I encountered a very interesting article in yesterday's Sudbury Star regarding this week's municipal election, titled, "Sudburians voted in record numbers". Initially, I was quite excited to think that voter turn out might have been at an all-time high here in Sudbury. While I had successfully predicted the outcome of each and every race for Council (Mayoralty and Ward races), I did not yet know whether my prediction regarding voter turnout would prove to be correct.
(For the record, I made my predictions known only to my dog, Leo, who I trusted not to shame me should those predictions prove wrong. A while back, in one of my famous year-ending blogposts, I tried to predict a number of happenings for the next year; I'm still living down my famous "the Vancouver Canucks will win the Stanley Cup" crystal ball prediction. I figured I was safe with Leo; but given my profound level of accuracy, I'm regretting that I didn't tell someone who could actually confirm that I made these predictions. How often have I lamented that Leo, my dog, can not speak. Well, maybe come to think of it, I'm likely better off that he can't).
My prediction for voter turn out was for a modest increase, due to the excitement of the Mayor's campaign. I was a little concerned, as 2 Ward races didn't occur, due to acclamations. However, I was envigorated by Greater Sudbury's attempts to connect with voters by setting up advanced polling stations in malls throughout the City (including the outlying areas).
The Sudbury Star, in Thursday's article, reported a voter turn out of 49.75%. Wow. That's pretty good for a municipal election. Not really great for democracy in general, but apparently better than the 43.17% we had come out for the 2006 municipal election. That's pretty good, I though, and in keeping with my original prediction. Way to go, Greater Sudbu....
Wait a sec. Hold on. What's this? "49.75% of all registered voters". Ok, so that's not a percentage of all eligible voters then. That's just a percentage of those on the Voter's List.
Hmmm...I was at a polling station in Ward 1 for about half the day during Monday's election. I seem to recall City staff going crazy over the Voter's List. Voters were showing up, many with voting cards they'd received in the mail from the City, only to be told, "Sorry, you're not on the Voter's List, you're going to have to go and stand in another line and go through a process to amend the list before you can vote."
Many voters were irate, particularly those who had received cards. They couldn't understand why there was a disconnect between the having received a card mailed to them by the City and their names not appearing on the lists. Frankly, polling station staff didn't understand why there was a disconnect either. Some people, who had lived at the same address for decades, also discovered that they weren't on the List, even sometimes when their spouses were. In one case, the residents of an entire apartment complex were omitted from the List.
Now, in part, these omissions from the Voters List were made up for by the inclusion of children and under-18 teenagers whose names appeared on the List, but really, the difference was only fractional.
In short, no one really understood just what was going on with the Voters List. But clearly, there were problems.
The Sudbury Star reports that there were actually 12,465 fewer voters appearing on the 2010 Voters List than which appeared on the 2006 Voters List (2006: 127,783; 2010: 115,318). This despite the fact that Greater Sudbury's population appears to have grown by about 8,000 people during this time frame. Population demographics show a significant trend towards an older community, so clearly those new additions to the population likely weren't under-18's.
All of this points to a significant number of eligible voters having their names left off of the Voter's List, which is the starting point which the Sudbury Star used to determine that voters voted in "record numbers".
With all due respect to the Sudbury Star, it appears that they've simplified the story of voter turn out to the point that their headline is actually misleading, and may be outright untrue. Using an extremely flawed Voter's List as a starting point has led to a situation where it might appear that voters participated in the democratic process in record-setting numbers, but the fact is, it's just not so.
All the more reason to be careful when statistics are used. Unfortunately, those of us "in the know" here in Sudbury are now going to have to correct the record every time this little bit of information about "record setting voting" is trotted out.
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