Only 16 per cent of Merritt turns out to vote
Only 16 per cent of eligible voters turned out to have a say in Merritt’s byelection on Saturday.
This represents 893 people who voted in the byelection that resulted in Kurt Christopherson’s selection as the sixth city councillor.
Christopherson received 399 votes — nearly 45 per cent of the total votes.
City of Merritt Chief Election Officer Carole Fraser said she was pleased with the voting process, but disappointed with the numbers.
“I’m really pleased with the polling clerks and the staff,” she said. “The low numbers could be attributed to the fact that it was a byelection on a very nice Saturday in September and there were lots of other things people could be doing.”
Fraser said byelections are generally half to three quarters the size of general elections in terms of voters, pointing out that the November 2011 general election saw 32 per cent of Merritt voters turn out.
“We would really like to see the turnout at the general elections increase dramatically as well,” she said.
Merritt Mayor Susan Roline also said she is concerned by the low turnout of voters.
“We didn’t anticipate a high turnout because it was a byelection, but you’ve got fewer and fewer people speaking on behalf of a larger population,” she said.
The redeeming quality of the election was the number of candidates who chose to run for the vacant seat.
“We had six people who showed an interest and ran for council,” said Roline. “I want to thank the candidates for participating, because it made it a proper process and at least it gave people a choice.”
Merritt is not the only community struggling to attract voters; in fact, it’s a struggle for all levels of government, said Roline.
“Every community is struggling with the same thing,” she said. “People are so apathetic — they feel politicians aren’t serving them, or they’re too busy. They’ve lost connection with what it took to get a vote, especially for women.”
The B.C. government is exploring options to boost voter turnout rates such as introducing Internet ballot and decreasing the voting age to encourage youth involvement.
Only 51 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2009 provincial election — a decrease of more than seven percentage points from 2005. The federal election was slightly higher with 61 per cent of eligible voters participating in May 2011.
Roline says she is not sure what Merritt can do to change this trend.
“Maybe we need a celebration to remind residents what it took to get the vote,” she said. “Also, if we can get younger people to run for council, we will get a different generation of people supporting that candidate.
“My concern is that we’re letting a small portion of the community speak for everyone.”