HIGH STAKES AND LOW RESULTS
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.