This year saw provincial and municipal elections nearly back-to-back, and in both, voter turnout was nowhere near 50 per cent.
Amanda Bridge, a Durham College student in the Supply Chain Operation Management Program, said she didn’t vote in the municipal election due to “being new to the area” and not feeling like her vote matters.
“The thing that keeps me from voting is that it never changes. We vote for change and it’s the same as it always is. Nothing ever gets better,” said Bridge.
New records were set for voter turnout in across Ontario – but these aren’t anything to be proud of: in Oshawa, only 18.42 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Municipal elections tend to see fewer voters, but when only 22,456 out of 121,885 eligible voters cast a ballot, there’s a problem.
And with the October 24 municipal election coming shortly after the June provincial election, which saw less than 50 per cent of ballots cast, the back-to-back elections seemed to have an effect on people going out and voting.
But according to Laura Stephenson, a professor of political science at Western University, there’s more at play than just ‘election fatigue.’
“The actual act of going to the polls I don’t think was exhausting,” said Stephenson.
“Beyond that, if you think about what we’re dealing with right now as a society and the challenges people are facing, so not only do we still have the pandemic, but now we have inflation etcetera. If you take all those things together, then listening to a bunch of politicians argue back and forth with each other can be hard to take.”
Stephenson also pointed to Canadians not feeling like their vote matters.
“Do I think people are tired of elections? Probably – but I think more than anything else, they’re tired of elections when they don’t really see the alternative as bringing about meaningful change,” she said.
Oshawa City Councillor, Derek Giberson, believes there are two major issues with “voter disengagement.”
“People’s lives are being stretched thinner than they used to be. There’s more things competing for their time and energy,” he said.
“So that’s in their lives, and then in terms of information, people are bombarded with more information than ever. And it’s become harder throughout all of that noise for people to hear what’s going on in their government.”
The provincial election in June was a punch fest, in that like most federal and provincial elections, insults and blame were slung between the major parties during live debates.
But even with all the fighting between parties, Giberson says choices are easier to make in provincial and federal elections, as opposed to municipal ones.
“With provincial and federal elections, getting back to the matrices of choice making for voters, they have a little bit of help; they have political parties and political leaders, which tends to be where most of the media centres,” Giberson said.
While being critical of where media focuses it’s attention during elections, Giberson also says a “lack of local media” has made this job difficult.
And while Canadians have been inundated with federal and provincial issues, Stephenson says municipal governments can still have an effect on issues in their communities.
“They can affect other things; they can try and address issues with people without homes. They can try and address issues with housing, to some extent,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, “not being interested in politics remains the most common reason for not voting.”
In the 2021 election, the most common answer given for not voting was not having an interest in politics. The answer was the same for the majority of age groups in 2019, aside from two other reasons: 32 per cent of people aged 75 and older cited illness or disability, 34 per cent of those between the ages of 35 and 44 said they were too busy.
With such a low number of ballots cast, Stephenson says this isn’t good for society.
“Anytime people don’t have their voices heard, I think it’s not awesome, in the sense that lots of people have their reasons why they don’t want to get involved with things, or they’re unable to,” she said.
“But when it comes to voting, what we often see is the well-organized and enthusiastic people get to the polls, but they kind of ignore what other people are worried about and thinking about. And that I think is a bit of a danger.”
Giberson agrees that in some cases this may be true, but he says the decisions voters make in different elections are diverse.
“Even when we use the word ‘voters’ sometimes there’s a misnomer in how we understand that. Voters aren’t a monolith. They’re not one group. They all come with very different concerns and perspectives and different levels of information and types of information on each issue,” Giberson said.
And while some issues presented by the people get ignored, Stephenson also says there’s an effect on the government itself.
“You end up with politicians that get chosen to be leaders that may only be aware of a subset of the issues facing the voters,” she said.
The lack of interest in how our governments work only maintains the status quo, even if what’s happening in or to our communities isn’t good.
“I think that what a lot of politicians and aspiring politicians and political parties try and do, is they try to distill down to a couple of pivotal items as a way to try to successfully win votes. And it can be a bit of a viscous cycle as a result,” said Giberson.
This vicious cycle results in low voter turnout.