15 October 2008

Historic Low in Voter Turnout Indictment of Gaming the Vote

Election 08 now goes down in history for being the first federal election campaign to have generated such public disdain that over 40% of the electorate didn't bother even to cast a vote. Only 59.1 percent of us showed up at the polls.

For Conservative voters, there was a greater incentive to get to the polls. In general, they knew that in voting FOR a party, their votes might actually count.

For most supporters of the NDP, Liberals and Greens, there would have been a depressing awareness that a visit to the polling station was going to be a useless exercise, that their vote wouldn't go toward electing anyone. Either that, or the elector had the distasteful 'option' of casting a vote AGAINST the Conservatives and for the party running second, one which they considered less than the best for Canada - that alone could have been a disincentive to show up.

Did vote swapping or strategic voting work? Not on your life. And the lowest voter turnout ever suggests that it helped achieve the opposite of what their proponents had wanted.

This is just one more argument for reforming our electoral system to one of proportional representation. I hope that federal Liberals, NDP and Greens across Canada will do their utmost to support the referendum coming in BC on May 12th, 2009.

Four years ago, British Columbians voted 58% in favour of changing our electoral system to the Single Transferable Vote, one which includes both a preferential ballot and multi-member ridings. The BC Liberal government's imposition of 60% for passage of that - and the coming - referendum, a threshold supported by the opposition NDP, ensured that the voters were denied. For voters who had favoured STV, the irony couldn't have been more obvious.

Now we get to do it all over again in just over six months.

If British Columbians manage to exceed that 60% threshold, then a change from first-past-the-post here could increase the public enthusiasm and volunteer effort for proportional representation across the country.

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