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This article was published 11/10/2011 (2952 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is vowing to do what he can to improve voter turnout in provincial elections and he is casting his eyes towards the World Wide Web.
A week after he led the NDP to a fourth consecutive majority government, Selinger says turnout in the 2011 provincial election was just not high enough and he wants to do something about it.
"We have to undertake something," said Selinger. "We're going to take a look at e-voting."
Voter turnout in Manitoba last week was 57.72 per cent. While that was up slightly over the 2007 campaign's total of 56.75 per cent, Selinger said turnout below 60 per cent just isn't acceptable.
Manitoba's lowest turnout was recorded in 2003 when 54.17 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot.
Selinger was shocked to hear the Ontario election two days after Manitoba's vote saw turnout plummet below 50 per cent for the first time. Just 49.02 per cent of Ontario's registered voters cast a ballot last week.
In Prince Edward Island, the election Oct. 3 saw turnout nose-dive to an all-time low as well. However P.E.I. has traditionally been the most civic-minded province and turnout was still a respectable 76.5 per cent.
Interestingly, at least in Manitoba and Ontario, polls and pundits suggested throughout the campaigns that the contest was close. Final polls before election day had the leading parties in both provinces in a virtual dead heat.
Close contests are usually thought to drive voters to cast a ballot. However it did not really affect matters in either province.
All three provincial elections completed this fall so far were instead marred with overwhelming levels of negative advertising and political attacks. That can have a negative impact on voter turnout.
A massive research study is underway on turnout in the five provincial elections being fought this fall (Newfoundland and Labrador's election was Tuesday night and Saskatchewan will vote next month). The study, encompassing researchers from six universities, will survey voters on what makes them vote and what expectations they have of the government. It could shed some light on how to influence the 40 per cent plus of voters who generally don't bother to cast a ballot.
It will take some time and a lot of consultation and debate to implement electronic voting in Manitoba.
Elections Canada has already started working on the idea and intends to have a byelection using electronic voting sometime after 2013. The federal elections agent needs the government to amend the Canada Elections Act to allow for e-voting.
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba's political studies department, said he doesn't believe e-voting is the magic bullet to increase voter turnout.
Thomas said a pervasive cynicism towards politicians and political parties is a large factor behind the poor turnout, adding he doesn't believe that can be overcome by Internet balloting.
"Whether you vote electronically or by paper, it won't affect the cynicism that is out there," Thomas said.
Thomas said surveys show that those who don't vote cite voting as being inconvenient, adding that means they'd rather do anything else than vote.
Thomas said that over the past 40 years, as the voter turnout has fallen, a growing number of Canadians no longer believes that voting is an important part of citizenship.
E-voting isn't going to change that attitude, he said.
Looking at other countries, Thomas said probably the best method to improve voter turnout is to make it compulsory, like it is in Australia, where small fines are imposed for those who fail to vote.
Selinger said he's not sure he likes the idea of mandatory voting, but he thinks it should be put on the table for discussion given that Australia is similar to Canada in terms of the age of its democracy.
"It probably would bear looking into," he said.
He said he fears mandatory voting is somewhat off kilter because it forces people to do something in the name of democracy, which is supposed to reflect a free society.
Selinger also worries his opponents would accuse him of "stacking the deck" because quite often the people least likely to vote are viewed as the most likely to support parties such as the NDP.
— with files from Aldo Santin