Calgary’s hotly contested election brought 58 per cent of eligible voters to the polls on Monday.
Red Deer’s turnout? Just under 29 per cent.
The city’s returning officer, Frieda McDougall, said some elected officials could interpret this as the local populace being happy with the status quo.
While crime, drugs and a stagnant economy were among the election issues, they didn’t prompt as many people to vote as in the 2013 election, when nearly 32 per cent of eligible voters came out.
There also wasn’t an exciting mayoral race this time. Red Deer’s incumbent mayor Tara Veer handily won re-election with 88 per cent of the vote over Sean Burke, an untried candidate that few people expected to win.
For some voters the sheer number of candidates might have been a hurdle. While having 29 people vying for eight city council seats and another 16 for seven seats on the public school board was “thrilling” from a public engagement standpoint, said McDougall, the volume might have overwhelmed some perspective voters.
But the biggest difference between this election and the one in 2013, is that a plebiscite about whether Red Deer should go to a ward system was on the previous ballot. She added this could have peaked public interest four years ago.
While election day voter turn out was less on Monday, McDougall noted that advance poll numbers were up by about 18 per cent. This could mean more people from the same pool of voters chose to exercise their right a few days earlier, bringing election day numbers down as a result.
Red Deer has a fairly low voter turnout, historically, for municipal elections. There was about 25 per cent turnout in 2010, 22 per cent in 2007, 27 per cent in 2004 and 22 per cent in 2001. By comparison, Monday’s participation rate doesn’t seem as bad.
McDougall feels things went well at about 31 polling stations in Red Deer and a total of 55 in the region (to catch ballots for the Red Regional Catholic School Board). About 400 paid staff reported no major glitches, or long lineups. And the electronic count produced an unofficial tally by about 9:35 p.m. in Red Deer and 10:10 p.m. in the region.
Although the elections.reddeer.ca website wasn’t showing vote counts for the first half hour, “it was a brand-new website,” said McDougall, and had some bugs that were soon fixed by IT workers. Otherwise, she received good feedback about the site from other municipalities, who want to copy some of the design features.