There’s no turning back from modern voting methods
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.