British Columbia

Vote No campaign calls to extend election reform vote due to low voter turnout

The deadline for the referendum on electoral reform is in two weeks and, as the debate between first-past-the-post and proportional representation rages, some are calling for an extension.

Low voter turnout and Canada Post strike given as reasons to extend the deadline

Have you received your electoral reform voting package? If not, you have until Nov. 23 to request one from Elections B.C. (Elections BC)

The deadline for the referendum on electoral reform is in two weeks and, as the debate between first-past-the-post and proportional representation rages, some are calling for an extension.

The Vote No campaign has raised concerns about the referendum, saying an extension is needed because of the potential for low voter turnout and mail delivery disruption from the Canada Post strike.

"There are a lot of reasons for Elections B.C. to take action," said Bill Tieleman, president of the No B.C. Proportional Representation Society.

His main concern is that, without a deadline extension, there simply won't be enough votes on the issue.

As of Friday, less than 20 per cent of the ballots had been received by Election B.C. They are currently due on Nov. 30.

"The volume of ballots to come anywhere close to 50 per cent would have to be massive, and there's just no indication that is what is going on," he told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

The high point of voter turnout is currently about 16 per cent in some ridings, Tieleman said, but that falls to as low as one-and-half per cent in others.

"We could have an extremely small fraction of people deciding what is really fundamental in our democracy — how we elect our representatives," he said.

Whether B.C. voters cast ballots in the future for individuals, political parties or a mix will be determined in November's mail-in referendum. (CBC)

Voter turnout

Previous referendums in B.C., like those on the electoral system in 2005 and 2009 or on the harmonized sale tax in 2011, all had a voter turnout of more than 50 per cent.

However, There is no minimum voter participation threshold for any referendum.

"As it is with every election, it's the voters who turn out who get to decide," said Bowinn Ma, an NDP MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

She's an advocate for proportional representation in the hopes that it will increase voter turnout.  

"We've had abysmal voter turnout in elections in general which is why I'm so excited about proportional representation," Ma said.  

"Generally, when we're talking about voter response, it ultimately comes down to whether a  voter feels like the vote is important to them."

Lack of engagement

Lack of voter engagement is at the heart of the matter, according to University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford.

"It doesn't seem to me like there's an overwhelming engagement on this issue," Telford told Michelle Eliot, host of B.C. Today.

"That's, I think, indicative of the very low return rate of the ballots so far … It may be the case that some people are either still deliberating or may be sitting on their ballots because of the postal worker issue."

Elections B.C. says it is monitoring the Canada Post situation and, if there are significant delays or impacts on accessibility, extending the voting period is a possibility.

With files from The Early Edition and B.C. Today.

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