Voter turnout drops in 'uncompetitive' Halifax election

Fewer than a third of eligible voters in the Halifax Regional Municipality cast ballots in this fall's election, according to early results. That's 7.2 percentage points lower than in 2012.

'There's no contest. That, by very definition, is boring and uncompetitive,' says Mark Coffin

Participation in the Halifax Regional Municipality election dropped 7.5 percentage points from 2012, according to preliminary numbers from the municipality. (Stephanie Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

Fewer than a third of the eligible voters in the Halifax Regional Municipality cast ballots in the election that ended Saturday, according to early results. 

About 29.7 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. That's a drop of 7.2 percentage points from 2012 when 36.9 per cent voted.

Halifax won't have official numbers until Tuesday, but to reach an approximate count, municipal spokesman Brendan Elliott suggested comparing the number of votes for mayor, 90,418, to the number of eligible voters, 304,652.

'Boring and uncompetitive'

The drop in interest this election was foreseen by Mark Coffin, executive director of the non-partisan charity Springtide Collective, which promotes democracy engagement.

Almost a quarter of Nova Scotia municipal seats up for grabs in this election were acclaimed, Coffin said. 

"There's no contest. That, by very definition, is boring and uncompetitive," he said.

Low incentive

In Halifax, four seats were acclaimed, and the "incentive's lower" to vote in the mayor's race, considering the popularity of incumbent Mike Savage, Coffin said.

Research shows, he said, that people will vote if they believe that vote will make a difference. For example, engagement was higher during Barack Obama's 2008 U.S. campaign and last year's federal election with Justin Trudeau against Stephen Harper. 

Mark Coffin, executive director of democracy group Springtide Collective, said people are more likely to vote if they believe their voice will make a difference. (Stephanie Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

'Very blurry' ideology

That excitement is key, because even for contested races, the difference between candidates can be hard to distinguish, Coffin said. 

"There's less of an ideological element to municipal politics. Left and right is very blurry," he said. 

"It becomes more of a question of management in some cases, rather than values and ideology."

The low turnout wasn't consistent across the province. In the Town of Berwick more than half of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Many municipalities and towns offered online and phone voting ahead of Election Day, along with advance polls.

This year, as well, voters were not required to show identification or proof of address at poll stations, in an effort to make voting as accessible as possible.

With files from Stephanie Blanchet, Carly Stagg and Blair Sanderson