WEDNESDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — There’s a myth that interest in Kamloops civic elections has long been on the downward slope. Somebody really should do something, people say.
The Kamloops Chamber of Commerce called the media together Tuesday to talk about plans to generate some interest in this year’s municipal vote via an informed electorate. The chamber will embark on a program of video-taping candidates on key business issues and posting the interviews online.
It’s worth a try. If it doesn’t work, nothing is lost.
The Kamloops Voters Society, meanwhile, is organizing a comprehensive voter education program of its own centred on the notion that voters should inform themselves as much as possible and frame their ballots accordingly. For example, they will remind voters that voting for eight candidates on the City council ballot isn’t mandatory — if you feel you know and can only support less than that, then vote only for them.
However, this idea that Kamloops voters have become disengaged in the civic process is a myth. Low voter turnouts are a recent phenomenon. In the last civic election in 2011, barely 29 per cent of the eligible voters turned out, and in 2008 it was 28 per cent.
But, rather than an alarming trend, those numbers are more an indication of a spell of boredom with what’s going on in City Hall. Voters have simply taken a hiatus.
Let us illustrate. In 1990, the turnout for the civic election was a solid 58 per cent. In a mayoral byelection the following year, it was a respectable 47 per cent. In 1993 it dropped to 34 per cent, then 28 per cent in 1996, but that wasn’t a trend, it was a blip.
In 1999, the turnout soared back to 52 per cent, dipping back to 37 per cent in 2002 but resurging to 48 per cent in 2005. (By comparison, federal and provincial elections generally attract a turnout in the high 50s or low 60s. In 2013 just over half the eligible voters in B.C. turned out; the highest turnout was in the Kamloops-North Thompson riding, which brought 71 per cent to the polls.)
Thus, we go through periods in which interest waxes and wanes, but there’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest it’s caused by younger voters being turned off by some mysterious disengagement by the electorate. The common factor in low voter turnouts is that in years when there’s an interesting mayoral election the numbers go up. If not, they go down.
It has nothing to do with demographics or confusion over too many candidates but by interest in the top job. That doesn’t mean for a second no effort should be made to increase the turnout, but it would be helpful not to start from false premises.