My Perspective - Ballot blues


By Kate Jackman Atkinson

The Neepawa Banner

On Wednesday, Oct. 22 Manitobans will head to the polls to vote for their municipal government representatives and school board trustees.  Except that many won’t.  Sure, some Manitobans have already voted in advance polls or by mail-in ballot, but come election day, many Manitobans won’t take a few minutes to have their say. They will play no part in choosing the government that has the most direct impact on their day-to-day lives.

Turnout for municipal elections tend to be abysmally low.  In the 2010 general municipal election, 1,408 of the 2,765 eligible voters in the Town of Neepawa cast a ballot to elect a mayor. That’s just half. In the Town of Rivers, the turnout was a little better with 61 per cent of eligible voters turning up to vote. Across the region, only about half of all eligible voters cast a ballot in municipal elections.

Most Canadians aren’t directly touched by the foreign policy decisions and trade agreements made by the federal government.  We are all touched by the decisions made by our municipal governments; the taxes we pay on our homes, the condition of our roads and the policies that succeed or fail in making our towns vibrant and viable. The education of our communities’ children impact us all. Yet, despite municipal governments having the most direct impact on our happiness, it tends to see the lowest levels of voter turnout.

Not only is turnout low, but many residents won’t have the option of voting at all– their representatives have won by acclaimation.

Voting in a municipal election has another advantage over elections for other levels of government. In municipal elections, people generally have a pretty good idea of the major issues and the candidates.  The candidates are our friends, co-workers, neighbours and the guy down the street we don’t like. It doesn’t require a large investment of time to get to know them, their character and their position on issues that are important to us. The major election issues are the ones that impact our daily lives, they are easy to know. 

In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protest are have been ongoing for the last three weeks. While predominantly a student-led protest; on Monday night, bankers, engineers and office workers were out in the streets trying to keep police from moving the protesters out of three main areas where they had sent up camps. They were using cement to reinforce the barricades. These average, middle class citizens have taken to the streets to show their support for democracy and greater home rule.

In Hong Kong, the wide-spread protests are because people want to be able to their own candidates. In 1997, the Chinese government promised to let Hong Kong voters chose the city’s leader starting in 1917. However, residents have now learned that any candidates on the ballot must first be screened and approved by a committee composed predominantly of representatives loyal to the Chinese government.

Around the world, citizens are taking to the streets to be able to chose their government.  They want anyone to be able to put their name forward as a candidate and they want to be able to chose the one they believe will best represent them. 

These are right and privileges which half of our municipalities’ residents clearly take for granted. On Oct. 22, take 10, or 15, or 30 minutes to make your voice heard, even if it’s just to show that you are happy with the status quo.