Voter turnout in the two Central Okanagan ridings in Monday’s federal election eclipsed 70 per cent of eligible voters, higher than the national turnout and much higher than in the 2011 federal election.
Combined, more than 126,000 eligible voters cast ballots on Monday night in the ridings of Kelowna-Lake Country and Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, turning out in droves to elect a new MP in Kelowna-Lake Country in Liberal Stephen Fuhr and re-electing Conservative Dan Albas in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.
In Kelowna-Lake Country, 64,170 out of 89,033 (72.07 per cent) registered voters cast ballots while 61,820 of 86,093 (71.81 per cent) people in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola cast a ballot.
“Those are definitely impressive numbers and I think that they speak to the anger that was out there,” said UBC political science professor Wolf Depner. “This election was a referendum on Stephen Harper and people made sure to cast their ballot. It’s impressive but you would like to see it even higher and it will be interesting to see what the turnout is for the next election and if the interest will remain.”
In the 2011 federal campaign, in which the local ridings had different geographical boundaries, only 59.8 per cent of voters turned out in Kelowna-Lake Country and 61.9 per cent in what was then known as Okanagan-Coquihalla, pointing to an almost 10 per cent climb in the percentage of the voters who cast ballots this year.
Nationally the voter turnout was also up with 68.49 per cent of eligible Canadians turning out to the polls compared to just 61.1 per cent in 2011. The national number is the highest voter turnout since 1993.
The increased results stopped a trend in recent elections of voter apathy and decreasing voter turnout. Depner said voter turnout has been trending downwards since the late 1980s and that it remains to be seen if this year’s election was a one-off event as voters cast a ballot against Stephen Harper, or if more people generally have become engaged in the political process.
“It’s wonderful that more people chose to vote this time around but it would also be nice to see people get more actively involved in politics between elections,” he said. “Voting is an important part of the process but it’s not the only part. Justin Trudeau talked about wanting to get more input from Canadians and have a more inclusive form of government so it will be interesting to see if more people avail themselves of the opportunities he spoke of.”
Specific demographics in the voter turnout numbers were not available but Depner said the numbers, combined with the Liberal win, point to more young people getting out to cast ballots in this election.
“Based on initial observations that seems to have been the case,” he said. “The Liberals are quite good at motivating youth to vote and quite good at motivating university students. On first glance it looks as if turnout among young voters was higher than it has been in the past.”
Political science professor Kathryn Harrison said there were many initiatives aimed at youth that may have helped get younger people out.
“There have been a lot of efforts to increase participation by young voters,” she said. “Elections Canada had several days of advance polls on dozens of campuses, where students could vote regardless of where they live in Canada. I think that was an important initiative, as were efforts by fellow students to encourage their peers to vote. We will see as the data comes in whether the biggest gains were in the youth group.”