Lowest Voter Turnout in Canadian History

We’ve Never Been This Bad Before

The voter turnout last night in the Canadian Federal elections is estimated at 58% to 59.1%.  It breaks the all-time record low of 61% in 2004.  This excludes the 1898 referendum on the prohibition of alcohol, where only 44.6% of people showed up.

To put that in perspective, more people voted when they had to go to the polls in their horse and carriage through the snow than they did today, when they can vote online (in some provincial/municipal elections) in the comfort of their home.

It also means that the current minority government was chosen by less than a quarter of the Canadian population.  This government will now make choices for the other 75% of the people in Canada.

Blame the Youth of Course

Voter apathy is a major issue in Canada, but the youth are the most to blame.  A 2006 survey by Elections Canad, Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canadian Federal Elections, indicated that voter turnout is about 20-30% lower for youth,

It is due in large part to a drop in youth voting patterns that show that overall turnout numbers are declining. Concerns are being raised that this is not a “life-cycle” effect that will amend in time, but that young people who do not vote are in fact embarking on a lifetime of self-imposed disenfranchisement.

Alternatives Abound.  But Who Would Choose Them?

One proposed solution is an option found in Russian elections.  They have an option to vote “none of the above,” which has been selected at least twice ahead of all running candidates.  Who would have thought we would be learning how to run a democracy from the Russians, but there it is.

Another option would be mandatory voting, as in Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Brazil and Greece, and 28 other countries.

Voting was compulsory for all free men in Athens.  Perides said 431 BCE,

We do not say that a man who takes no interest in the business of government is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all.

Jehovah’s Witness and other similar groups with religious restrictions on voting would be exempt of course.  Serena Williams, for example, is not voting for Barack Obama.

Dennis Owens of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has advocated this solution for Canada in the past.  A failed bill in the Senate in 2004 would levy a $50 fine on those who failed to vote.

William Fisher, Australian high commissioner to Canada, said,

Fifty dollars is not going to send you to the bank, but it’s enough to encourage people to do the right thing.

Or, Just Put Alcohol Back on the Ballot

That might sound like a harsh punishment.

But what over 40% of Canadians don’t currently realize is that their lack of choice is going to cost them more than $50 for the next few years.

Something also tells me that a referendum on alcohol prohibition today would result in significantly higher voter turnout, especially for the youth.

Let’s see if we can convince someone to add that to their party platform next time around.

10 Comments on "Lowest Voter Turnout in Canadian History"

  1. While your analogy is still perfectly apt, just to be clear, one can’t actually vote online from the comfort of their home. If that’s an option now, I don’t know how I missed it!

  2. You’re right that in this election you could not vote online, but it is possible in some Canadian provincial and municipal elections.

    The Canada Elections Act states,


    Electronic voting process

    18.1 The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters.

    Elections Canada plans on having voter registration within two years, and a by-election with online capabilities within five years. The issue of voter apathy was intended to address all jurisdictions, but you’re right in that I should have clarified in respect to the recent Federal election. However, voter registration can still occur at the Federal level by mail, so the comfort of the home, or the walk to the mailbox, still applies. People with physical disabilities can vote at home by contacting the returning officer.

    In addition, the following means can be used to vote:

  3. advance polls
  4. mobile polls for special circumstances
  5. special ballot
  6. A special ballot could have been submitted any time before Tuesday October 7, 2006 at 6:00 p.m. and does not require a Voter Identification Card, only an ID.

    In short, there’s little excuse for not voting if someone is inclined to do so.

  • “Another option would be mandatory voting, as in Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Brazil and Greece, and 28 other countries

    Jehovah’s Witness and other similar groups with religious restrictions on voting would be exempt of course.”

    Yes, lets force all the people who genuinely disagree with all the parties and disengage from the process to vote, but let those who are afraid the sky fairy will strike them down for doing so get out of it.

  • Yes, lets force all the people who genuinely disagree with all the parties and disengage from the process to vote..

    The vote for none option isn’t good enough?

    Anyhow, the second group is protected by the Charter.

  • Well the Charter also protects freedom of “conscience” as well as “thought” and “belief” but those terms havent been sufficiently explored by the courts.

    Therein lies the silliness of cordoning off “freedom of religion” rather than adhering to a principle of “freedom generally”. Believe something because of science, pliterature, personal observation, personal preference, moral philosophy, gut feeling, whatever and you are left without a constitutional remedy and the government can force just about anything down your throat… Believe something because of unsubstantiated mystical claptrap and delusions about the nature of the universe and you get a free pass.

    Clearly we have no “equality” between atheists/agnostics/etc. and religious folk.

  • Electoral reform, particularly in the form of proportional representation, would go a long way towards fixing this problem.

    Why bother voting if our votes DON’T MATTER? In ridings where there is a well-situated incumbent, there is very little incentive for people to go to the polls to vote for the other candidates.

    Our democracy is broken. The low voter turnout is just one of many symptoms.

  • Proportional representation will have to happen over the dead bodies of myself and millions of other Canadians who arent willing to hand the power to make “lists” of people who are guaranteed a seat to party hacks. Maybe some sort of compromise like what was proposed in Ontario during the last election could but straight PR removes local representation and accountability for list candidates.

    Most of the blame for low turnout belongs with the voters themselves. If you couldnt at least find one of the leaders (or a local candidate) to support then you are too stubbornly committed to your own point of view that you don’t realize you cant have everything you want in politics. Even if your local candidate didnt stand a chance you could go out and register your dissent.

    My experience has been that most people who dont vote either dont care about politics (possible because its “uncool”) or because you realize one vote doesnt make a difference. No electoral fix is going to change the fact that we are each just 1 in 30,000,000.

    We need to quit blaming politicians and “the system” for low voter turnout. Its called “VOTER turnout” for a reason. PR and “forced voting” arent going to change the fact that some folks just dont care and others are going look at the numbers and recognize their own insignificance.

  • I guess that’s my point though. Voter turnout is so low that almost any riding, incumbent or otherwise, could go a different direction if everyone in the riding voted.

    Yes, people might not relate fully to any one party or representative. But at least vote Rhino, or something. I could care less if people throw their votes away (figuratively), but doing nothing at all simply says people do not value their role in society.

    Devin’s recent post provides important steps that government can take to try to engage the public as well.

  • “Youth” are the smallest demographic size… for them to single handedly drop voting in this election by this significant an amount would be pretty amazing. I have a feeling that Canadians in general just ‘aint into democracy as they used to be.

  • What’s this about voting online? I doubt they will ever do that. People can screw with the results.lol

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