Ontarians should not be surprised at low voter turnout in provincial election: Democracy Watch

Democracy Watch (DW) is calling for democratic changes to Ontario’s political system in response to the clear crisis of lower voter turnout in the provincial election. Initial results show that the Progressive Conservative (PC) party won a majority of 83 of 124 seats with the support of only 17.5 percent of eligible voters.

Only 43 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, the lowest turnout ever, and 41 percent of the ballots cast were for the PC party. For Algoma-Manitoulin, only 41.66 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

With less than half of eligible voters casting ballots in the Ontario election, the lowest turnout ever, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the provincial government. More voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative, and wasteful governments no matter who they vote for. As a result, no one should be surprised to see voter turnout at such a low level.

Voter turnout will go up significantly only if the voting system is changed, if the parties make changes to require everyone in politics to be honest, ethical, open and waste-preventing, and if Elections Ontario does its job properly and informs Ontarians of their right to decline their ballot.

Ontario’s parties must work together to make the following changes if they want to increase voter turnout to the past modern high of 65 percent (in 1990) let alone 73 percent (in 1971). This includes passing an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the integrity commissioner and requires the commissioner the power to penalize misleaders (and requires MPPs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election); change the voting system to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote in the seats held by each party in the legislature (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature); instead of having the right to decline your ballot (which Ontarians and voters in three other provinces have, but this has to be done verbally, which violates the right to a secret ballot) and voters should have the right to vote ‘none of the above’ and to give a reason on election and by-election ballots (as was recommended 25 years ago by Elections Canada); strengthen provincial ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, whistle blower protection, and government spending and accountability laws (the Green Party receiving only a C- as the best grade of overall bad grades in DW’s report card on the parties’ democracy and accountability platforms); mandate Elections Ontario to spend the $4 million or so it spends each election on voter education on advertisements that include the following two key messages-the real reasons to vote which DM’s partner organization Democracy Education Network includes in its VoteParty.ca and VotePromise.ca voter turnout initiatives. One, “You never know when your vote may count, with examples from past elections, and from specific ridings in various elections, which show clearly that election results cannot be predicted in advance, and two-“If you don’t vote, you don’t count”-making it clear that politicians don’t really care about you if you don’t vote, because non-voters do not help them get elected or defeated.

As well, Elections Ontario again violated the provincial election law by failing to inform voters about their right to decline the ballot and failing to include the total of declined ballots in its election results report. Democracy Watch is planning to file a court application asking for a declaration that Elections Ontario is required to inform voters of their right to decline their ballot.

These changes would give voters many more reasons to vote because they would know that voting for a specific party would mean their vote would count, and the party’s promises would be kept, and they would be more assured of democratic good government overall no matter which party won. As well, moving the fixed election date to the last Monday in October would make it easier for people with kids, and students, to follow and participate in the election campaign and have the identification needed to vote.

These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada. All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before mandatory voting is even considered, because forcing voters to vote creates false legitimacy for political parties and politicians (and mandatory voting must never be implemented unless “none of the above” is one of the options on the ballot). Internet voting should also not even be considered currently, given it would dangerously undermine the integrity of the voting system.