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Ontarians should not be surprised at low voter turnout in provincial election

Voting system, failure of Elections Ontario to inform voters of right to decline their ballot, and dishonesty and lack of key democratic reform promises, are likely reasons for 2nd lowest turnout in the province’s history

Despite Elections Ontario’s negligence, a record total of ballots were declined — 1,345% more than in 2011

Monday, June 23, 2014

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to Ontario’s political system in response to the clear crisis of low voter turnout in the provincial election.  Initial results show that the Ontario Liberals have won a majority of 58 of 107 seats with the support of only 19.5% of eligible voters, which raises serious questions about their mandate to govern, let alone implement any specific law or policy.

Only 52.1% of eligible voters cast a ballot (the second lowest turnout ever (tied with 2011), and 38% of the ballots cast were for the Liberals.

“With just over half of eligible voters casting ballots in the Ontario election, the second lowest turnout ever, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the provincial government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “Voter turnout will go up significantly only if the voting system is changed, if Elections Ontario does it’s job properly and informs Ontarians of their right to decline their ballot, and if the parties make promises to end undemocratic elections and government.”

Despite Elections Ontario’s illegal negligence in failing to inform voters about their right to decline the ballot, declined ballots increased 1,345% compared to 2011, from 2,335 in 2011 to the highest total ever of 31,399 (0.64% of total ballots cast).  This happened likely mainly because the media extensively covered Democracy Watch’s call for Elections Ontario to do its voter education job properly.

On average about 3,000 voters have declined their ballots in each provincial election since 1975, except in 1990 when 20,795 voters declined their ballots.

In addition, in the 2014 election a record total of 12,059 voters submitted a blank ballot (0.24% of total ballots cast), many of them possibly because there is clear evidence that many polling station workers don’t know how to respond when someone asks to decline their ballot). As well, 22,687 ballots were spoiled/rejected (0.46% of total ballots cast) — 10,000 more than in 2011.

These totals show the importance of Elections Ontario doing proper voter education to increase turnout (which is why Democracy Watch will be going to court asking for an order to force Elections Ontario to inform voters of their right to decline their ballot).

In addition, the Ontario parties must make the following changes if they want to increase voter turnout up to the past levels of 60-65%:

  • 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 to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote results in each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature), and;
  • strengthen provincial political ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws.

These changes would give voters many more reasons to vote because they would know that voting for a specific party would mean their vote would count and the party’s promises would be kept, and they would be more assured of democratic good government overall no matter which party won.  As well, moving the fixed election date to the last Monday in October would make it easier for people with kids, and students, to follow and participate in the election campaign and have the identification needed to vote.

“More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections 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 a low level,” said Conacher.

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 options will likely have serious negative effects).

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting Systems Campaign