More questions than answers remain after Sask. election report

Many questions remain for Saskatchewan's chief electoral officer, after he examined what happened during the April 2016 provincial election.

Although more than 90 per cent of eligible voters were registered, just over half actually voted in 2016

Almost half of Saskatchewan voters did not cast ballots in the provincial election on April 4, 2016. (James Hopkin/CBC)

Almost half of Saskatchewan's eligible voters didn't cast a ballot in the April 2016 provincial election, even though more than 90 per cent were registered to vote — and the province's chief electoral officer still isn't sure why.

Elections Saskatchewan released a report that included a snapshot of what happened last spring. And chief electoral officer Michael Boda said the statistics are troublesome, even though slightly more people voted in the last election than in 2011.

 Those who don't vote have more of a say than those who do.- Saskatchewan chief electoral officer Michael Boda

"When you look at the number of people who have not voted, compared to the number of people who have voted for each of our six registered political parties in the province, that means those who don't vote have more of a say than those who do," he told CBC Thursday.

The final overall provincial voter turnout based on the number of registered voters was 56.8 per cent. However, the report does note that since not all voters were registered, the true voter turnout on the basis of the number of eligible voters is estimated to be closer to 53.5 per cent.

Boda still doesn't know why people aren't engaged, and that's why he wants to talk to others.

Mandatory voting not ruled out

When asked about instating mandatory voting, Boda said it wasn't his job to tell legislators what laws to put in place. However, he can make suggestions and didn't rule compulsory voting out.

"I think it's certainly something you can throw into the mix, and we should be asking those questions," he said, adding Australia could be used as a reference point as they've had mandatory voting laws for years.

"We'll have to ask those questions: does mandatory voting lead to true genuine engagement in a democracy?" 

There's still no real answer as to why voter turn out was so low despite high voter registration, especially because Boda said registered voters are more likely to vote.  

"I'm trying to ask some of the questions that will lead people to think about: Why is it we're not turning out to vote any longer, and how can we change that?" 

Breaking down barriers

Boda said Elections Saskatchewan tried to make it easier for people for vote. For example, it worked with Indigenous chiefs for eight months to determine how to make voting more accessible on First Nations.

The number of polling stations on First Nations was increased from 74 in 2011 to 160 in 2016. 

However, he said some necessary requirements, like identification, that can make it more difficult to vote are necessary.

"Identification can be a barrier, but at the same it helps us ensure that the individual who is voting is actually the individual [registered]." 

He also said Elections Saskatchewan tried to reach out to youth voters to get them out to the polls. He said they're engaged with what's going on but not with politics, and he doesn't really know why. 

When asked about a hypothetical one-day election cellphone app, Boda said that was a great idea that was pondered.

"During the election period, we considered having an actual app made up," he said. Instead, Elections Saskatchewan designed a mobile-friendly website.

2016 was also the first year a "homebound" voting system was used. People who weren't able to get out to the polling station were able to have a ballot brought to them. ​It was also the first year advanced polling was available across the entire province.

Boda said he hopes options like those are used even more in the next election. 

with files from Jill Morgan