Editorial — Falling voter turnout a disturbing trend

Declining participation by young voters is a sign of troubles to come.

With all the speculation about the coming provincial election campaign, little attention is rarely paid to an alarming trend — the rate of voter participation is dropping steadily, and in 20 years, it may be at minimal levels.

All this happens as governments at all levels take more and more money from taxpayers’ pockets, and face significant challenges.

Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce analyzed these trends and decided to host a series of lunch meetings featuring the leaders of the three major provincial parties, in the run-up to the election. The chamber’s laudable goal is to raise voter participation in the two Langley ridings by five per cent.

There have been two luncheons thus far, and attendance at both has been low. Remarkably, even elected officials themselves have stayed away from hearing firsthand from NDP leader Adrian Dix and Conservative leader John Cummins. Only one elected official, Langley City Councillor Teri James, has attended the two meetings.

Of course, municipal politicians know all about poor turnout. In the last Langley City election, turnout was just over 20 per cent. In the Township, where there was a hard-fought three-way race for mayor, turnout was only marginally better, at 26 per cent.

In the 2009 provincial election, the turnout was just over 50 per cent. As Dix put it bluntly at Monday’s lunch, the BC Liberals were actually elected by 23 per cent of the people eligible to vote, while his party in opposition  received votes from just 21 per cent of those eligible.

As recently as 1983, 70 per cent of those eligible voted in a provincial election.

Dix is correct in diagnosing that an increasing number of young people don’t see any point in voting. Most are not disinterested in the world around them, but they don’t see voting or being involved with a political party as making any real difference.

As a result of this disinterest, Dix says elections (and governing)  increasingly are reduced to contests between the powerful and the loud, with almost everyone else shunted off to the sidelines. It’s not a good omen for democracy.

There must be concerted efforts to get young people to engage in voting. Dix has proposed having 16-year-olds on the voters’ list, so they’re ready to  vote at 18. This and other measures need to be looked at as well.