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Albertans should not be surprised at low voter turnout in provincial election

Voting system, failure of Elections Alberta to inform voters of right to decline their ballot likely reasons for turnout

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to Alberta’s political system in response to the clear crisis of low voter turnout in the provincial election, despite the heated battle between the Progressive Conservatives and the new Wildrose Party.  Initial results show that the Alberta Progressive Conservatives have won 61 of 87 (70%) seats with the support of only 25% of eligible voters (of the 57% of eligible voters who cast ballots, 44% did so for the PCs).

“With only 57% of eligible voters casting ballots, only slightly more than half of Alberta's eligible voters, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the provincial government,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator for Democracy Watch.  “Changes need to be made to increase voter turnout, Elections Alberta needs to inform Albertans of their right to decline their ballot, donation limits must be tightened so that corporations cannot buy a voice, and parties need to end undemocratic elections and government.”

In addition to Elections Alberta properly educating voters about their right to decline their ballot, some of the most important changes Alberta’s parties can make to increase voter turnout are as follows:

  • pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the Integrity Commissioner, and gives the Commissioner the power to penalize misleaders (and requires MLAs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election);
  • change the voting system so that the percentage of MLAs each party receives more closely matches the popular vote percentages.

In addition, if the parties strengthened and/or created provincial ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws, voters would have more reason to vote because they would be more assured of good government no matter which party won.

"While the increase from the last election is good to see, it's unlikely that it will be maintained. More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unrepresentative, and wasteful governments no matter who they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout at such low levels. To buck this trend and increase citizen engagement, significant changes need to be made” said Sommers.

These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada.  All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before either mandatory or Internet voting are tried (because both of those have likely serious negative effects).

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179


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