HIGH STAKES AND LOW RE­SULTS

Vancouver Sun - - EDITORIAL -

Elec­tions B.C. re­ports that there are 3,291,297 reg­is­tered vot­ers in B.C., ev­ery one of whom has been sent a bal­lot in the 2018 ref­er­en­dum on elec­toral re­form. As of Thurs­day, guess how many bal­lots had been re­turned.

Elec­tions B.C. had re­ceived just 86,907 bal­lots — a mere 2.6 per cent of the to­tal.

That seems wor­ry­ingly low, given that we are nearly three weeks into the ref­er­en­dum and the pre­vail­ing wis­dom is that a large vol­ume of bal­lots are re­turned at the start of vot­ing pe­ri­ods with mail-in votes. An­other bunch also come in as vot­ing dead­lines near.

In 15 of B.C.’s 87 rid­ings, the re­turns were so low, just hand­fuls of bal­lots, that they reg­is­tered zero-per-cent re­turn rates — rid­ings like Ab­bots­ford West (37,367 reg­is­tered vot­ers) and Co­quit­lam-Burke Moun­tain (41,963 vot­ers), where just three peo­ple re­turned their bal­lots, or Maple Ridge-Pitt Mead­ows (four re­turned bal­lots) or Sur­rey- Green Tim­bers, Delta North and Maple Ridge-Mis­sion (all with five).

And what should one take from the low re­turns in Sur­rey — not to pick on Sur­rey — where a mere 0.12 per cent of bal­lots had been re­turned — just 402 to­tal bal­lots from the 333,431 reg­is­tered vot­ers in Sur­rey’s nine rid­ings.

Not sur­pris­ingly, rid­ings with tra­di­tion­ally higher lev­els of sup­port for the Green party, which sup­ports switch­ing B.C.’s vot­ing sys­tem to pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, are wit­ness­ing some of the high­est rates of re­turn for bal­lots.

As we get closer to the dead­line, we can ex­pect more votes.

In Courte­nay-Co­mox, for ex­am­ple, 9.9 per cent of bal­lots had been mailed in, the high­est pro­por­tion as of Thurs­day of all rid­ings.

Bound­ary- Sim­ilka­meen (8.5 per cent), Koote­nay West (7.8 per cent) and North Is­land (8.0 per cent) are other ex­am­ples.

One can only spec­u­late why vot­ers don’t ap­pear to be tak­ing a more ac­tive in­ter­est, at least so far, in the ref­er­en­dum, whether it’s vot­ing fa­tigue, part of the gen­eral de­cline in the pub­lic’s in­ter­est in pol­i­tics, a mis­guided view that elec­toral re­form isn’t im­por­tant or even don’t know that the ref­er­en­dum is hap­pen­ing. Per­haps some part of the low re­turns are re­lated to the ro­tat­ing Canada Post strike.

One might hope that vot­ers were per­haps wait­ing to watch Thurs­day’s tele­vi­sion de­bate on elec­toral re­form be­tween NDP Premier John Hor­gan, who sup­ports pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and Lib­eral Leader An­drew Wilkin­son, who sup­ports our cur­rent first-past-the-post vot­ing sys­tem, be­fore de­cid­ing how to mark their ref­er­en­dum bal­lot.

As the elec­toral re­form dis­cus­sion heats up as we get close to the Nov. 30 dead­line to mail in the bal­lots, we can ex­pect that many more Bri­tish Columbians will vote and let the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment know how they want fu­ture B.C. elec­tions to be held.

One of the many mis­takes the Hor­gan gov­ern­ment made in de­sign­ing the rules for the ref­er­en­dum was that they im­posed no re­quire­ment con­cern­ing how many bal­lots had to be cast to le­git­imize the ref­er­en­dum.

And in al­low­ing a sim­ple 50-per-cent-plu­sone ma­jor­ity to de­cide the re­sult, that could mean that a tiny per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion — likely those most com­mit­ted to elec­toral re­form that serves their own in­ter­ests who will get out the vote — could per­ma­nently change our elec­tion rules and the kinds of gov­ern­ments that will run the prov­ince into the fu­ture.

Given such high stakes, the low re­sults are a con­cern. If only a small pro­por­tion of vot­ers cast bal­lots, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment may find it­self with­out a gen­uine man­date to change how Bri­tish Columbians vote.

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