Low voter turnout difficult to explain 

Elections B.C. boosted registration, tried to remove barriers

Despite a record number of British Columbians registering with Elections B.C., actual voter participation in the May 17 provincial election increased only slightly over the record low recorded in 2001 – which means a record number of eligible voters stayed away from the polls.

Before the 2005 General Election, Elections B.C. succeeded in registering 2,763,765 voters, or approximately 91.51 per cent of all eligible voters. In 2001 just 2,227,424 voters registered, representing 70.95 per cent of all eligible voters.

On May 17, 1,679,202 voters cast ballots, up from 1,599,765 voters in 2001. While that’s a significant increase, the percentage of eligible voters casting ballots increased from 55.44 per cent in 2001 to just 55.59 per cent in 2005.

In real numbers, 1,084,563 registered voters did not cast ballots this year, compared to 655,155 in 2001.

Before the general election, Elections B.C. attempted to reverse declining participation numbers with their most aggressive voter registration campaign in history. There was a province-wide mail-out campaign, and, for the first time, voters could register through the Elections B.C. website, by e-mail, and through a toll-free number. The list of registered voters from last year’s federal election was also adopted and voter information was made available in several languages.

After a few changes to the election laws, there were also more ways to vote this year, with polls accepting ballots from other ridings, and election officials visiting hospitals, seniors’ residences and prisons.

Elections B.C. could not explain why a record registration did not result in a greatly increased turnout.

"There’s lots of research on why people don’t vote, but from our perspective we’ve removed the barriers and made it possible for more people to vote. Why they didn’t is another question," said Jennifer Miller, the communications manager for Elections B.C. "This (low turnout) is not just something we’re seeing in B.C., but throughout Canada and throughout the globe as well, it’s a bigger problem than just our province.

"On the positive side, we did see more people voting, we did not see another decline, which we’ve seen every election over the last 22 years. We didn’t go backwards."

According to Miller, the new voter registration laws and election day voting options made B.C. one of the easiest jurisdictions to vote in across Canada.

"We feel we did everything we could to register voters, and to make it easy to vote… if people didn’t vote it wasn’t because there were any barriers," she added.

In Whistler just 2,297 people came out to vote on May 17. Joan McIntyre of the B.C. Liberal Party won the West Vancouver-Garibaldi riding with a confirmed 50.78 per cent of the popular vote, and finished with 1,009 votes, or 43.9 per cent of the vote in Whistler.

She was trailed closely by Dennis Perry of the Green Party of B.C. with 987 votes, or 42.9 of the votes in Whistler. Lyle Fenton of the NDP garnered 11 per cent of the Whistler vote, or 255 votes. Barbara Ann Reid of the B.C. Conservative Party was a distant fourth with 45 votes in Whistler. There were 11 rejected ballots.

With an estimated year-round population of nearly 10,000, including more than 8,000 adults, Whistler’s turnout of eligible voters was well below the provincial average. Whistler is also one of the youngest towns in the province, on average, and voter turnout among younger age groups is traditionally below average.

Over the next few weeks Elections B.C. will be releasing final election results, as well as detailed statistics on voter ages.


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