Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Modern times, ancient system

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A Free Press breakdown of where voters failed to show up to mark their Xs on civic election ballots last week shows interesting, if not surprising, characteristics of voting patterns in the city. The analysis by reporter Mary Agnes Welch is fodder for those who seek to halt the decline of interest in elections among voters.

The concentration of 13 low-turnout polls -- where fewer than 25 per cent of registered voters appeared -- was in the Winnipeg's low-income neighbourhoods. That reinforces the assumptions of many that engagement is low among people who have bigger things to think about than politics during an election campaign. People without vehicles have a more difficult time finding their way to a poll, if it is not nearby. Further, the demand for papers of identity, even though it might be as simple as a letter bearing a voter's name and address and a health card number, is often more onerous for people who don't drive, don't travel and don't pay their utilities. And then there is the issue of the proverbial "little guy" who wonders what difference, really, his vote will make.

Interestingly, the map of voter turnout by poll, available at winnipegfreepress.com, reveals that the polls where voter turnout was lower than 35 per cent are more scattered. Most polls had between 35 and 55 per cent of registered voters show up.

Not much to brag about, given that this civic campaign saw vigorous debate, a high-profile mayoralty challenger and a number of open contests in wards. It is further evidence that tumbling turnouts are a growing issue.

The increased number of advance polls this year had some success, except among the young voters and the elderly. Polls staged for two days at each of the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and at Red River College collected a discouraging 300 voters on average.

Municipal elections are notorious for having low turnouts but there is something to be learned for all levels of government by pulling apart the numbers poll by poll. Identifying demographics of the neighbourhoods may help to understand issues that dissuade voters to turn out.

The declining interest among young voters has been noted for decades. Manitoba has not yet entered the Internet voting age, something Ontario has done to a limited degree. Today's youth are unlikely to do things the way their parents have always managed. The lesson of the advance polls at the schools of higher learning is that the province and the city have got to get wired to the information age.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2010 A12

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