Turnout low on last day of ref­er­en­dum

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - Amy SMART

VAN­COU­VER — An ad­vo­cate for main­tain­ing Bri­tish Columbia’s elec­toral sys­tem as it is ques­tions whether res­i­dents re­ally care about re­form, given voter turnout fig­ures re­leased on the fi­nal day of the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign.

Elec­tions BC said it had re­ceived 41 per cent of el­i­gi­ble bal­lots by Fri­day morn­ing in the ref­er­en­dum, which asks vot­ers whether they would prefer to keep the ex­ist­ing first-past-the-post sys­tem or move to a form of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Bal­lots could be re­turned by mail or in per­son and those re­ceived be­fore the 4:30 p.m. dead­line on Fri­day will be counted.

“Forty-one per cent in­di­cates to me that most Bri­tish Columbians re­ally don’t find pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion or our elec­toral sys­tem an ex­tremely im­por­tant topic,” said Bill Tiele­man, Vote No spokesman, adding it’s likely that the turnout will re­main lower than two pre­vi­ous ref­er­en­dums in 2005 and 2009.

“It kind of in­di­cates what we’ve said all along, that this ref­er­en­dum wasn’t nec­es­sary.”

In 2005, voter turnout was 61 per cent. About 57 per cent of bal­lots were cast in favour of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which did not meet the thresh­old of 60 per cent to make it bind­ing on the gov­ern­ment.

Four years later, voter turnout was 55 per cent and 61 per cent voted in favour of first past the post.

The lat­est ref­er­en­dum is bind­ing and the win­ner will be de­clared by a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of votes cast.

Tiele­man said if the vote favours pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, he’d ques­tion whether the elec­torate re­ally sup­ports the shift.

If turnout re­mains in the range of 40 per cent and just over half of those votes are for change, that would mean only about 20 per cent of the elec­torate voted for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, while 80 per cent ei­ther voted against it or didn’t vote at all, he said.

But Green party leader An­drew Weaver, who sup­ports pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, said the re­sults should be ac­cepted what­ever they may be.

If civic elec­tion re­sults are ac­cepted when turnout is lower than 41 per cent, then so should the ref­er­en­dum re­sults, he said.

“The re­al­ity is, this is our demo­cratic sys­tem. We are en­ti­tled to vote, we can vote if we wish and if we choose not to vote, we make that choice ac­cord­ingly,” Weaver said.

“We have all along said that we will sup­port what­ever out­come there is. It’s an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to get en­gaged in dis­cus­sions about our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and the peo­ple are ul­ti­mately right,” Weaver added.

“What­ever they choose is what we’ll move for­ward with.”

Maria Do­brin­skaya, an ad­vo­cate with the Vote PR BC cam­paign, said low voter turnout is a symp­tom of the pub­lic’s dis­en­gage­ment with the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and that’s one of the things the Yes side hopes elec­toral re­form will change.

“I would like to see voter turnout be a lot higher and cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion in our demo­cratic pro­cesses a lot more en­gaged. I’m hop­ing that bring­ing in a new way of vot­ing will be one part of start­ing to ad­dress that,” she said.

Given that the vote could change the fun­da­men­tals of Bri­tish Columbia’s democ­racy, B.C. Liberal Leader An­drew Wilkinson said he’d prefer to see a strong ma­jor­ity vote one way or the other. But he said pass­ing the 40 per cent turnout mark is im­pres­sive, be­cause it is a com­pli­cated topic.

“This was such a con­fus­ing bal­lot that it’s ac­tu­ally com­fort­ing to see that many peo­ple took the time to sort it out and cast their vote, so we’re all go­ing to be watch­ing with in­ter­est to see what peo­ple de­cide,” Wilkinson said.

He ex­pressed con­cern, how­ever, that if pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion passes, an even smaller por­tion of the elec­torate will have voted in favour of the par­tic­u­lar form it takes.

A sec­ond ques­tion on the bal­lot asked vot­ers to rank one of three forms of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which has the sup­port of the prov­ince’s NDP gov­ern­ment.

“If less than a quar­ter of the pub­lic chooses to change to pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and then a frac­tion of them choose one of the NDP-se­lected sys­tems, I think there’s go­ing to be a real prob­lem,” Wilkinson said.

Elec­tions BC spokes­woman Re­becca Penz said fi­nal turnout num­bers will con­tinue to be re­ported into early next week. She said the elec­tions au­thor­ity is hop­ing to re­lease re­sults by Christ­mas.

Other prov­inces, in­clud­ing Prince Ed­ward Is­land and On­tario, have also held ref­er­en­dums on their elec­toral sys­tems but nei­ther made any changes.

In Prince Ed­ward Is­land in 2016, the Liberal gov­ern­ment de­cided not to hon­our a pro­vin­cial plebiscite on elec­toral re­form, in which only 36 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers took part.

If less than a quar­ter of the pub­lic chooses to change to pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and then a frac­tion of them choose one of the NDP-se­lected sys­tems, I think there’s go­ing to be a real prob­lem.

— An­drew Wilkinson,

B.C. Liberal leader

CP FILE PHOTO

Premier John Hor­gan and B.C. Green Party leader An­drew Weaver cheer fol­low­ing their speeches at a rally in sup­port of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Vic­to­ria on Oct. 23. Fri­day was the last day of the mail-in ref­er­en­dum on elec­toral re­form.

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