 49,519 were cast for Councillors. With one person per Mayoral ballot, this suggests most people only vote for between 5 and 6 Councillor candidates, despite being eligible to vote for 8. The goal then for candidates is to be in that 5-6 set otherwise they may end up in the bottom 3 which is a tenuous place to be. Last election only 314 votes separated the 6th place finisher(Kevin McLean) and the 9th place (Chris Thiessen). Whereas there was a 1400 gap between 4th (Gustafson) and 6th.

So…what do you think? Will you be voting?

Monday, September 23rd is the deadline for nominations and late in the afternoon we will see who is running.