While voter turnout was up, it still failed to indicate that people living in Kitchener were engaged in setting the city’s direction for the next four year. The modest increase from 25% to 28% was almost entirely due to the creation of new wards–many of which featured competitive races. I believe the low turnout can be attributed in part to the virtual acclamations of the Mayor of Kitchener and the Chair of the Region of Waterloo. But even so, we clearly have a lot of work to do if we are to see a significant increase in the next election.
While advance voting was up 37% that is one area where I think some changes can be easily made:
- Greater opportunity to vote in advance. Kitchener had less than half the number of hours of advance voting than any other city in the Region or nearby Guelph
- Have advance polls in every ward and at least one downtown. Advance polls should be easy to access. An advance poll downtown should be mandatory. People working or living downtown needed to find their way to a suburban community centre when they are within easy walking distance of city hall and the downtown community centre. If you are living without a car or are experiencing homelessness, you essentially had no access to vote in advance.
- Hold advance polls closer to election day. A friend couldn’t vote due to a last minute business trip. By the time he knew, he had no opportunity to vote. If my memory serves me correct, he could have still voted if it was a provincial or federal election.
One other easy change that should have been in place this time was to put links on the city’s website to candidate’s websites. I don’t buy the arguments about why that didn’t occur this time. If the city gives information that allows me to phone a candidate or knock on their door, why can’t they help voters to educate themselves online? Maybe I shouldn’t complain since this blog benefited from the many people who naturally go online to decide how to vote.
Online and phone voting may be a part of the solution but they are not a panacea. Stratford had both this time and only saw their turnout increase 2%. Of course, their turnout was 46% in 2006–a rate that would have thrilled me in Kitchener this time around.
How would you increase voter turnout in municipal elections?