The response to an online poll regarding Chilliwack’s abysmal voter turnout rates proved to be just as lackluster as the turnout itself.
In December, Chilliwack resident and frequent social media user, Jamie Billingham asked on Twitter why those in her community didn’t vote in November’s school trustee byelection.
A one-week period brought in a total of 35 responses.
For Billingham, that participation was in fact significant.
“This process is more like an online focus group than a survey,” said Billingham. “I asked why, not how many, with the goal of qualitative data over quantitative.”
The top reasons cited for not voting included not having enough information about the candidates or issues; a lack of credibility and confidence in the process; and no interest.
The candidates weren’t appealing; the election date and polling location stations weren’t well advertised; and the byelection was seen as a waste of time were other reasons mentioned.
The responses, said Billingham, were similar to responses she received when she did a similar poll following the low turnout for the municipal election in 2011.
While social media was a good place to ask the question, said Billingham, it’s now time to take action.
Billingham suggested setting up information booths at community events, like Party in the Park, to promote the importance of voting and civic engagement.
“For any of that to happen, there has to be champions of the idea and support by local leadership,” she said.
Not just from the mayor and city councillors, but also from local leaders in education, First Nations, business, sport, and non-profit organizations.
“All of these groups have an inherent reliance on local government in one way or another,” said Billingham.
Of the roughly 64,000 eligible voters in Chilliwack, 1,453 cast a ballot in November’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.
With a civic election set for November of this year, Billingham hopes this poll is the seed for change.
“My hope is that this is just the beginning, and the vision of a more engaged community gains traction,” she said.
“Communities that have engaged citizens, and that are connected by a shared vision are healthier and better equipped to deal with both success and disaster.
“Isn’t that what we want as a community?”