The latest edition of Municipal World magazine has an article out about attempts to improve voter turnout in Hamilton’s upcoming municipal election.
The article quotes City Clerk Andrea Holland as saying “We are going to target polls in areas where we know there is lower voter turnout. It’s really important for us to engage and provide voting opportunities where the community is.”
The article notes Hamilton has suffered from low voter turnout at municipal elections for years. Turnout has been below 40 percent for much of the past decade. At the last poll in 2018, around 38 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In 2014, only 33 percent of voters turned up. The voter apathy is reflected in the recent provincial election Only 43 percent of Ontarians turned up to vote. In the riding of Hamilton Centre, that number was around 37 percent.
Hamilton’s city clerk’s office consulted with local Indigenous and immigrant community groups to develop ways to improve voter turnout. “We did some outreach with our community partners … to help identify some of the barriers facing people who wish to vote,” said Holland.
This year Main-in ballots will be available to assist elderly and those with with mobility issues but as well, will be available to all residents
Voters in Ontario can check if they’re on the list at voterlookup.ca. Eligible voters have until the end of August to add themselves to the list. From September 1-22, voters in Hamilton will be able to register to vote by mail. Vote-by-mail packages will then be mail around the end of that month. Voters will need to mail them back by the middle of October. If unable to mail their vote in, they will also be able to drop it off at city hall or at one of the city’s six municipal service centres.
At the next election, post-secondary students in the city will be able to vote on their campuses, regardless of where they live in Hamilton. The city is home to several post-secondary institutions, including McMaster and Redeemer universities and Mohawk College. Those institutions will have on-campus polling places. “What we also wanted to do is make sure we’re engaging with people of all age groups,” Holland said.
The city will set up a “vote anywhere poll.” That means students will be able to vote at those polling places regardless of which ward they live in. Before the new rules were brought in, students would have to vote in the ward where they reside. But come Election Day, they will be able to vote on campus. “Regardless of where they reside in Hamilton, they will be able to vote at the school they attend,” said Holland.
On voting day, Hamilton will have around 157 polling places. In addition, there will be polls set up in long-term-care facilities, four advanced polls, and a poll at the local Indigenous friendship centre. That polling place will be staffed primarily by Indigenous community members.
“We’ve identified areas that have lower voter turnout, so we’re trying to increase the number of polls in those locations. When we look at census data, those areas also mirror where equity-seeking groups reside,” said Holland.