SASKATOON – City officials could run a referendum alongside October’s municipal election if they want to increase voter turnout, according to a local political scientist.
“People then feel that they have to become somewhat more observant, somewhat more informed because there’s kind of an imperative, there’s kind of a moral imperative, if you will, to participate,” said Joe Garcea, a University of Saskatchewan political studies professor, in an interview Tuesday.
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“Whenever you have a referendum or a plebiscite in Saskatoon, voter turnout tends to be over fifty per cent, when you don’t, you dip down into those low twenties and high teens.”
The interview came a day after Saskatoon city council voted in favour of a report that stated voter lists were costly and residents should be registered at the polls during October’s civic election. Mayor Don Atchison has said the idea is a way to drive voter turnout, since residents would be contacted before election day. In the 2012 civic election, voter turnout was roughly 36 per cent.
“I think that we would want to make it more aware for citizens of Saskatoon that there is a civic election going on,” said Atchison after Monday’s council meeting.
“You would want to have a voters list there for the candidates to be able to field and use.”
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Voter lists are important, especially when they’re accompanied by an information card that displays when and where to vote, according to Garcea. However, he added that factors like controversy and competitiveness have a greater influence on turnout.
“If you have tweedledee and tweedledum running, it’s not going to be as effective as having two very significant and radically different candidates running,” said Garcea.
Garcea said he doesn’t believe voter turnout in the civic election will be affected by the recent provincial and federal elections. He added that voter “fatigue is used more and more as a rationale than a reason for people not voting.”
“If you put on a good show and you put on a good election, people are going to turn out, just the same way they do for good sporting events,” said Garcea.
“People don’t get fatigued of a good sporting event and they don’t get fatigued of a good political event either.”