The election that brought them to council chambers and the poor turnout of voters were the first items discussed by Thompson’s new city council in City Hall Nov. 7.
Meeting as a committee of the whole for the first time, councillors listened to an elections report from senior election official Norma Howitt, which said that election day Oct. 26 ran smoothly, though wrinkles will have to be ironed out when it comes to advance voting.
“Registration during advance polls will need a little more thought to revamp as it was slower than anticipated,” said her report, which noted that 158 new names were added to rolls during the election period, bringing the total number of eligible voters in Thompson to 7,731. Only 2,073 of those voters showed up to advance polls or on election day, 2,069 of whom cast ballots, a turnout of about 27 per cent, 10 percentage points lower than in 2018 and a lower turnout than in any of the previous three elections dating back to 2010.
Coun. Earl Colbourne said he believed that having all election day voting at the Thompson Regional Community Centre instead of at schools may have contributed to the anemic voter participation and asked why that decision was made.
Many cities similar in size to Thompson have all voting at one location, said city manager Anthony McInnis, noting that the practice of having municipal voting in schools was a holdover from when Thompson had a ward system for council elections.
“The tradition of voting at the schools remained afterward,” he said.
Part of the reason for having the voting in one location was that it made easier for Howitt to more quickly assist with any problems that occurred. McInnis also said that national and provincial municipal government associations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities predicted that turnout would be lower this election cycle, partly due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and partly due to general voter dissatisfaction with political systems in general
The idea of online voting was brought up by Coun, Duncan Wong, who said that Ontario is considering it. Manitoba is also looking at whether online voting can be used to modernize municipal elections, said McInnis, though that will require legislative changes.
“If this council feels strongly that that should be something that should be pursued I would recommends that we add it to our lobby effort,” he said.
Since there was no tie forcing a byelection like there was four years ago, Mayor Colleen Smook said there is plenty of time for further discussions about how elections are run and how to get more people to vote.
Colbourne says he is keen for those discussions to take place.
“I want to keep digging,” he said “I want to keep asking questions. Something went wrong here.”