City of Terrace councillors believe a polling station on the Southside could increase voter turnout in this October’s municipal election. Past practice has been to have just one station at the Sportsplex, but with voter turnout on the decline, council is now considering ways to revive voter interest leading up to local government elections.
The cost to have a polling station at Cassie Hall Elementary to better accommodate Southside voters would be approximately $2,500, that would primarily cover election official costs but include ballot boxes and supplies, council was told on July 11 in a memo from corporate administrator Alisa Thompson.
Voter turnout for the 2018 local government election was just 17.7 per cent. Thompson noted a lack of information about elections, lack of information about candidates and local government issues amid rising cynicism as possible reasons for the poor participation. “I feel my report is a little bit depressing,” Thompson said.
Last year’s byelection saw a voter turnout of just nine per cent when Coun. Dave Gordon defeated three other candidates for a vacant council seat.
Coun. Brian Downie called a second polling station at Cassie Hall a way for the city to “try to engage voters from that neighbourhood” and boost voter turnout. “We need to make sure this is top of mind,” Downie said.
Coun. Sean Bujtas said a second station could be considered a pilot to then gauge its effectiveness.
The idea of staging a mock vote for young people under the age of 18, featuring a a separate ballot with a question just for that age grouping also got a favourable response. The cost for that initiative would be approximately $750.
The idea is to attract young people so that their parents will bring them to the polls and, as a result, vote themselves.
“This may not fix low voter turnout today, but it might fix the lower voter turnout of tomorrow,” said Bujtas arguing that a kids’ vote would get them used to the idea of election participation.
Bujtas motioned to include a second polling station at Cassie Hall and for a separate ballot for young people. Coun. Lynne Christiansen said she wasn’t certain a young people’s vote would be helpful but she did second the motion.
School district voting would also take place at Cassie Hall. Council did not accept the idea of offering free swimming or skating at the aquatic centre and Sportsplex once people have voted. Bujtas said he doubted such a plan would work.
Also dismissed by council was the prospect of spending approximately $6,500 on hiring an outside public relations person to manage city efforts via advertising and social media to increase voter turnout.
Thompson also mentioned the city’s practice of offering no charge transit on voting day but said that has not resulted in either increased ridership on election day or increased voter turnout.
Bujtas also felt that the provincial government’s decision to move the election date from November to October while also fixing council terms to four years has contributed to voter decline.
Election preparation now begins in August when people are away or have other things on their minds and continues into early fall when people are busy with the return to school, he said.
“I think it was a mistake,” Bujtas said.