With no referendum on the ballot this year, voter turnout is unlikely to be any higher than in 2011’s municipal election, according to University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford.
The last municipal election saw ballots cast by 38.4 per cent of eligible voters. And while the majority of voters remained on the sidelines, the last election was both a marked improvement over the provincial average of 29.5 per cent and an improvement over past turnout numbers in Abbotsford.
“I suspect we’re going to be down from where we were last time,” Telford said. “I think last time people were quite motivated by the P3 water project. “There don’t seem to be issues driving this campaign to that magnitude.”
But with two strong mayoral candidates on the ballot, Telford says turnout shouldn’t drop too far.
“I would expect it to be down, but maybe not terribly far down,” he said. “One of the things that drives turnout is perceived competitive races. I don’t know how close the race is, but it seems somewhat competitive and that might prevent turnout from dropping a long way.”
Recent municipal elections have seen just over one-third of voters cast ballots.
In 2008 and 2005, 34 per cent of voters cast ballots to choose a council and mayor. There was no referendum in either election. In 2006, only one-quarter of voters participated in the still-much-debated referendum on Plan A, the proposal to build what would become the Abbotsford Centre and The Reach Gallery Museum, and to expand the Abbotsford Recreation Centre.
Voter turnout was a little higher in 1999 and 2002, when 37 and 36 per cent of voters, respectively, cast ballots. (The 1999 vote featured a rerendum on whether to build a Mill Lake arts centre).
But lest one think voters were intrinsically more involved in local affairs in the late 90s, only 12.5 per cent of eligible voters – one in eight – took part in a 1998 referendum on whether to build a multi-sports complex. In 1997, Only 22.6 per cent of voters cast ballots in a referendum on charitable casinos, and 1996 saw only one quarter of eligible residents vote for council and mayor. That election also included a referendum on whether to build a new police building.
The most well-attended municipal vote came in 1994, when 45 per cent of eligible residents went to the polls to elect a council and mayor and decide whether to call their newly amalgamated municipality Abbotsford or Matsqui.
In three advance voting opportunities last week, 4,235 ballots were cast, a figure in line with previous elections, according to the city.
There are two candidates running for mayor, 30 candidates for council and 16 candidates for school trustee positions.
Information on voting eligibility, locations and resources for those with disabilities is available on the City of Abbotsford’s website at www.abbotsford.ca.