but, the one thing Pammet and LeDuc note that given the analyses in their report, it is suggested that the decline in voter turnout is likely to continue for some time.
When those that indicated that they hadnt voted were asked “What was the main reason you did not cast a ballot?,” Pammet and LeDuc received a variety of responses.
Some of the answers they received concerned a decrease interest in election and politics in general.
These types of responses raise more questions than they answer. Obviously declining interest in politics and elections would equate to a reduction in voter turnout, but then the question then becomes, why is interest declining? Pammet and LeDuc believe that there are several reasons for this declining interest, rather than one primary cause.
They also note that turnout for Canadian federal elections have been traditionally lower than voter turnout in other countries, especially in those countries where voting is compulsory.
Prior to the recent decline, many studies have been conducted regarding why the relatively high percentage of non-voters, in comparison to some other countries.
These studies showed that there were several reasons why people were not voting prior to the decline that began in the 1990s.
Approximately 40% of non-voters of these earlier elections indicated that they simply werent interested in the election. About one-third of respondents indicated that they were away from their polling places on election day. Twenty percent of non-voters prior to the decline said they were too busy to vote. and, ten percent noted that they were sick on election day, while the remainder did not give a specific reason.
Heard, however, makes an interesting distinction in his exploration of low voter turnout in Canadian national elections. He notes that although the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots has declined over the last 140 years, that this is a bit of a misleading figure. There are fluctuations in the numbers and percentages of registered voters when considered as a percentages of the whole population in Canada. Heard further surmises that if one were to compute the percentage of votes figured as a percentage of the entire population, then the decline, although still there, is not as dramatic. Although the percentage is significantly lower, 45% for the 2000 national election, it is similar in percentage to the 40 to 50% of total population turnout seen historically since 1935 (See Table 1).
So, what is being done to re-engage voters in the Canadian federal elections? As there are a variety of reasons for declining voter turnout, there are a variety of methods being utilized and considered to turnaround this decline. One such solution targets youth specifically. With the staggering number of youths who are not participating in federal elections, there are a variety civic campaigns geared to engage younger voters more fully in elections. Some believe that youth are not voting due to their lack of political knowledge.
Schools may be failing to prepare Canadas youngest voters properly to fully participate in citizenship (Heard).
As such, more civic participation programs in the school system is one solution for addressing this fickle demographic.
Another suggestion for improving voter turnout is in more door-to-door canvassing.
Comparative research has suggested that countries with more door-to-door canvassing have higher rates of voter turnout. Canadian campaigns have come to rely less and less on repeated doorstep contact in favour of central advertising campaigns and mass mailings, and this approach may result in a less directly personal involvement among voters (Heard).
Even resorting to old-style, mid-twentieth century “treating,” according to Heard, has been suggested, where voters were rewarded for turning up to the polls with items like folding money, a box of chocolates, or even a mickey of rum.
However, perhaps Canadas best solution for bringing voters to the polls is in proportional representation (PR).
PR is a fairly straightforward concept. In this system, there is a direct link between the total number of votes a party receives and the number of legislators it elects (Ivinson; “Why PR”). As an example, if a party receives 20% of the votes, they would elect 20% of the MPs.
Levenson illustrates another issue that has come up in recent elections. Occasionally, a party does not win the majority of votes, but when three parties are running, the party with the highest total may not have more than 50% of the votes, meaning that a majority of people are actually still opposed to the elected candidate.
Levenson notes that “only when we demand proportional representation in federal elections, which will in turn almost always necessitate coalition governments, such as those in Sweden and Germany, can we hope for any relief from the coy maneuvering and ad hockery of minority prime ministers.” Of course, he further suggests that there be a cut-off point of four or five percent of the popular vote, for party representation, just as in Sweden and Germany.
Mullins further illustrates this point by noting that with only 10.5% of the national popular vote, the Bloc now has power over 100% of all Canadians. With their measly 10.5% of the votes, the Bloc received 51 seats in the 308-seat Parliament. He surmises that the antiquated voting system currently in place is not serving Canada effectively in the countrys multi-party landscape.
If a PR system had been in place and the representation was awarded in proportion to the votes received in the popular vote, they would have been only awarded 32 seats, and would not have the control they now have on the Parliament. With the Conservative-Separatist axis, Mullins concern is that the Bloc now has all of the power in Canada, because of the damaged voting system.
The PR system is not a new concept. As mentioned, Sweden and Germany both utilize the system. In fact, there are approximately 70 democracies around the world that use a form of the PR system, with the balance between the votes cast and the number of legislators awarded to a party (Mullins). In addition,
Twenty two per cent of voters in Vancouver voted Conservative and deserve to have one of five Vancouver MPs elected, Fair Vote said. Similarly in Montreal, 15 per cent voted Tory and should have elected three of 18 Montreal-area MPs. Meanwhile, Fair Vote said that in Canadas largest city, 24 per cent voted Conservative and the party should have elected five of Torontos 22 MPs (Vongdouangchanh).
These statistics are compelling.
If its such an excellent system, what are the reasons why the PR system hasnt caught on earlier, in Canada? First, not many Canadians are familiar with the system, and there is still the general sense of apathy that has plagued voting in general. In addition, the media, for the most part, has panned the issue (Mullins). There is also a general natural fear of change.
However, in the end, change is exactly what the country needs. Although the percentage of voters vs. The overall population is not as drastic of a decline, the percentage of voters in comparison to simply registered voters is disturbingly low. Although not a unique situation for countries to be in, Canadas voter turnout is significantly lower than many countries, especially European countries. and, the reasons for this are varied. There is a general distrust of politicians and the government in general. In addition, voters often reported feeling that their vote simply didnt count due to unbeatable party dominance. Lastly, there was a general lack of interest that has carried over from before the primary decline that has only worsened the sense of apathy for Canadian voters. and, although younger voters are one of the demographics to most sharply decline, there reasons for not voting are very similar to their older peers including: not feeling like their vote matters.
But, just as the root cause for reduced voter turnout is multi-faceted, the solution is not simple either. Lack of education in the school system has been blamed for low youth voter turnout, as such increased programming in school is one such campaign. Increased door-to-door canvassing has shown positive results in other countries, and as such may be an alternative Canada wishes to pursue. Even providing rewards or treats for voters that turn up at the polls, trinket bribery, is a possibility. However, Canadas best hope for re-engaging declining voters may lie in proportional representation. PR would allow parties to receive representation depending on the percentage of votes they garnered. Gone would be the winner-take-all strategy currently employed. The PR system has the distinct advantage of addressing the challenges of a multi-party system where the winner of an election often doesnt have a majority of voters supporting him or her. and, it allows each individuals vote, even those in a minority party, an opportunity for their vote to truly count. This meaningfulness of the individual vote may be exactly what Canada needs to.