Vancouver voter turnout down despite city growth

While voter turnout in Surrey was up in this most recent municipal election than it was in years past, the same was not true in Vancouver.

Despite city growth and a very contentious race, Vancouver voter turnout in the 2022 general election (171,494) dropped by nearly 5,000 compared to the previous election (176,450). That was after a further drop in 2018 from the previous vote in 2014 (181,707).

“Voter turnout should have been quite high because you had viable candidates that had high-profile for mayor and also several parties running that had viable candidates. And usually, you see voter turnout increase when there’s competitive elections like that,” explained Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher.

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However, Conacher says with the way politics has evolved, many people are growing increasingly discouraged.

“No one in politics at any level in Canada — including the city and town level in B.C. — is effectively required to be honest, ethical, transparent, or waste preventing, or to make representative decisions overall,” he explained.

“Voters are increasingly frustrated by that and reflecting it by not showing up to endorse any candidate because they feel that no matter who they vote for, they’re not going to get what they want or their money’s going to be used in some way that’s wasteful or there’ll be some secrecy.”

The race for mayor was heated, with Ken Sim ultimately defeating incumbent Kennedy Stewart, who will be out after just one term.

Sim ran on a promise of change with the new ABC Vancouver slate, which received strong backing from those in policing, stirring up even more controversy.

In the end, every single candidate ABC Vancouver ran was elected.

Overall, Conacher says politicians don’t have much of an incentive to push for bigger turnout because in many cases, it propels them into power.

“And so they clearly want power without accountability and as long as more voters vote for them than their opponent, they’re fine, they think they’re legitimate, even if they get into power with only actually 15 to 20 per cent of voters actually voting in favour of them,” he said of many politicians in general, not specifically referring to any one person.

“It’s not the candidate’s fault entirely, because they are just the version 2022 of candidate and voters have seen for the last several decades candidate after candidate make promises to them that are lies, and also waste in government and government being ineffective, secretive, unethical lobbying happening. So they look at any new candidate and say, ‘well, it’s the same old, same old,’ and it’s not worth voting for people anymore. So the candidates are suffering as well.”

Conacher says despite this knowledge, we still don’t see politicians promising to address the issue.

“And if any candidate would actually seriously promise that, especially a slate of candidates in the part elections you have at the municipal level in B.C., you would see voters swing to them because that’s what voters want — especially swing voters,” he added.

Despite an overall drop in the 2022 general election in Vancouver, advance voter turnout was actually higher this time around than it was in previous years.

“Our turnout was just over 65,000, compared to in 2018 it was 49,000 for advance voting days,” Rosemary Hagiwara, the chief election officer at the City of Vancouver previously said.

“It is a big increase, and it could be [due to] a number of reasons.”

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