Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Byelection turnouts usually sparse

With PM's job not at stake, fewer votes up for grabs

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OTTAWA -- The number of people who have already voted in the Winnipeg North byelection soared this month compared to the last general election.

But don't expect that to mean turnout at the polls next week will follow suit.

Byelections traditionally have among the lowest turnout of any election, no matter the level of government, said Richard Sigurdson, University of Manitoba politics professor and dean of the faculty of arts.

"There just isn't as much at stake," he said. "Most people are motivated to come to the polls to decide who the government will be."

Elections Canada last week reported turnout at advance polls for all three of the byelections that will be decided Nov. 29. In Winnipeg North, the preliminary numbers suggest 2,057 people voted at the advance polls, 39 per cent more than voted in the advance polls in that riding in the 2008 general election.

In Vaughan, a riding in suburban Toronto, advance-poll turnout was over 4,000, a 30 per cent jump from 2008.

In Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, advance-poll turnout dropped 48 per cent.

It could be a function of interest. The races in both Winnipeg North and Vaughan are close and getting out the vote could have a huge impact on who wins.

In Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, few think anyone but Conservative Robert Sopuck has a chance.

Sigurdson said most often if advance polls increase, it's due to their becoming more accessible and common, not because it's attracting people to vote who wouldn't otherwise have done so.

"People that know about advance polls are already more informed than John and Joe on the street," he said.

Most often, byelections have dismal interest from the electorate.

Since 2006, there have been 13 byelections in federal ridings. The highest turnout in any of them was in the Quebec riding of Roberval-Lac Saint Jean in 2007 when 46.8 per cent of voters cast a ballot. In four of them, turnout was under 25 per cent, meaning less than one in four voters went to the polls.

Many of them were held within a year of a general election where turnout was far better.

Sigurdson said occasionally a byelection can occur at a time of unrest among the electorate, such as in the late 1980s when everything was about free trade. There are no such national issues at stake this time.

Sometimes there can also be local issues that compel people to the polls. In Winnipeg North, the campaign began just after a shooting spree left two people dead and a teenage girl injured. It made crime the number-one focus of the campaign and might get some people paying more attention.

Byelections can, however, be a chance for voters to send a message to a party or elect a candidate who offers something different without affecting the overall makeup of government. Occasionally it means a candidate is elected who probably doesn't have much chance in a general election.



Average voter turnout: 35.4 per cent

Average voter turnout, last three general elections: 61.4 per cent




Average voter turnout: 33.8 per cent

Average voter turnout, last two provincial elections: 55.46 per cent

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2010 A6

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