905 voter turnout “ap­palling”

One lo­cal can­di­date won with fewer than 2,000 votes

Richmond Hill Post - - News - This is not buy­ing a pair of shoes on Ama­zon. Democ­racy is based on peo­ple mak­ing in­di­vid­ual ef­fort.” –– Ge­orge Redak

This past elec­tion saw some of the low­est voter turnout num­bers in York Re­gion his­tory. In Vaughan, the turnout for the elec­tions was about 27 per cent across the mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Neigh­bour­ing Markham saw a higher voter turnout than re­cent his­tory at 38.26 per cent. How­ever, Rich­mond Hill took a big dip: The turnout there was also 27 per cent; five per cent lower than the pre­vi­ous year.

“In my area it was only 23 per cent,” said the in­cum­bent coun­cil­lor Alan Shef­man of Vaughan Ward 5. He won with 55 per cent of the vote. “I think that is ap­palling.”

Al­though there isn’t one sin­gle ex­pla­na­tion be­hind these low num­bers, there are cer­tainly a few sug­ges­tions be­ing thrown around by lo­cal can­di­dates and elec­tion win­ners alike.

This year, some can­di­dates no­ticed that the fast-paced na­ture of so­cial me­dia also changed the dy­nam­ics of cam­paign­ing. San­dra Ye­ung Racco, an­other in­cum­bent who won back her Thorn­hill ward with just shy of 50 per cent, said that dur­ing her cam­paign this year op­por­tu­ni­ties for face-to-face or di­rect di­a­logue be­came over­shad­owed by so­cial me­dia.

“A lot more fo­cus was on so­cial me­dia cam­paign­ing,” she said. “Face­book, In­sta­gram, Twit­ter, that seems to be the place where you need to place your ideas and plat­form.”

Other coun­cil­lors be­lieve that there’s not enough be­ing done to gen­er­ate buzz about elec­tions.

“I think we have to build the ex­cite­ment. Peo­ple need to un­der­stand it is a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Tom Muench, the coun­cil­lor for Ward 2 in Rich­mond Hill, who won with fewer than 2,000 votes. “There needs to be some real in­flu­ence to get them to vote. As with other things, com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs to be bet­ter at all lev­els.”

For Muench’s com­peti­tor Scott Thompson, how­ever, there is a larger un­der­ly­ing prob­lem with the voter lists.

“We can't go by those num­bers,” said Thompson. “I can guar­an­tee you the vot­ers list was not ac­cu­rate. I raised that is­sue right from the get-go when I first got the list.”

Thompson no­ticed one of the fam­i­lies on his street that had moved out a few years back was still on the vot­ers list, along with the cur­rent own­ers.

“I think we need to go back to a enu­mer­a­tion type of process,” said Shef­man about im­prov­ing fu­ture voter turnout. “Where peo­ple would be paid to go around the neigh­bour­hood, get ev­ery­one’s name and ad­dresses and have a much more ac­cu­rate vot­ers list.”

An er­ror in vot­ers lists can af­fect the turnout in a num­ber of ways, par­tic­u­larly with less in­formed vot­ers who may be un­aware of when and where to vote.

An­other so­lu­tion could be with on­line vot­ing, which some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, like Markham, have found some suc­cess with. Ac­cord­ing to Markham Votes, 91 per cent of cast bal­lots took place on­line.

How­ever, Shef­man and other coun­cil­lors and can­di­dates have con­cerns re­gard­ing on­line vot­ing. Dur­ing a Vaughan City Coun­cil meet­ing in April 2017, the op­tion to im­ple­ment on­line vot­ing for the 2018 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions was dis­cussed but ul­ti­mately re­jected by coun­cil.

“There is no way to con­trol who is vot­ing on­line,” said Shef­man. “A friend of mine in Markham, she said what she does in her house, she gets ev­ery­body’s cards and PIN num­bers and votes for ev­ery­body.”

The big­ger prob­lem to him lies in the cul­tural value of leav­ing the house to par­tic­i­pate in democ­racy.

“But I think, more im­por­tantly, this is not buy­ing a pair of shoes on Ama­zon,” he said. “This is dif­fer­ent. Democ­racy is based on peo­ple mak­ing in­di­vid­ual ef­fort.”

Ye­ung Racco is also hes­i­tant about on­line vot­ing.

“There are a lot of un­knowns, es­pe­cially when it comes to en­sur­ing we have hon­est vot­ing and that no cheat­ing will hap­pen,” said Ye­ung Racco.

Coun­cil will be able to vote once again on whether or not on­line vot­ing should be im­ple­mented be­fore the 2022 elec­tions.

In­cum­bent coun­cil­lor Alan Shef­man won Vaughan’s Ward 5 with 55 per cent of the vote

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