There’s no turn­ing back from mod­ern vot­ing meth­ods

Wiarton Echo - - FORUM -

his month On­tario saw the big­gest leap into mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion tech­nol­ogy ever. From ranked bal­lots in the City of Lon­don to mail-in bal­lots in a num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, vot­ing has changed, likely for­ever.

Tele­phone and in­ter­net vot­ing might well be the wave of the fu­ture, but these meth­ods hit a ma­jor glitch this year when de­mand to vote late on elec­tion day vastly ex­ceeded the abil­ity of the tech­nol­ogy to ac­cept those votes.

The win­dow for bal­lot­ing was ex­tended by 24 hours to en­sure ev­ery­one had a chance to have their votes counted.

This re­ally made elec­tion night anti-cli­mac­tic since even the vote tal­ly­ing was a bit of a fiz­zle.

Although such a 24-hour de­lay is un­prece­dented, this glitch doesn’t ap­pear to have started much of a hue and cry against the new vot­ing sys­tem. Per­haps vot­ers are will­ing to give the new meth­ods a chance or are sim­ply too ap­a­thetic to be both­ered about the whole mess.

Voter turnout would in­di­cate the lat­ter is at least par­tially a fac­tor. In mu­nic­i­pal­ity af­ter mu­nic­i­pal­ity, voter turnout was down from pre­vi­ous years and below ex­pec­ta­tions.

In gen­eral, low turnout is at­trib­uted to dis­il­lu­sion­ment, in­dif­fer­ence, or a sense of fu­til­ity (the per­cep­tion that one’s vote won’t make any dif­fer­ence).

Ac­cord­ing to Stan­ford Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Adam Bon­ica and Michael McFaul, there is a con­sen­sus among po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists that “democ­ra­cies per­form bet­ter when more peo­ple vote.”

Dr. San­jay Jeram, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, re­cently told a re­porter that some of the ex­per­i­ments that have been run in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence point to a lack of un­der­stand­ing among vot­ers as to what city gov­ern­ments do and their im­pact on the vot­ers’ bot­tom lines.

“Most peo­ple, when asked, can’t re­ally iden­tify the di­vi­sion of power, es­pe­cially between cities and prov­inces.”

Dr. Peter Smith, also a pro­fes­sor at SFU said, “Some peo­ple get a bit over­whelmed.”

When vot­ing for a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment or the Leg­is­la­ture, you can find more in­for­ma­tion with less ef­fort.

In one ex­am­ple from Bri­tish Columbia, in the last fed­eral elec­tion Sur­rey vot­ers elected five MPs out of 25 can­di­dates.

In this month’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, the same vot­ers were tasked with elect­ing one mayor out of eight can­di­dates, eight coun­cil­lors out of 48 can­di­dates, and six school trustees out of 30 can­di­dates. A sim­i­lar heav­ier weight­ing of num­bers is not un­com­mon in lo­cal elec­tions across the coun­try.

De­clin­ing voter turnout is not unique to On­tario or even to Canada; it’s been said to be trend­ing down­ward in most es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies since the 1980s.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to know at this junc­ture how much new vot­ing meth­ods might have dis­cour­aged voter turnout. It’s a given that some vot­ers wouldn’t take that new step.

In the­ory the new meth­ods should make it eas­ier to vote and there­fore im­prove turnout num­bers. How­ever, if vot­ers are frus­trated try­ing to ex­er­cise their fran­chise on the in­ter­net, they might throw up their hands in frus­tra­tion. Ob­vi­ously that would be an un­in­tended con­se­quence of try­ing to bring our elec­tions into the 21st cen­tury.

How­ever, vot­ing is no ex­cep­tion in a world be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more com­pli­cated. At this stage it would be un­wise to re­treat from new vot­ing sys­tems.

In­stead we must find ways to sim­plify and im­prove mod­ern meth­ods to make vot­ing a more im­por­tant part of civic life.

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