Only 2.64 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls in the Meadows-Waverly byelection on Wednesday, but the low turnout isn’t entirely unexpected, according to a political scientist.
Out of 3,486 people registered on the voter’s list for Ward 5, the winner, Sunday Frangi, received a total of 50 votes, while runner-up Gordon McRae received 42 votes. Three ballots were declined and three were spoiled.
The number of votes cast was much lower than in the 2018 general municipal election, which was also noted to have had a low overall turnout at just less than 17 per cent.
Former Meadows-Waverly councillor John LoRegio, who stepped down earlier this year, was also first elected to Brandon City Council in a byelection, in 2013, which saw a 19.3 per cent turnout.
In 2018, according to the official results, LoRegio received 393 votes while McRae received 140.
Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said the Meadows-Waverly byelection turnout was hampered by a number of factors.
"When you look at turnouts in Canada, the more local the election the lower the turnout," he said.
"So, a federal turnout is usually stronger than a provincial turnout and a municipal election turnout is lower … that’s a general rule of thumb."
Byelections are also themselves "notorious" for lower turnouts than general elections, he said. No matter the level of government, byelections typically see less engagement.
The third factor affecting turnout is the pandemic. While large-scale elections have been held successfully, it can still be a deterrent for people to go to polling places.
"We’re in a pandemic and I’m sure some voters would have thought well it’s not worth their while to go vote with a pandemic going on if they didn’t think it was an important election," he said.
Voting by mail was an option for people, but only six people requested a mail-in ballot, said City of Brandon senior election official Danniele Carriere. Out of those six, three people returned their ballot.
"Usually for a byelection, voter turnout is low. Now, that was quite low this time around, but then again I do feel the pandemic had a large effect on it," she said.
While very few people came to the polls, Adams said it is still a legitimate mandate for the winner.
"If people really didn’t want a candidate to be elected they could have turned out to vote against that candidate. … Everybody had an opportunity to vote and those who didn’t vote, if they didn’t like what came out of the election that’s too bad for them," he said.
"Whether it’s two per cent turnout or 50 per cent turnout, you still represent that community, that ward."
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