Ottawa had one of the highest turnout in municipal elections on Monday night in the entire province, but the city still saw only 44 percent of eligible voters cast a vote.
That’s more than the 42.5 percent turnout in Ottawa’s 2018 municipal elections, but only 316,260 of the city’s 722,227 eligible voters went to the polls this year, according to preliminary numbers from Ottawa’s Elections.
However, compared to other cities, that is a lot. Toronto, Oakville, Newmarket and London had less than 30 percent turnout, while Windsor achieved 31.5 percent.
The first figures from the Ontario Association of Municipalities show a turnout of 36 percent in 301 of the 444 municipalities that have held local elections.
Some experts expected higher turnout after seeing record turnout for advanced polls. Another reason expected to draw voters was the first competitive mayoral race in 12 years, as incumbent Jim Watson was not seeking reelection.
The Rideau-Vanier neighborhood had the lowest turnout at just 37 percent.
“It’s not a lot of votes at all,” said neighborhood candidate Laura Shantz, who lost to Stéphanie Plante on Monday evening by 323 votes. “I think that in itself contributed to the results we saw.”
Zachary Spicer, an associate professor at York University’s School of Public Policy, said that while he is somewhat surprised, municipal elections typically show the lowest civic engagement.
He says people feel a discrepancy between the problems they face and what the council can do about it.
“Many of the major issues that are at the center of many people’s concerns right now are inflation, cost of living, economy, job concerns, still questions about COVID, the war in Ukraine,” Spicer said.
“A lot of things happen there that I think [is] affect people. It is clear that none of those problems can really be solved at the municipal level.”
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Mark Sutcliffe, who elected Ottawans as the city’s new mayor on Monday, was also surprised by the low turnout.
“As I spoke to people over the past week I felt a strong sense of involvement in the election. You will always encounter people who are not paying attention, but for the most part I met people and knocked on doors and heard a response that they are going to vote.”
Sutcliffe, in conversation with CBC Radios Ottawa morningsaid he understands it’s part of a larger trend of low turnout, but is humbled by the fact that more than 161,000 people voted for him.
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Residents weigh in
Then there’s the convenience.
“I go to school and have midterm exams,” Ottawa resident Francis Kara said of why he didn’t vote. “I do not have time.”
Mariah Fridgen said she wanted to vote but felt she didn’t know enough about the candidates.
“I think a lot of young people are the same way when they just get stuck in their day-to-day lives and don’t think about it and then the time comes and then it’s like ‘I’ve never looked at any of these people’,” she said. .
A friend was busy caring for his husband and was unable to vote. If Ottawa had online voting as an option, voting would be much more accessible to many.
Others suggest they would vote if there was an opportunity to vote online.
Ontario has offered municipal elections for about two decades, but there is no provincial standard for conducting online polls.
If a municipality chooses to use an alternative method, as Belleville, Brockville and Kingston do to some extent, it is left to establish its own voting guidelines using a supplier of its choice.
Spicer said it is an option Ottawa should consider if it wants more people to participate in municipal elections.
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