Nova Scotia

Halifax's low voter turnout hurts democracy, says professor

Jeffrey Roy at Dalhousie University's school of public administration says the low turnout shows that people aren't engaged in what's happening in their community.

More candidates could mean a greater turnout at the polls

The low voter turnout in Halifax could mean our democracy isn't as strong as it could be, said Prof. Jeffrey Roy. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The low voter turnout in Saturday's Halifax's municipal election is bad news for the health of democracy in the municipality, according to a professor in the school of public administration at Dalhousie University. 

Voter turnout in Halifax is estimated at about 29.7 per cent, a 7.2 percentage point drop from 2012 when 36.9 per cent voted. Halifax's official voting numbers won't be released until Tuesday.  

"We really need to be concerned about this declining rate," Jeffrey Roy told Information Morning. "It doesn't bode well for the overall vibrancy and health of our democratic system going forward."

Roy said Mayor Mike Savage's popularity and a lack of competition in some areas may have kept people from voting. (CBC )

If voter turnout is down it usually means that people's overall civic engagement has tanked as well, said Roy. 

"The research shows that people that vote during elections are more likely to participate in civic processes between elections as well."   

Less competition = less interest 

There are lots of reasons why people didn't get out and vote this time around, according to Roy. He said the popularity of Mayor Mike Savage and four incumbents running unopposed suppressed voter turnout.

Changes to the municipal election system might be needed to increase voter turnout, said Roy. (CBC)

He said when people don't think a race is competitive they don't head to the polls.

"There's always a correlation between the competitiveness of a race and voting turnout. For example you've seen in a few districts, my own in Dartmouth, where you have multiple candidates running and a new person elected. There were actually more votes cast then in the previous election."     

Communities look to change voting system

Roy said some communities are experimenting by adopting different voting systems, shortening the duration of municipal elections and working to ban campaign contributions from unions and other organizations. 

"Things that can essentially level the playing field between incumbents and challengers and encourage potentially new people to think about running for office." 

Roy believes fostering civic engagement at a young age is another way to get people out to vote. He said the school system can help develop children into responsible voters by letting them experience democracy early on through things like mock elections. 

Teaching children about voting and its importance is another way to spark a lifelong interest in democracy, said Roy. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty)

That way as children grow up they will realize they have a civic duty to vote. 

Make voting mandatory

If that doesn't work, Roy said he's a fan of adopting the mandatory voting system that Australia has. 

"If you don't show up and vote you could be fined," he said.

"I've spoken with some people who have been in Australia for elections. It does encourage young people to take more of an interest even before they're 18 because they know that once they turn 18 they're going to be required to make that first vote."  

With files from Information Morning