We had a byelection for High Prairie town council Feb. 1. The next day, one of the staff members in our office said it was terrible how few people voted.
Let’s see. In round numbers, High Prairie is comprised of 29 per cent citizens under 18 of its population of 2,600 leaving us with about 1,800 voters. Just over 300 voted leaving a voter turnout of 17 per cent.
Actually, for a byelection, that’s pretty good! We’ve had less than half that vote in other byelections.
In the giant scheme of things, that’s bad!
Why don’t people vote? How do we get them to vote?
Many people advocate fining people if they don’t vote. A little hit in the wallet just might provide the incentive for a citizen suffering from lazyitis interruptus.
Many countries do fine citizens who don’t take an active role in democracy. How effective that is, one would have to look up the record.
There is a better idea. But first, let’s examine the common complaints why people don’t vote.
“There’s no one to vote for” or “It doesn’t matter, they’re all the same” or “My favourite show is on TV” are sorry excuses. The truth is, there is no good excuse.
The question is did the 1,500 citizens who didn’t vote in the High Prairie byelection make a statement? Are they tired of candidates who refuse to discuss the real issues such as job creation, massive recreation deficits, infrastructure, etc.? How about media which lectures people on why they should vote [ha, ha!]?
If you don’t have a choice, why vote?
Here’s what we should do.
First, include the infamous candidate “None of the Above” on the ballot. He is a very popular fellow. He’s very well-liked, never made a mistake in his life, and so obscure we don’t even know his name.
Then amend the election laws to state if “None of the Above” wins or the turnout is less than 50 per cent, the election is declared null and void. Then take the election process one step further. Declare every candidate on the ballot ineligible for the next election, because they clearly could not garner the support or interest of the people.
This way, the cost of the subsequent elections is laid at the hands and feet of the people who chose to sit on their ass and not get involved. That should be incentive enough to vote.
Think of the talk this plan would generate!
What happens if a town like High Prairie is left without a government after a municipal election? Let Alberta Municipal Affairs appoint an administrator to oversee operations. Perhaps not after one election, but maybe after the second. Take the power away from the people to govern since they didn’t care enough to vote. Don’t let them hire their own administrators, make policy, and govern. Let someone who cares govern.
Federally or provincially, where the risk of voter turnout is rarely below 50 per cent, this shouldn’t matter. Locally, it’s another matter.
It is interesting to note that the government which has the most direct bearing on our lives is the one we vote for least. Why people don’t vote is mind-boggling. It’s time we did something to encourage people to go to the polls. The threat of yet another election looming over citizens’ heads just might be the incentive they need.