Voter turnout in Thursday’s Ontario election was so low it set a new record with only 49.2 per cent of eligible voters going to the polls, which Democracy Watch calls a crisis requiring changes to the system.

The previous low record was 52.8 per cent, set in 2007.

"Initial results show that the Ontario Liberals have won 53 of 107 seats with the support of only 18.4 per cent of eligible voters," said Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator for Democracy Watch.

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"With just under half of eligible voters casting ballots yesterday, the lowest in Ontario’s history, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the provincial government," Sommers said.

"Voter turnout will go back up if the voting system is changed, if Elections Ontario does its job properly and informs Ontarians of their right to decline their ballot, if the fixed election date is pushed back to late October, and if the parties make promises to end undemocratic elections and government," he said.

He also suggested:

  • Passing an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the integrity commissioner, and gives the commissioner the power to penalize politicians who mislead (and requires MPPs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election).
  • Changing the voting system so that the percentage of MPPs each party receives more closely matches the popular vote percentages.

There had been some optimism ahead of the election that voter turnout would be good after a reasonably good turnout in advance polls.

According to preliminary figures, almost 625,000 people cast their votes in advance, an increase of about 175,000 compared with 2007 advance polls.

However, advance-poll voters had a lot more options heading into this election compared with previous ones. There were more days to vote, and more ways. That included the option to vote by special ballot by mail, in person at the local returning office, or during 10 days when advance polling stations were open.

At Premier Dalton McGuinty’s news conference Friday morning, he was asked whether anything could be done to bring out the voters. He said changing the way people are elected isn’t an option. He said he tried that in the past, and the public resisted.

A Carleton University political science professor, Jon Pammett, said people in Ontario are traditionally more interested in federal politics.

"There’s always an ongoing challenge to inspire confidence, if not in individuals, then in the system itself," Pammett said.

"This election [was] kind of low-key in terms of major issues. I think that may have meant people really didn’t have a lot of interest in what was being said."

Elections Ontario said it will conduct a post-election analysis to find out why so many people didn’t vote.