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Voter fatigue could lead to low municipal election turnout: Mensah

Mensah described voting in the municipal election as a critically important activity, saying the municipal election is where "the rubber hits the road."
1310 advance polls jn 01 CC
Many people lined up to take part in the advance polls at Servus Place on Oct. 6, 2021. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

A political scientist is predicting voter turnout in St. Albert’s Oct. 18 municipal election might suffer due to fatigue from the federal election. 

Chaldean’s Mensah, an associate professor of political science at MacEwan University, said a municipal election tailing so closely to a federal one — especially during a pandemic — could lead to reduced voter turnout. 

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the electorate to up their game to participate,” Mensah said. “There’s so much on the table right now for families dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He noted the economic impact of the pandemic can take a toll on an elector’s ability to research an abundance of candidates, particularly the 20 council candidates and four mayoral candidates running in St. Albert’s municipal election. 

“If the candidates did a good job reaching out to the community, maybe that’ll generate interest, but looking at the overall environment, I think it’s going to be a challenge,” Mensah said. 

Further, Mensah noted abundance of decisions could also discourage voters. In addition to selecting a mayor, six councillors, and school trustees, voters will also be tasked with answering referendum questions.

This includes a referendum on daylight savings, equalization payments from provinces to the federal government, and three Senate nominations. 

“For the ordinary voter, my sense is this is a bit too much,” Mensah said. 

Advance voting 

Mensah also predicted more electors will choose to cast their votes in advance polls, and through mail-in ballots. 

“People simply don’t want to put their families or themselves in a situation where they have to go and line up with other people,” Mensah said. “Paradoxically, this could mean people encounter a higher volume of people in advance voting.”

On Oct. 4, the first day St. Albert’s advance polls opened, returning officer David Leflar said in an email to The Gazette the poll had been “very successful,” with 500 people voting between Servus Place and Community Hall. 

As of Oct. 12, St. Albert had seen 3,014 voters from all advance polling stations, city spokesperson Cory Sinclair said in an email.

Still, Mensah said increased voter turnout in advance polls might not be an indicator of high voter turnout overall. 

“It’s difficult to say, because we didn’t really see that in the federal election,” Mensah said. 

In the St. Albert-Edmonton riding, voter turnout in the federal election held steady despite the pandemic. Elections Canada data showed 62,678 people voted, a difference of 3,087 from the 65,427 people who voted in 2019. 

Past municipal elections in St. Albert, such as the one in 2017, saw an unusually high turnout, with 42.9 per cent of voters casting their ballots. In 2017, there was no incumbent running for mayor, and three municipal plebiscite questions — one on a branch library, an additional aquatic space, and an additional ice surface — were included on the ballot. 

The 2013 municipal election saw a marginally lower voter turnout of 38.13 per cent, while in 2010 the turnout was 34.16 per cent.

Mensah said he hopes St. Albert electors do turn out and vote this year, adding the municipal election is where “the rubber hits the road.”

“This is where governance touches our everyday life,” Mensah said. “These are people that make decisions about our school systems, our community services, and taxation.

“It’s critically important that people engage with these individuals that are running and make the effort to participate, because if we don’t participate, we end up with people that are not in tune with the needs of the community.”

Rachel Narvey

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