Voter-turnout expectations low for Sooke election

Voter-turnout expectations low for Sooke election

Expert weigh-in on low civic voter turnout and what it might take to change

When is 45 per cent considered a passing grade? When you’re talking about a municipal election in Sooke.

Sooke residents — at least some of them — will go the polls Saturday (Oct. 20) to elect a mayor, six district councillors and three school trustees.

Municipal elections typically see lower turnouts than either federal or provincial elections. That’s unfortunate, said Mayor Maja Tait, who is running for re-election, adding: “I don’t think a lot of people realize the role local government plays in their day-to-day lives.”

In the 2014 election, just 45.74 percent of Sooke voters – 3,881 out of an eligible 8,485 – cast a ballot.

Sooke doesn’t have to look far for examples of low — or high — voter turnout. In Fort St. John, only 16 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2014, compared to 84 per cent in tiny Zeballos.

Daniel Westlake, a political science assistant teaching professor at the University of Victoria, said the problem with civic elections is they’re not covered particularly well by national media, as they are with provincial or federal votes.

“A couple of things come into play: time, exposure and experience,” Westlake said. “My gut instinct is that these are against the turnout in municipal elections.”

Voters need to work harder to get the vote out unlike in provincial or federal elections where most candidates are aligned with a political party and policies, Westlake said, adding municipal candidates also need to get more exposure.

The latter point hasn’t been lost on Tait or mayoralty challenger Coun.Kevin Pearson, who both said meeting face-to-face with voters is crucial to getting them out to the polling station on election day.

“The advice I’ve gotten from a lot of people is to get face to face with as many people as you can. It’s a time consuming exercise, but it’s well worth it,” Pearson said.

Both Pearson and Tait are concentrating their efforts on a door-knocking drive, meet the candidate events and social media.

“Social media is such a powerful tool now. I don’t know if it will give us bigger numbers [on election day], but it certainly bodes well for the future,” Pearson said.

Westlake agreed social media is one tool to use in any election campaign, but pointed out often those users can get siloed: those whoo tend to avoid politics on social media likely won’t ever vote.

But for Tait the one simple solution might be to see more people participate in the election process.

“It’s encouraging to have 13 people running for council because they in turn will likely bring more people out to vote,” she said optimistically.

The civic election is held Saturday (Oct. 20) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Edward Milne community school.