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Vancouver's voter turnout drop may be related to new campaign finance rules

Line-up to vote at a Vancouver voting station Oct. 20, 2018. (Source: Tim Bray, contributed)
Summary

Vancouver election officer says decline in voters could be related to campaign financing

Meanwhile, voter turnout was up in other municipalities, like Burnaby, Richmond and Coquitlam

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Official election results released Wednesday show 5,257 fewer ballots were cast in the latest civic election compared to 2014, representing a four per cent drop in voter turnout.

The new numbers do not bode well for Vancouver’s stated goal of achieving a 60 per cent voter turnout by 2025.

In a statement, Chief Election Officer Rosemary Hagiwara says while the city engaged in a “robust communications and outreach campaign,” several challenges may have contributed to the decrease, including campaign finance restrictions introduced at the municipal level last year.

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Hagiwara points out that in 2014, Vancouver’s two biggest political parties raised over $2 million each, and there were no restrictions on how much could be spent. In 2018, mayoral candidate spending was capped to $210,174, while council candidates could only spend roughly half that.

However, those caps only applied to the 30-day campaign period, and it was clear money had been spent in the weeks prior, notably on billboards supporting mayoral candidate Hector Bremner.

Other municipalities saw sizable increases in voter turnout. Richmond saw its highest voter turnout since 1993, up to 35 per cent compared to 31.3 per cent in 2014.

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Burnaby’s turnout surged as well, up 4.5 per cent to 33.5 per cent overall.

“The number one predictor of increased voter turnout is a strong mayoral race, which we definitely had in Burnaby this year,” says city clerk Kate O’Connell.

“Our communications staff put in a lot of extra time and resources into the ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaign, where we basically had lots more signage up this year, we had a very active social media campaign and I think that also contributed to the increased voter turnout.”

Coquitlam saw a modest increase in voter turnout compared to 2014, while Surrey’s dropped roughly two per cent to 34.5 per cent.

Hagiwara says the huge number of candidates and the random ballot order may have also contributed to Vancouver’s voter turnout drop.

Advance voting numbers were up in almost every municipality across the Lower Mainland.