In the wake of a provincial election that handed Doug Ford’s Conservatives a second majority, a lingering question remains: why is voter apathy so high?
Despite 10 days of advance polls that were open 12 hours per day on most of those days, a mail-in option, and a 12-hour voting window on election day, Ontario still saw its lowest voter turnout in history. Early Elections Ontario data from yesterday’s election shows that only about 43 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.
One wonders what the outcome would have been if voting were mandatory, and the way votes are counted were different.
Let’s look to our Aussie friends for another way.
Australia just had a federal election last month. More than 90 per cent of voters cast ballots, a number typical of all of the country’s elections. Why? One reason is that voting has been compulsory in Australia since 1924, with a small (A$20) fine levied against those who don’t. (The fine can be waived if a voter has a “valid and sufficient” reason for not voting.)
Australia is not the only country where citizens are legally required to vote—Belgium, Brazil, and Peru are among the countries around the world that have some form of compulsory voting.
Australia also has a preferential voting system. Voters rank candidates rather than choosing just one. If no candidate has an absolute majority (more than 50 per cent of the votes), then the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and the second choice on each of the ballots cast for that candidate are added to the other candidates’ totals. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes.
The Australian system ensures that for those voters whose first choice didn’t win, their second (and perhaps third) at least has the chance to be counted.
While the system has its detractors, with some saying that if citizens have the right to vote, they should also have the right not to vote, most seem to accept the system which ensures that no vote is “wasted”.
Contrast that with Ontario, where just 18 per cent of the more than 10 million eligible voters in the province supported the government that will now rule for another four years.
Ontario saw a significantly higher voter turnout in the 2018 election, with 57 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot. But even then, that translated to support for the winning Conservative party from only about 23 per cent of registered voters.
Or consider the last federal election, which had a more respectable 62 per cent voter turnout, but the Liberals won 47 per cent of the seats thanks to 32 per cent of the votes, representing just 20 per cent of Canada’s 27,366,397 registered voters.
In local polls, MPP-elect Graydon Smith received 45 per cent of the ballots cast on June 2, but that equates to only 26 per cent of registered voters in the riding.
It’s no wonder Canadian voters are disillusioned.
A hat tip to Kai Brach’s Dense Discovery newsletter, where I first learned of Australia’s voting system.
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