Kawartha Lakes released a detailed breakdown of the 2018 municipal election as part of a proposal for changes to the 2022 municipal election tentatively approved by council on Jan. 12. The numbers make it clear that voter turnout for municipal elections needs improvement, both in Kawartha Lakes and the rest of Ontario.
In 2018, voter turnout in Kawartha Lakes was just under 39 per cent, slightly higher than the provincial average of 38 per cent. Voters numbering 25,280 exercised their franchise with 20 per cent of summer residents casting a ballot and 43 per cent of full-time residents voting. It was via internet that 78 per cent voted, 16 per cent voted by phone and six per cent voted at polling stations set up in long-term care homes and retirement homes. Voters under the age of 40 were least engaged with the system with only 21 per cent of them voting. Voters 60-80 years of age took their civic responsibilities most seriously with 51 per cent participating.
In the last municipal election, voter turn-out by ward varied wildly across the city.
The lowest voter turnout was in ward one with Emmett Yeo winning the majority of the 27 per cent of voters who cast a ballot. Of 9,629 eligible voters only 2,593 decided to vote. Some ward one residents have suggested that their area skews significantly towards seasonal residents.
The highest voter turn-out was in ward five where 46 per cent of residents chose veteran council war horse Pat Dunn over a full slate of challengers. Voter turnout showed 4,102 of 8,959 voters participated in that selection. At least three of the candidates, including Dunn, began their campaigns early, getting out and knocking on doors and introducing themselves to the voters.
Dunn said he knocked on every door in the ward at least once. Residents of the ward received mailings from all the candidates and were well aware of the stands being taken by each individual.
If strong and involved candidates and political fireworks are the key to voter enthusiasm, some wonder what happened in ward six with voter turnout in a race involving four current or former councilors. Pat Warren, Gerard Jilesen, Ron Ashmore and Mary Ann Martin were all well known in the ward with Martin and Jilesen the incumbent councillors from the condensed 16 member council of 2014.
Ashmore had been a councillor from the area previously, as had Warren whose long history stretched back to county council and Bobcaygeon council pre-amalgamation. The competition was fiercely contested, but only 41 per cent of the voters turned out, with Ashmore taking the seat.
A listing below shows the remaining wards across the city. The numbers are disappointingly low, with no ward breaking the 50 per cent ceiling on voter participation.
Ward 2 – Councilor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan – 42 per cent turnout.
Ward 3 – Councilor Doug Elmslie – 41 per cent turnout.
Ward 4 – Councilor Andrew Veale – 34 per cent turnout.
Ward 7 – Councilor Partick O’Reilly – 42 per cent turnout.
Ward 8 – Councilor Tracy Richardson – 31 per cent turnout.
Professor Leah Levac, an assistant professor of political science at University of Guelph, and Professor Robert Williams, professor emeritus of political science at University of Waterloo, have written extensively on the thirty-year trend of declining participation in municipal elections. Their theories may certainly be applicable to Kawartha Lakes.
Levac believes that municipal elections spend far too much time focusing on the issue of property taxes. Too much focus on taxation causes people who do not own property to think the outcome of the election does not affect them, write Levac, and so many do not vote.
“Taxpayers may also be content with municipal services, and therefore voting is not a priority,” Levac continued. “We should also look at voter fatigue. Municipal elections should not fall in the same year as provincial and federal elections, where often they get ignored by voters in general.”
Levac warned that internet voting may not be the panacea for poor voter turnout that some areas like Kawartha Lakes are hoping, particularly amongst youth voters.
“Online voting is a popular answer right now,” Levac pointed out, “but there is no evidence to suggest it increases youth turnout.”
Williams largely blamed media for the lack of municipal voter interest and enthusiasm. Too much of local media “is not truly local anymore,” he writes, referencing corporate media companies. “It is regional at best and there is a lack of in-depth local coverage in many markets.”
As well, he notes often there is not much difference or diversity in ideas and platforms between candidates which doesn’t help.
“With miniscule election budgets candidates with name recognition are favoured and often incumbents win election after election.”