The push to make you vote

10 Sep

Not enough of you vote. That’s right: You. The Vaughan citizenry.

Just 38 percent of you showed up to choose the current city council in 2006. And in the last 20 years, the city hasn’t had one election where even 50 percent of voters turned up at the polls.

And while those numbers might lead to hand-wringing about the death of civic participation in Vaughan, city officials are quick to point out the trend is province-wide.

“I think it’s the nature of elections amongst municipalities in Ontario,” says city clerk Jeffrey Abrams, the man in charge of the upcoming election. “We know that the turnout at municipal elections tends to be less than at provincial and federal elections. And that’s a bit puzzling to us.”

So, the city is trying to combat the trend. In 2008, a special task force on democratic participation and renewal released a report recommending the city aim for 50 percent voter participation in the 2010 election.

Just over a  month to go before the Oct. 25 date, the city unveiled its new initiative to get Vaughanians out and voting.

Dubbed “This Is Your Space,” (as in, the space voters mark on their ballots) the new campaign includes billboards, pamphlets and Internet marketing to try to connect voters with the election.

“What we’re saying is that voters have the opportunity to use their space to help shape their Vaughan,” Abrams says. “(The goal) is to have our community feel good about the election for one thing, and encourage them to come out to vote and understand the voting process.”

Part of that effort is getting the message out in advance, Abrams says. Residents may have already spotted the ‘This is Your Space’ logo on the back of the city’s Fall and Winter Recreation Guide, dropped at most homes in July.

“We are also going to local theatres, there’s a very small billboard campaign, and of course (there’s) the statutory advertising and circulations we do as part of administering the election,” Abrams says.

The city is also taking the battle for voters to cyberspace. The official election website, http://www.VaughanVotes.ca, offers information about the voting process and registered candidates. That content will soon be augmented with web videos encouraging citizens to vote.

But central to increasing voter turnout, says Abrams, is getting people to vote early.

“One thing we found when we talk about advance voting is many people think they need to have a particular reason to come out and advance vote. And it’s just the opposite.”

To hit home that message, the city will set up advance polls in every ward a full week prior to the election. Advance polls will also be set up in high traffic areas, such as the Promenade Shopping Centre, Vaughan Mills, and York University, where it’s estimated 2,500 students are eligible voters.

During that period, voters will be able to cast ballots at any advance polling station, even if it’s outside of their ward.

“It’s a ‘vote anywhere’ approach,” says Abrams. “It doesn’t matter where you live. During advanced vote period you can go anywhere to vote as long as you’re an eligible voter.”

He reminds voters new rules are in effect this year: voters must now produce a piece of identification with their name, address and signature in order to get on the voting list.

But thanks to new vote tabulating machines that check completed ballots for errors, the voting process itself will be a little more friendly.

“In the rare circumstances where the machine detects that a ballot has been improperly marked, the voter will have a second chance. And we think that’s a very good thing,” Abrams says. “This election is about the voter and we want to protect the voter’s franchise.”

— Josh Freeman, Vaughan Today
(The above appeared in Vaughan Today’s September edition)

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