With the provincial election coming up this summer, it brings up the same problem we have every election in Canada: actually voting.
Canadians tend not to have a strong turnout when it comes to voting day, the exception being the last federal election when 68.5 per cent showed up to the polls, which was the highest voter turn-out has been since 1993.
Recent trends look a lot gloomier. Since 2000, voter turnout has constantly sat below 65 per cent of registered voters hitting the voting stations.
And those statistics were from registered voters in Canada, they don’t account for the eligible voters who haven’t registered.
Other democratic countries like Sweden and Australia have much higher voter turnouts. In Australia’s 2016 election had a 91 per cent turn-out.
In order to combat low poll turnouts, these countries have adopted policies like automatic registration and weekend polling.
Canada should adopt new voting practices like automatic registration, information sessions and weekend polling to increase voter turnout.
In Sweden, once you become of age, you are automatically registered to vote. There’s no application process or verification required. The government already has all the data required to automatically register voters so by taking it out of the citizens hands, it removes a barrier from voting.
This approach works. Sweden had an 82 per cent turnout of all eligible voters rather than Canada’s 68.5 per cent of just registered voters.
Canada could easily do the same and should if it could mean a fairer representation of Canadians on voting day.
Twenty-three per cent of eligible voters in Canada who didn’t cast a ballot in the 2015 federal election said they were too busy to make a trip to the voting station.
Part of the problem is voting always takes place on a weekday, while people work.
Canada should hold voting on weekends rather than during the work week. It would give people a greater opportunity to be able to vote because more people are off during the weekend or have decreased work hours.
Countries like Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, India and New Zealand all hold voting on weekends and experience higher voter turn-out than Canada.
While automatic registration and weekend polling would all make voting more accessible to eligible voters, Canada should also follow Sweden in holding informational sessions.
According to Statistics Canada, 32 per cent of registered voters who didn’t vote said they didn’t because they weren’t interested in politics. This is one of the same reasons Canada sees lower turnout for provincial and municipal elections compared to federal.
In Sweden, they hand out a guide to political parties and what levels of government control what to voters along with opening up spaces in public libraries to offer democratic information, education and dialogue.
A disinterest in politics comes from a lack of knowledge. If voters understood the importance and impact of provincial and municipal government on their lives, they would be more compelled to vote.
Canada should adopt the same practice of holding information sessions on upcoming elections in public spaces like libraries and post-secondary institutions as well as high schools for the students who’ve turned 18 just in time for elections.
Low voter turnout in elections means that elected officials don’t necessarily represent the will of the people. If only 68.5 per cent of registered voters vote, that means 31.5 per cent of that population never put their voice in.
That could have been enough to change the results of the federal election to the Conservative Party’s favour in 2015.
If Canada wants a fairly represented government, we need to change our approach to voting. Ontario has an online campaign around registration, but that’s not going to help much if voter turnout itself is low.
Canada needs to adopt policies like automatic registration, weekend voting and information sessions.