B.C. city councillor pitches a new way to boost voter turnout: Publicizing voters’ names

Andy Radia
Canada PoliticsJuly 19, 2012

A Vancouver-area city councillor has a unique idea about how to increase voter turnout.

On Monday, the City of Coquitlam's Terry O'Neill introduced a motion asking his council colleagues to support the idea of publicizing the names of people who vote in elections.

Currently, municipal governments in British Columbia make public a record of all voters who cast ballots for eight weeks after the election. But members of the public are only allowed to view the list in person at City Hall, and are not allowed to make photocopies.

O'Neill's idea is to publicize the names, permanently, on the city's website or even as a supplement in the local newspaper.

He calls it a sort of  "positive reinforcement."

"It's about celebrating those who vote and having a positive impact on those who don't vote," he told Yahoo! Canada News adding that he doesn't know of any jurisdiction in North America that does this.

"[A non-voter] might say: 'holy mackerel, I should get myself on the list. Because you know what? I'm one of those bar room philosophers who spouts off all the time about this, that and that and then people see that I'm not voting.' "

"All of the sudden their point of view doesn't have the credence it otherwise might have had."

O'Neill says he got the idea from a 2006 Michigan study which concluded that a threat to send neighbors evidence of one's apathy was "the most effective tool for turning nonvoters into voters — 10 times better than the typical piece of pre-election mail."

It's an idea that deserves consideration, not just municipally, but at all levels of government.

Over the past several years, the powers that be have tried 'get out the vote' campaigns, vote mobs and, in some jurisdictions, online voting as a means to increase turnout.

To date, those initiatives have all failed.

In the last federal election voter turnout was a paltry 61 per cent; in the 2011 Ontario election turnout was about 49 per cent; and, in the City of Coquitlam, only 21 per cent of eligible voters bothered going to the polls.

O'Neill's 'outside the box' motion will be debated at city council later this month.