Stay At Home Voters Shame BC

How will the general election in British Columbia go on May 9 this year? Frankly, I have no idea but I’ll make a forecast anyway: If voting patterns continue on the downward trend established and continuing since 1986, the thousands of citizens who hold the precious right to vote, but fail to exercise it, will again decide the outcome.

It should be disturbing that recent BC governments have been elected by just over half the people holding the franchise. But, it doesn’t appear to be.

Last time residents of Canada’s west coast province were asked for a decision on future governance only 57 percent of those eligible bothered to vote. Hardly a resounding victory for those who cherish voting rights so firmly embedded in our Charter of Rights and Freedom – and so casually, almost contemptuously, ignored by close to half of their fellow citizens.

To its credit Elections BC, a non-partisan office of the Legislature, has laboured mightily in the years between elections to stimulate interest in the election process. Its efforts have been backed and promoted by all political parties and there has been a measure of success in the increasing numbers of citizens taking the time to make sure their names are on the registered voters’ list. Unfortunately, their combined efforts have not yet convinced voters there is a second important step to take to fully exercise their franchise – actually casting a ballot.

Statistics can be boring and, more often than not, confusing, but Elections BC stats for the last provincial general election in 2013 tell a few remarkably interesting stories. Some should dismay as well as surprise.

In 2013, there were 235,615 registered voters listed between the ages of 18 and 24 years. A veritable army of young bloods with the voting power to swing most ridings – but only 112,918 or 47.9 per cent chose to spend the few minutes it takes to vote. Read the numbers the other way round and 52 per cent failed to cast their ballots and the show of energy and responsibility by our future leaders is far from impressive.

But, that isn’t the end of BC’s lack of enthusiasm for elections. The last time they were called to the polls registered voters in the 25-34 age group numbered 505,345. Only 200,984, a shocking 39.8 per cent, bothered. No, no, you read that right. Sixty per cent of the movers and shakers of BC stayed home. Readers who fell into this category four years ago should be ashamed to realize they were at the bottom of the list of those who took the trouble to register but failed to take the next crucial step and vote.

You can find all the stats in proud or embarrassing splendour – plus everything you ever wanted to know about the May 9 election but didn’t know where to ask at http://www.elections.bc.ca.

Did I write “proud or embarrassing” a second ago? Yes, indeed, but proud only if you’re rattling through life on the north side of 50 years. Nestling triumphantly with the Better Than 50 set are: 55-64 years – 591,106 registered of which 393,914 voted (66.6 per cent); 65-74 – 386,875 registered of which 287,242 voted (74.2 per cent).

The final Elections BC record is for citizens 75 years old and better with 312,412 registered to vote of which 204,518 or 65.5 per cent voted. Remember those 25-34 young adults’ registered voter numbers listed earlier at 505,345 but with only 200,984 voting? The old codgers had close to 200,000 fewer in their registered voter ranks – but out-numbered the youngsters with a 204,518 (65.5 per cent to 47.9 per cent) voter turn-out.

How will it go in May? As I said earlier, I have no idea, but if voting patterns follow the dismal register-but-don’t-vote trend of recent years the thousands who didn’t vote are again destined to become immediate vociferous critics of the government they never voted for but helped elect.

7 comments

  1. I’m familiar with low voter turnout by young people because I’ve written about it. In the 2015 federal election, however, the participation of voters aged 18 to 24 increased by 18.3 percentage points to 57.1% (from 38.8% in 2011). Participation of voters aged 25 to 34 increased by 12.3 percentage points to 57.4% (from 45.1% in 2011). I cynically attribute this increase to putting cannabis legalization in the mix.

    Now that we’ve exhausted that attraction what’s left? Many have suggested allowing people to vote with their smartphones. This might work because I’ve not seen a young person whose nose wasn’t in a smartphone for a very long time.

    But I have a better suggestion: change the election law so that all unexercised votes go by default to the incumbent party. That could bestir many would-be voters.

  2. Hello Jim. I moved to 2800 Blanshard Street from 5552 Hamsterly Rd last Oct. 1. This is a different constituency (Victoria Swan Lake) than my former one, so I am certain at I will not be on the proper voters list. I missed the sign up here at the Wellesley (28 00 Blanshard), but have been trying to ensure I am on the proper voters list. A search on the internet told me the deadline for phoning or email is past, but it does not seem to indicate what is my alternative. There is lots of data there, but not what I am looking for. No doubt I will be sent a voters card to my old address, but I have fears it will not be redirected to me to be of any use.

    If I miss being able to vote, it will be the first I can remember in either a federal or provincial election.. Have you time to give me some advice? Thanks, j.A. (Al) Pelter

    1. Al – Phone elections BC – 250-387-5305. You will find them very helpful – even anxious – to get you signed up or tell you how to vote even if you missed the sign up date. Ask them about document’s required when you show up to vote. Seems to me they’re simple — a driver’s licence or your social security card number. But make sure. Good luck. Let me know how you make out. Jimh

  3. Jim – always glad to read a Hume especially my old fishing pal. My advice – hateful though it may seem, under our lousy system if you vote the person, not the Party, you don’t understand how it works. Your MLA has no more power or influence than a fencepost with hair and is only important when a vote is called and then votes as he/she is told or pays the political version of The Supreme Sacrifice.
    Rafe

  4. Could it simply be happening due to the fact that, for many people, there is nobody out there to vote for? Personally, I find it very difficult even to cast a protest vote because all the parties are bad choices, just in different ways. And Rafe Mair is absolutely right: voting for the person is based on a delusion that this person has some power within the party while in fact the party leader and the party platform trump everything and everybody.

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