I’ve always found it difficult to care about municipal politics. Although Techvibes is based in Vancouver, I live in one of her many suburbs, so the cool big city politics in Van City don’t really apply to me; or, at least, I have no say in them. In my hometown, municipal officials don’t do much besides approve liquor licences and enforce fire codes.
So is it really any surprise then that voter turnout for municipal elections is critically low? Apparently only 35 per cent of eligible voters will show up for municipal elections in British Columbia. That’s not great. So how do we improve these numbers?
Elected officials in Vancouver and Surrey want to explore the possibility of moving to online voting for municipal elections. Voters would be sent a PIN number and enter their ballot either on a computer or over the phone.
Seems like a good idea, right? Just one problem: online voting isn’t allowed in B.C. From The Vancouver Sun:
The Local Government Act and the Vancouver Charter do not allow online voting and there is no plan to introduce amending legislation this year, the province said.
"Municipal electors will not be able to use the Internet and/or telephones to vote in the 2011 general local election --even as a pilot project. Such a proposal would require substantial policy analysis as well as legislative changes. Key issues to be considered would include security of the ballot and public confidence in electronic voting," a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development said in an email.
Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer is quoted in the article as saying, “There can be risks to online voting, I know. But I'd suggest that the risks are even greater to democracy when you have only 35 per cent of voters casting ballots.” And in a sense, she’s right: it is problematic and not truly representative when only 35 per cent of voters show up.
But if you ask me, moving to online voting solves the wrong problem. We shouldn’t be viewing the low voter turnout as a problem of voters being unable to show up at polling places, except maybe in remote communities with legitimate infrastructure issues. This is a problem of most people being uninterested in voting. When municipal politics mean so little to most people, is it any surprise that it’s hard for them to get excited about election night?
If you ask me, the best way to get people interested in municipal politics is for cities to have more power and for higher-quality candidates to answer the call to public service. If voters are so disinterested in voting that the only way to get them to vote is to not ask them to leave their homes, how valuable are these votes, really? I’m guessing that very little research has been done by them into the issues and candidates of the day. The uninformed, apathetic electorate created by online voting is less useful to our democracy than one entirely composed of interested voters.
What do you think, Techvibes readers? Would online voting help our democracy or hurt it? Would it allow for greater engagement, or simply be a victory for the Silly Party? Sound off in the comments section.