Voter turnout hits new low

Less than 18 per cent of Chilliwack's eligible voters cast ballots in this year's municipal election.

Less than 18 per cent of Chilliwack’s eligible voters cast ballots in this year’s municipal election, according to preliminary figures.

Yet city councillors have more power over the daily lives of Chilliwack residents than federal or provincial governments, deciding everything from how much noise you can make at a party to approving a highrise apartment next to your dream home.

Why such a poor turnout — only 9,343 or 17.5 per cent bothered to vote in Chilliwack — for such an important election? (City hall suggests that number may be around 15 per cent, based on the number of eligible voters.)

Mark Andersen, a former city councillor, said he isn’t sure — but he vows that Chilliwack’s real estate board will continue its thevalleyvotes.ca website to enlighten voters on the importance of municipal elections, especially the young voters.

Andersen, who is also president of the real estate board, said he hasn’t had a chance to sit down with the other CADREB directors, but he believes it’s crucial that the website initiative to educate voters now “push in toward the schools” to reach Chilliwack’s future voters.

“If we can get the younger voters voting, eventually they’ll also take more interest in the provincial and federal elections,” he said.

By definition, a “participatory” democracy like Canada’s only works if its citizens take part.

This year’s poor turnout in Chilliwack — only Langford had a worse turnout of all the cities, towns and villages in B.C. — is lower than the 2008 elections when the city was ninth from the bottom of the list.

Andersen said the apathy could stem from the fact that there were no challengers for the mayor’s seat this election, or from the feeling that voting in a municipal election “doesn’t do any good.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

But for the next three years, at least, Chilliwack is effectively in the hands of the 9,343 out of 53,402 eligible voters who did make it to the ballot box.

The remaining 44,059 will really have no right to complain, Andersen said.

Province-wide voter turnout numbers are available at http://www.civicinfo.bc.ca/302n.asp?newsid=4449&r=4449&r=4448&r=4447

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