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Online effort to improve Chilliwack voter participation

A group on social media have started an online poll to help determine why the majority in Chilliwack don
A group on social media have started an online poll to help determine why the majority in Chilliwack don't vote. The poll closes Dec. 22 at 6 p.m.
— image credit: Screen shot

A group on social media are spearheading a push for increased voter turnout come the next municipal election.

A Twitter conversation earlier this week resulted in an online poll asking the Chilliwack community why it didn't vote in last month's school trustee byelection.

Chilliwack resident and frequent tweeter, Jamie Billingham developed the poll. She hopes to gain an understanding for the low voter turnout, and encourage change for next year's municipal election.

Of the roughly 64,000 eligible voters in Chilliwack, 1,453 cast a ballot in last month's school trustee byelection; 2.3 per cent of the voting population. In the 2011 municipal election, 10,000 ballots were cast – the second worst voter turnout in the province.

"When so few people exercise their rights and responsibilities to vote, or otherwise engage, the people who end up making decisions are less likely to reflect the ethics or will of the community," said Billingham, who has a masters in community engagement.

"A community is only as healthy as it is engaged in caring for itself."

Billingham ran a similar, small-scale poll following the 2011 election. Of the 31 emailed participants, those who didn't vote complained about polling station locations, a lack of education about the candidates, and a lack of interest.

"Education is key," said city counsellor Jason Lum, who participated in the Twitter conversation.

"Right now, we've got a failing grade in terms of voter turnout; I don't know too many people who would settle for being last or second last in anything.

"We need to focus on improving our voter turnout."

Lum suggested maybe it's simple changes that need to be made, like the City investing in more polling stations, or providing free busing on election day, or increased advertisement leading up to the election.

He also suggested the school district institute a mandatory civics course for high school students.

He hopes the online poll will provide the necessary insight into reasons why the community isn't voting.

"We can't assume that people know what we do, we've got to go out and show them," said Lum.

"The function of a local government is absolutely imperative. You wouldn't have roads to drive on, you'd have a pile of garbage at the end of your driveway, you'd turn your tap on in the morning to brush your teeth and no water would come out.

"You would notice, trust me, if all of a sudden we folded."

The online poll is located at http://thotstr.ca/justinsite/prY

It contains one question, and is open to anyone who wants to participate.

The poll closes on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m.

Results will be shared on Twitter on Dec. 22, following the close of the poll, under hashtag #SD33Votes.

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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