Halifax Media Co-op

News from Nova Scotia's Grassroots

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!

Voter "Apathy": Change Will Come from Below

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.


Saturday's municipal election in the HRM, which saw former Liberal MP Mike Savage elected Mayor and 13 of the 16 Council seats filled by incumbents, was also marked by a dismally low voter turnout of 37%.  Despite the two weeks of electronic voting and several high-profile scandals at city hall over the past years, hardly more than one-third of eligible voters in the Halifax Regional Municipality bothered to cast a ballot. Of those who did, most opted to return a sitting councillor.


The commonly cited reason for low voter turnout is "voter apathy."  Many people, we're told, just don't care about politics enough to vote or to educate themselves about each candidate's platform.

There are a couple of reasons why I don't buy this assumption.  People, for the most part, do care about what happens in their lives and in their communities.  It's in our basic self-interest to care.  The problem is that many people have a hard time seeing, or believing, that who gets elected into office has any real effect on their lives.

To be frank, can you really blame them?  As The Coast's Tim Bousquet rightly pointed out, few of the candidates for Mayor or Council offered anything beyond modest reform.  It would be easier to list the differences between each candidate's platform that their similarities, if only because that list would be considerably shorter. 

So how can we encourage more people to turn out and vote?  Here's what we should not do:

  • Refer to non-voters and stupid and/or lazy.  Insulting people doesn't help bring them over to your cause.  Nor does it give anybody a reason to better inform themselves about what's happening in their communities.
  • Mandatory voting - A favourite of people who don't know much about Australian politics.  Not only is mandatory voting undemocratic (if we all have the right to vote, it follows that we should have the right to not vote as well), but forcing someone to do something against their will does not make them more educated about the process.  The fact that we all have to do out taxes each year hasn't made us all experts on tax law.
  • Wait for an inspiring messiah-canadate to come along and promise to solve all of our problems.  
We need to reform our political system, but we also need to reform our electorate.  Waiting for elected officials to change for us isn't working, so it's up to us to be the change we seek.  Active, community-minded civic engagement, with an eye for reaching out to people who are not politically active, will do more to change how politics works in this city than voting for different politicians with the same message. 

Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
453 words

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.