Increase voter turnout by changing voting system, passing honesty-in-politics law, fixing by-election and election dates for late fall/early spring, and advertising all voter rights
Thursday, August 8, 2013
OTTAWA – Today Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to Ontario’s election system in response to low voter turnout in the recent provincial by-elections. Voter turnout will increase if the voting system is changed, an honesty-in-politics law is passed, by-election and election dates are fixed for late fall or early spring, and if Elections Ontario is required to educate Ontarians about all their voting rights in its advertising.
“The low average voter turnout of about 37% in the five by-elections held last week, along with the 49% turnout in the 2011 Ontario election, show clearly that major changes are needed to counter the threat of low turnout to the provincial government’s democratic legitimacy.” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “Unfortunately Elections Ontario and the Government of Ontario have failed to change anything so far, and Premier Wynne chose dates for the by-elections when many people were on holiday which likely hurt voter turnout.”
In addition to Elections Ontario being given the power to set by-election dates, and requiring it to educate voters about their right to decline the ballot (and disclosing declined ballot totals in election results), the provincial Election Act must also be changed to require the holding of by-elections and elections in the late fall or early spring, when holidays, student exams and summer jobs, and general busyness of anyone with kids, are least likely to make it difficult for large numbers of people voting.
In addition, the most important changes the Ontario parties can make to increase voter turnout are as follows:
- pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the Integrity Commissioner, and gives the Commissioner the power to penalize misleaders (and requires MPPs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election);
- change the voting system so that the percentage of MPPs each party receives more closely matches the popular vote percentages.
These changes would give voters a reason to vote because they would know that voting for a specific party would mean a guaranteed result in terms of percentage of MPPs elected and promises kept.
In addition, if the parties strengthen provincial ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws, voters will have more reason to vote because they would be more assured of good government no matter which party won.
“In addition to election dates often making it difficult for people to pay full attention to campaigns and get to the polls on election day, Canadians know from experience that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative and wasteful government no matter who they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout at such low levels,” said Sommers.
These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada. All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before either mandatory or Internet voting are tried (because both of those changes will likely have serious negative effects).
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting Systems Campaign