Voter turnout in Canada reaches historic lows, but Elections Canada still struggles - The Intrepid

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Voter turnout in Canada reaches historic lows, but Elections Canada still struggles

On Tuesday, only 59.1-per-cent of the electorate turned out to vote. This number represents the lowest turnout in Canadian election history, breaking the previous record of 61% set in the 2004 election. Despite receiving 168,737 ballots fewer than in 2006, Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party managed to capture 19 additional seats. This victory was made possible by the absence of one important factor: soft liberal voters.

It turns out that soft liberal voters did not jump to the NDP or the Greens as so many analysts predicted. Instead, these voters just opted to stay home. In Mississauga-Erindale, for example, Conservative Bob Dechert trounced Liberal Omar Alghabra by 3,500 votes. However, Dechert only received an additional 270 than in 2006. The difference? Alghabra received 3,327 fewer votes.

Despite fewer votes cast, Elections Canada struggled all day to keep up with turnout. This year, only 62-per-cent of the electorate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore voted. Based on the chaos I witnessed at the largest polling station in Etobicoke-Lakershore, I am not sure that Elections Canada could even deal with 70-per-cent turnout, let alone 100-per-cent.

At the station I saw, election workers did not have the proper supplies or training. At peak times wait lines were up to an hour, as people were uncomfortably packed into a hot smelly gym. Elections Canada doesn’t even bother to supply stations with location master lists, so if a voter accidentally came to the wrong polling station, workers didn’t know where to direct them.

Across the country, long lines and insufficient resources, plagued voting stations and discouraged people from voting. At one UofT polling station, a DRO (Deputy Returning Officer) nearly broke down into tears at the end of the night after having to single handedly register hundreds of students as lines stretched around the corner.

In 1958, voter turnout peaked at 79-per-cent. Today, on its shoestring budget, 79-per-cent would bring Elections Canada to a grinding halt.