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City turns to social media, apps to increase voter turnout

2008 election had lowest voter turnout in 50 years

The city is turning to social media, an iPhone app and doubling its advanced poll voting days in an effort to get more people to cast a ballot in the Nov. 19 civic election.

The previous election in 2008 in which Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver team won convincingly saw only a 31 per cent voter turnout, the lowest in 50 years.

And this is amazing when you consider that the municipal level of government has the greatest impact on our day-to-day lives, said Janice MacKenzie, the citys chief election officer, as she launched new initiatives Thursday to increase voter turnout.

Each year, millions of tax dollars are spent on several local services including police, firefighters, road upgrades, garbage services and libraries.

Over the last term, Robertson and his council voted on such controversial subjects as separated bike lanes, a wide-ranging environmental plan and a mega casino proposal.

The city hasnt analyzed recent elections to determine the average age of voters but MacKenzie said various studies done about elections at all levels of government have shown voter apathy among young voters.

Typically, it is the younger voter who is less likely to vote, as well as new Canadians, she said, noting the city will hold meetings at four community centres for new Canadians who have questions about the election. The citys 3-1-1 phone service, which offers translation for 180 languages, is another option for voters.

MacKenzie said the iPhone app, which costs less than $10,000 and is directed at voters in the 18 to 35 range, provides basic information about voter eligibility, where and when to vote, names of candidates and a civic quiz.

Facebook and Twitter are other social media tools that MacKenzie said will help educate young voters on the importance of voting and role of local government.

The city will double the number of daysfrom four to eightfor advanced voting and MacKenzie clarified voters do not need a legitimate reason to vote early, as in previous elections.

When voters go to the polls, there will be a question on the ballot on whether the city should be given approval to spend $180 million on capital projects such as affordable housing, bridge repairs and a new fire hall.

In the 2008 election, only 20 per cent of voters answered the capital budget question. This year, the question will be translated into Chinese and Punjabi.

We want to make it as easy as possible for people to vote in the election, said MacKenzie, noting a voters guide will be sent to households next week.

The overall election budget is $1.7 million, about $100,000 more than was spent in 2008. About half of the $1.8 million is related to voting day costs.

The budget does not include money for online voting, which wont be available in Vancouver until 2014thats if the provincial government approves it.

When reporters asked MacKenzie what voter turnout percentage would be seen as a success, she replied, Any sort of increase would be viewed favourably.

MacKenzie said voter turnout is a complicated matter and can be impacted by candidates, city issues, the weather and voter fatigue from other elections held close to the civic vote.

But, she said, in many instances its the candidates that create the interest. That was evident in 2002 when former coroner and RCMP officer Larry Campbell ran successfully for mayor, collecting 80,000 votes.

Voter turnout was 50 per cent and the issues at the time involved the Downtown Eastside, a supervised injection site and the ouster of former NPA mayor Philip Owen from his party.

The highest voter turnout in a city election since 1930 occurred in 1934, where 55 per cent of voters cast a ballot. The lowest since 1930 was 26 per cent in both 1942 and 1956.

More information on the Nov.19 election is available on the citys website.

mhowell@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Howellings