Voter fatigue, acclamations blamed for low voter turnout in 2022 municipal elections

Voter turnout in Monday night’s municipal elections could be some of the worst on record, as numbers on Tuesday showed the percentage of people who didn’t bother to vote.

“You would think that people would be more eager to get out there and vote, absolutely,” said Brockville resident Olivia Skakum, who voted Monday evening. “I’m shocked.”

A snapshot across Ontario municipalities saw turnout lower than 25 per cent in places like Mississauga and Kitchener.

While Ottawa’s mayoral race brought out 44 per cent of eligible voters, other larger cities hovered in the 30 per cent range, like Barrie and Hamilton.

“Honestly, I’m surprised because it’s easy,” Skakum added. “Just do it online now. Like, you don’t even have to go in person. I think it’s super important that you get out there and you put your vote out.”

Outgoing Prescott Mayor Brett Todd said the low numbers weren’t surprising to him.

“I think part of it is voter fatigue, but part of it is just simply disaffection overall with politics, COVID weariness,” Todd said. “I think it’s been a challenge to get candidates for a lot of these positions, particularly in the mayor roles.”

Todd pointed to the number candidates running for mayor or reeve who had no challengers. One third of those positions in Ontario were acclaimed, according to numbers by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

“No criticism of those who have stood for mayor because we have some great people coming in here but, at the same time, when you are seeing those acclamations, it is indicative in that you are not drawing people,” Todd said. “I think one of the answers there is it’s a nasty political environment … everything seems to be a fight now no matter what the issue is. It’s not just an exchange of opinions, it’s a brawl.

“It’s the mayors’ races that really seem to bring the people out, draws the headlines, draws the most attention, gets people out to the ballot boxes. When you don’t have that competition, it just doesn’t seem to draw people as much,” Todd said.

Around the region, Brockville’s voter turnout was 34 per cent, down from 50 per cent in 2018, and nearby Elizabethtown-Kitley Township saw 32.8 per cent, down from 39.3 per cent four years ago.

South Glengarry saw just over 41 per cent of voters cast ballots, North Grenville had 40 per cent show up Monday night, and Kingston saw 30.5 per cent.

Todd says political life can be tough, especially with online harassment.

“The pay is not fantastic, sometimes you take all the blame and never really get any of the credit, so it’s a challenging role,” he said. “The realization now is that it’s a 24-7 cycle, you are on call all the time, especially in a role as a mayor, as a leader of a community whether it’s a larger city or a smaller town.

“But it’s the same sort of scrutiny, the same sort of issues online and it can be very, very challenging. It can take over your life and it can be not good for home life and definitely not good for work life balance,” he added.

Todd spent 16 years on Prescott council, including three terms as mayor, and decided this would be his last year after his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

“I have accomplished a lot of what I wanted to do, the arena … the park downtown, we revamped the fire hall, we have a water tower coming here, secured grant funding for that through the province. I mean, we’ve done a lot so it’s not a bad time for me to step away for both personal and professional reasons,” he said.

He also gave some advice for newcomers to the role of both councillor and mayor.

“It’s dramatically changed,” Todd said. “The only thing I would say is try to turn off the social media as best you can if you were elected, because that’s where things can really overwhelm you trying to keep up with that.

“The other thing I would say, and this is really important, make sure if you are coming in a mayor or a councillor, you know your role and you lead. Don’t just sit back and let staff take over and let staff set the direction,” he added. “If you’re at the council table, particularly at the head of council table, you need to lead, you need to work with your other councillors to set direction for the municipality and get things rolling forward.”

With three elections in 13 months, voter fatigue also played a role in low voter turnout. The June provincial election saw the lowest voter turnout in history, and the federal election in 2021 saw the lowest in 10 years.

In the 2018 municipal election, the average voter turnout was 38.3 per cent, the lowest since 1982, when AMO began collecting that data.

“It does feel like we’re doing a lot of voting, definitely,” Skakum said. “I definitely agree with that, but I think in my opinion you can’t really say anything if you’re not voting right?

“It’s not like this happens every six months and, ‘Oh, I didn’t vote this time so I’ll vote in a few months.’ This is four years now. You need to get your vote out, you need to get your opinion out now because it’s going to depend on the next four years,” she said. 

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