Alberta’s dismal voter turnout

Ben 

I wanted to reproduce this editorial from today’s Edmonton Journal: 

In the next three-plus years, each time you hear an Albertan complain about the provincial government, remember this

Chances will be almost three out of five that the grumbler cared so little about the future direction and management of public affairs he now bewails that he or she couldn’t be bothered to vote on March 3, 2008.

And with Monday’s shameful 41-per-cent turnout preceded by 2004’s dismal 44.7, and by the only slightly better 53.8 per cent and 52.8 per cent in 1997 and 2001 respectively, chances are equally good that the whinger’s objections can safely be ignored — because he or she won’t stand up and be counted next time either.

It’s strange, isn’t it? If a citizen applied this bystander behaviour to an individual fellow citizen needing aid across the street, we’d be appalled. But when an unhealthy majority of us take the walk-on-by approach to accepting some political responsibility for the good of the community, we seem to react with a shrug of ennui or an unfair finger of blame at politicians for failing to adequately inspire us.

To be blunt, Monday night’s participation rate by Albertans in the democratic process was a disgrace. The right millions around the world would give anything to exercise, many of us find too burdensome to spend 15 minutes on once every four years.

No doubt, a few voters are deluding themselves today that the low turnout is the reason Stelmach won so handily: That’s one of the many problems with not voting — it gives wishful thinkers room to spin the result as distorted or somehow illegitimate. In 2004, for example, a few observers disparaged the Liberals’ gains that year in this way, describing them as an artificial consequence of Conservatives staying home.

But that’s not the argument here. On the contrary, the reality is Ed Stelmach’s Progressive Conservatives are overwhelmingly the people’s choice. Indeed, for all we know, if voting were compulsory, the opposition Liberals and NDP might have won no seats at all.
But the fact is, to stay relevant and popular, the best and most effective government in the world needs to know the electorate is keeping an eye on it — and is willing to hold it accountable. When a majority refuses to vote, the question “What would Albertans think?” is hardly likely to be a top-of-mind consideration for Stelmach’s advisers.

The reasons people don’t vote are probably as many and varied as people themselves.
Presumably, at least some can’t be bothered because their constituency is routinely held by a mammoth majority. At least some of these folks — especially those who might choose one of the small opposition parties such as the New Democrats, Greens or Wildrose Alliance, might be more likely to lever themselves off the family-room recliner if proportional representation of some sort gave them confidence the effort would have some impact on legislature and government.

Another, rather perverse, possibility is that some nonvoters realize the political class is a lot more likely to worry about them if they don’t vote — by writing earnest opinion articles about the dangers of a disengaged electorate, for example — than if they validate the process by marking ballots.

But one can’t help but wonder if the best explanation is that many of us have come to view voting as an act of self-interest rather than one that seeks the best for fellow Albertans. It might make sense not to vote when times are good, if the only person affected was oneself, rather than the fellow who needs a divided highway to Fort McMurray, or a hip replacement for his mother.

Let’s conclude — and underline the truly dreadful nature of Monday’s turnout — by stating party results in terms of all potential voters.

Doing that, we see that of 2,252,104 folks on the voters list, about 22.2 per cent voted Tory, 11.1 per cent voted Liberal, 3.6 per cent voted NDP, 2.6 per cent voted Wildrose Alliance, and two per cent voted Green.

And we see that if “Can’t be Bothered” had been on the ballot, you’d be able to open the legislature on the moon and not have to worry about a single live MLA having to gasp for air.

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One response to “Alberta’s dismal voter turnout”

  1. Lachlan says :

    Since I am not a citizen of Canada, I was not eligible to vote in Monday’s election, but if I had been able, I have no idea who I would have voted for. Apart from the babble thrown at us from the media outlets, I have no idea what the foundations these parties, or candidates were running on. And I don’t think I am alone in my general political ignorance. Most of the people I associate with are either equally uninformed, or only have the media spin from the outlet they get their news from. I think in general, they main reason for this lack of political interest is the depth of freedoms and wealth we enjoy in this province. I live a pretty good lifestyle. I am free to pursue my hopes and dreams, and I live in an economy that provides me with the welath to pursue that. The only limitations placed on me are my own inabilities to manage my own resources effectively. And I’m far from the exception….I think the majority of Albertans are in this same situation. When you don’t have much to bitch about, the winds of political change don’t blow too strongly. And then, when you throw in Canada’s political parties which are eeriely familiar to each other, and politicians with as much charisma and aptitude as Terry Schaivo, it’s understandable why people don’t give a fuck.
    If Alberta were currently in recession, and unemployment were hovering around 11-12%, I would guarantee you voter turnout would have been at least 85%. People are generally only interested in issues that affect them….if people have no children, do you really think they’re outraged by educational inadequacies? If they have no vehicle, do you really think they give a shit about highways? We’re living in some pretty affluent times, and as a result Joe Sixpack is happy to just live his life and let things go as they may.
    I can’t see it changing until something dire happens to our current situation.

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