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With municipal and school board elections in the Strait area now over, one important question remains; why did so few people vote?
On October 15, after voters across the region went to the polls to choose mayors, councillors or school board members, Strait area returning officers reported some disturbing numbers.
In a part of Nova Scotia where voter turn-out numbers are consistently at or above 70 per cent, to the envy of the rest of the province, this election was much different.
Around the Strait area, roughly half of voters bothered to show up, and in some areas, it was far below the 50 per cent level.
In Antigonish County, a paltry and disturbing 38.6 per cent of voters actually turned out earlier this month, including a microscopic 26.22 per cent of voters who bothered to exercise their franchise in district 7.
While that number was higher in Inverness County, only 49 per cent of the electorate bothered to visit polls in that municipality, despite the fact that electors were choosing a new councillor in the Margarees, and the municipality’s warden and deputy wardens both faced stiff challenges.
Only half of eligible voters made their marks in the Town of Antigonish, which featured an intriguing three-way race for mayor and 10 candidates vying for six town council seats. This number is all the more bewildering when considering that eVoting was employed during this election to make it even easier to vote.
Although a very important election to determine their next mayor, only 50.2 per cent of Mulgrave voters participated, even though the next mayor will serve as the community’s municipal councillor when it joins the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) during this four-year term.
Speaking of the MODG, only 56.5 per cent of voters in the district registered their options at stations around the municipality, including a 43 per cent turn-out in district 2 which was decided by a single vote. It’s easy to assume that a few more voters might have made the results more certain.
The Town of Port Hawkesbury was on the higher end of the spectrum with a voter turn-out of 60 per cent, but this was well down from a healthy 72 per cent rate in 2012 and came during a very competitive election for four town council seats.
Speaking of lower voter numbers, even in Richmond County – where turn-out rarely falls below 70 per cent – only 66.7 per cent of voters bothered to mark their ballots. This was skewed by very low participation rates on the mainland portion of the municipality, with a disappointing 60 per cent in district 4 and an alarmingly anemic 52.8 per cent in district 5, which was decided by only 11 votes.
There are many factors for the lack of participation by voters across the Strait area.
The most obvious is the lack of choices on municipal and school board ballots as almost every contest featured two candidates, and in a very few isolated cases, there were three or more.
In Port Hawkesbury, the fact there was no election for mayor undoubtedly affected turn-out despite the strong slate of town council candidates.
Again this year there were many acclamations on the school board side. There were no elections for Conseil scolaire acadien provincial seats and only two Strait regional school board districts were challenged.
The chaos in Richmond County over the past year might have discouraged voters and other candidates, rather than bringing people out to the polls. And, the effort by some residents to have the Department of Municipal Affairs suspend the municipal election in Richmond County might have inspired some to stay home.
Considering the obnoxious, wall-to-wall election coverage south of the boarder, last year’s eventful federal election and the prospect of a provincial election around the corner, it’s also possible that voters are suffering from acute political fatigue.
Whatever their reasons, there are very few times, aside from illness or emergency, when not voting is acceptable.
There are those who might have consciously avoided polling stations but there are likely many more who could not have been bothered to spend a few minutes of their day engaging in democracy.
That is a disturbing trend that had not previously affected this region to this extent, and before this becomes a common occurrence, it’s time to find out why people did not vote and how this can be avoided in the future.
This level of apathy is simply unacceptable.