Peter Wipper (at right)

ELECTION 2014: Why don’t people vote in municipal elections?

A study conducted cited, “too busy,” “unfamiliar with the candidates,” and, “my vote doesn’t matter,” as the top three reasons

Peter Wipper, City of Campbell River City Clerk and Chief Elections Officer, used to have to bribe his kids with $20 and a dinner out at a restaurant to get them to go to the municipal all-candidates forums.

He doesn’t have to anymore, though, as because of those bribes early in life, they now recognize the importance of the municipal elections process, and how important it is to know as much as they can about candidates before going to the polling station.

“The more we can educate ourselves on the various candidates, the better positioned we are to vote with confidence, saying that ‘I believe in what that person says, and I want to use my vote to make sure that person gets to hold elected office,’” he said.

“Voter turnout in Campbell River last time was 30 per cent,” he said, “and 30 per cent represents about the average across the province,” adding that, in general, the smaller the community, “the more intimate people are with the issues facing the community.”

So why don’t people turn out to vote in municipal elections in larger centres? Why aren’t they intimate with the issues facing their community?

Wipper cited a study conducted recently in Maple Ridge that cited, “too busy,” “unfamiliar with the candidates,” and, “my vote doesn’t matter,” as the top three reasons people used to express why they didn’t vote in the municipal election.

The first excuse is essentially ridiculous, Wipper said, considering how easy municipal elections officers are making it to ensure everyone eligible has a chance to engage in the process. In the upcoming Campbell River election, for example, not only are there three polling stations set up in very centralized locations in different areas of town (Sportsplex, Community Centre, and Discovery Passage School), also for a full 12 hours on Nov. 15, but there is also an advance polling station being set up downtown in Tyee Plaza for a full 12 hours on both Wednesday, Nov. 5 and Wednesday, Nov. 12. If none of those options work for you, there is a mail-in ballot option you can pick up any time at City Hall (you can even apply online and have it mailed).

The second excuse, Wipper said, is completely legitimate, but it’s also easily avoidable. You probably shouldn’t vote if you aren’t informed about what the candidates stand for and how they’ll represent you, but you could easily learn about them by showing up at any of the multiple all-candidates meetings held before the election (the Mirror is hosting one in conjunction with the Young Professionals of Campbell River on Nov. 6 at the Tidemark, for example), check out their bios, releases and stories in the local paper, using online sources that are compiling information, or even call them on the phone.

“I have a lot of respect for people who do that,” Wipper said. “Call up the candidates and engage with them one on one, or ask them questions directly when they see them around in the community. It’s really the best way to figure out who’s going to represent your interests on council if they’re elected.”

Wipper also said he just doesn’t understand the mindset of people with the third excuse. That their vote doesn’t matter.

He said that one of the most rewarding things he does in his job is when he takes classes of children on tours of City Hall, and tells them about how government works.

“I’ve seen it happen too many times to count,” he tells these kids, “where one person signs up to be a delegation, and sits before council and lets them know what they think about an issue, and I’ve seen change happen because of that one person. Don’t ever, ever think that one person can’t make a difference.

“Don’t ever think that your vote doesn’t count.”