905 voter turnout “appalling”
One local candidate won with fewer than 2,000 votes
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.”
This is not buying a pair of shoes on Amazon. Democracy is based on people making individual effort.”
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