In the last federal election, Canadian voter turnout hit a record low, with just shy of 60% of the population casting a ballot on October 14, 2008. Hearing that over one-third of us chose not to exercise the right to vote is depressing … until you hear that fewer than one-third of us bothered to vote at all in the last round of civic elections in British Columbia in 2005. With 26% voter turnout, New Westminster was only slightly below the B.C. average of 30%.
This is not something to be proud of.
And yet, this year’s election, we may see even worse numbers. Few people in Canada were happy with this month’s federal election results, no matter who they voted for. The whole exercise, as Rick Mercer pointed out, was nothing but a $300M waste of time.
The basic formula for determining whether someone will vote is
PB + D > C
Here, P is the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election, and B is the perceived benefit of that person’s favored political party or candidate being elected. D originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting. C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. Since P is virtually zero in most elections, PB is also near zero, and D is thus the most important element in motivating people to vote. For a person to vote, these factors must outweigh C. (Emphasis mine)
Whether or not the formula above is strictly true, it sure sums up the feeling for most people.
It takes creative thinking and an Annie-like sense of optimism to believe that your individual vote will impact the outcome of an election at the best of times. When you live in B.C. and CBC literally calls the outcome of the election the minute the polls close in your province, before any ballots in your province are counted, it’s almost impossible.
Add to this a growing cynicism about the political system and the politicians in general, and you get a populace who don’t feel their vote matters and doesn’t feel there’s much benefit in choosing one person or party over another (because “they’re all crooks”). That leaves only civic duty – or in today’s context, a sense of social or personal satisfaction in voting- to get you to the polling-place.
What does all this have to do with the civic election? Well having just gone through the rigamarole of a federal election that cost millions of dollars and changed virtually nothing, what little sense of ‘duty’ that still exists today has been spent.
For conscientious voters, it also means that having done the research to pick a federal candidate, you now have to start over and select not only one favourite, but a pack of them, including mayor, councillors and school board.
The time-pressed among us simply pick a party at the federal level rather than getting to know the local candidates, but that’s often not an option at the municipal level. Here in New West, party politics are only just beginning to infiltrate the local political scene, but it’s not really clear what policies really differentiate Voice New West from the current council other than a dislike of current mayor Wayne Wright (note to Wayne: time to update your site … it’s still plugging all-candidates’ meetings from 2005!).
To paraphrase Teen Talk Barbie, “Voting is hard!” By which I mean, yes there’s some work involved, but it’s time to suck it up buttercup. Your city council is guaranteed to make decisions that will impact your quality of life, from potentially increasing property taxes to supporting community gardens, to improving parks and rec facilities and shaping the character of your neighbourhood.
Will and I will blog the information and impressions we have regarding New Westminster politics leading up to and beyond V-day. We’re trying to line up some interviews with our local candidates, and we’ll also try to dig into some of the top issues we see here in New West.
Drop us a line in the comments if you’ve got a specific question or issue you want us to tackle before the election and we’ll do our best to accommodate.