Voter turnout left relatively unchanged in face of COVID-19

·3 min read

With new councils gathering for their first meetings since the Nov. 9 election, Saskatchewan residents are left looking once again at low voter turnout rates.

Low numbers are no surprise for Municipalities of Saskatchewan president Gordon Barnhart, as this is something he has seen for years in Saskatchewan elections.

According to Heather Audette, city clerk for the City of Melfort, the 28 per cent voter turnout is the average that Melfort faces every election, with total votes sitting at 1,182 with an estimated total eligible voter count of 4,266. Due to a snowstorm and the COVID pandemic, were two major factors reducing turnout for communities across the province, what Melfort did see was double the amount of mail-in ballots and advance voters, she said.

“That's going to be a trend for the future too, we're going to continue to see an increase there.”

Due to the snowstorm, Audette did see comments on Facebook about people not being able to vote because of the weather but also saw grateful people who took advantage of early voting options. Given the city’s decision not to postpone the election, Audette said there is little that could be done after the polls were opened and snow removal crews did their best to give people access to the Kerry Vickar Centre.

Looking at the turnout for Nipawin’s election, Barry Elliott, the town’s administrator, said the 30 per cent voter turnout they saw was lower than the last general election where turnout was at an estimated 49 per cent.

Elliott sees this drop as a sign of a lack of controversy compared to the 2016 election.

“There seemed to be an enhanced level of interest in the election, both in terms of the number of people running and, and perhaps topics. This particular election, from what I could see and listening to the folks that were the candidates at the forums, there did not, to my knowledge, appear to be anything overly controversial.”

Nipawin also saw a strong showing at the advance polls and Elliott said he expects this to have been because of COVID-19 fears and the incoming snowstorm. By the time Elliott received word from the province that they could postpone the polls, they were already open for an hour, he said.

Advance polls across the province seemed busier, Barnhart said, and he also suspects that was because of the reasons listed by both Audette and Elliott.

These low turnouts are disappointing, Barnhart said. While people are most impacted by the infrastructure needs of their communities, they are more likely to care when things aren’t working, he said.

“They're not even aware of what the municipal level of government does for them. They're aware of when their taxes are due or if something is not working or if the city or the town is digging up a sewer and the street is all dug up. They're very well aware of the instability, but other than that, if it's working well, they don't think about it.”

Municipalities of Saskatchewan’s webinars early in the fall focused on teaching people about municipal politics for two reasons, Barnhart said. One, to get people prepared to run for municipal councils and two, to encourage people to get out and vote. Barnhart can only hope this worked in both respects.

Becky Zimmer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist