Editorial: No show voters deciding the winners

Published on November 15, 2016

When the polls are open, it's time to vote.

©Brittany Verge

Numbers don't lie. And the numbers from the U.S. presidential election, no matter who you favoured, are startling: the clearest winner in the vote was - no one.

More people chose not to vote than chose to vote for either candidate. As the numbers look now, 43 per cent of eligible voters stayed home. Hillary Clinton garnered support from just over 27 per cent of eligible voters, while Donald Trump, who won the White House but lost the popular vote, got the support of 27 per cent of voters.

In other words, the man who won the U.S. presidential election this year had the active backing of roughly one-quarter of American voters.

It's not resounding support, for sure.

So why should we care?

Because there are clear voting trends in much of Atlantic Canada, and they are not pretty.

In the November 2015 provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador, the province hit a remarkable low-water mark: only 55.2 per cent of eligible voters actually made their way to the polls, meaning that province got a Liberal majority government with only 31 per cent of eligible voters in the province voting Liberal.

The last time New Brunswickers voted, in 2014, they managed a 65 per cent turnout, another all-time low.

All counted, 59 per cent of Nova Scotians voted in 2013, just slightly higher than the 2009 all-time low of 58 per cent.

The poster child for involvement? The provincial election in Prince Edward Island in 2015 saw 85.9 per cent turnout. But don't get on too high a horse yet, Islanders: a recent plebiscite on electoral reform garnered only a 36 per cent turnout, even though voters could vote online. And P.E.I. numbers, though up in the last election, have been sliding as well: 85.5 per cent turnout in 1996, 84.9 in 2000, 83.3 per cent in 2003, 83.9 in 2007 and 76.2 per cent in 2011.

The last federal election was also a bright spot - 68.3 per cent of voters cast their ballots, the highest level in 22 years.

But the message from the south is clear: the more people sit on their hands or, through procedural wrangling, are kept from easy access to the polls, the stranger the results may be.

It sends one other message, too: voting rates in the United States have been by and large stagnant or declining for years.

The latest U.S. presidential campaign, like many in recent years, was bitter and divisive - many probably decided no one was worth electing.

That may serve politicians, but it doesn't serve democracy.

But politicians have to give people a reason to vote, unless their true goal is to reduce the number of people voting to the point that only the hardcore party faithful bother to show up.

Then again, if you treat an election like a spectator sport, you can't really complain about the results.