THUNDER BAY -- Ideally, John Hannam would like to see voter turnout double in 2014.
Just 43 per cent of the electorate exercised their democratic right in the 2010 Thunder Bay municipal election, and while that marks a seven percentage point jump over 2006, when there was no mayor’s race to speak of, the city could do better Hannam said.
On Thursday the city clerk helped launch a new website aimed at making voting more accessible to residents.
The site includes everything from voter registration and voter-list checks to important election dates and candidate profiles and information.
Tbayvotes.com also provides dates and times for the voting van, an innovation the city clerk’s office introduced four years ago to improve access and encourage higher voter participation.
The site should answer most questions people have, starting with whether or not they’re on the voting list.
“They may have moved or changed residence in the last year. There’s lots of reasons why they’re not on the voting list,” Hannam said.
“The other thing beyond that is really understanding they’re eligible to vote.”
Plenty of potential voters believe they have to have lived in a ward for a minimum length of time in order to be able to vote there.
Not so, said Hannam.
“If you’re living here today and moved here yesterday, you’re eligible to vote in a municipal election. Getting themselves added to the list is a simple thing,” he said. “It’s a matter of making them understand that it really isn’t difficult to do that.”
Getting people interested in voting is a tough task, and municipalities are no different that provincial and federal jurisdictions, where turnout continues to drop.
Historically Thunder Bay gets about 50 per cent of eligible voters out. That’s still not good enough, Hannam said.
“That means that half of the people don’t vote when a municipal election comes around. That’s what we’re trying to have an impact on.”
Coun. Rebecca Johnson, seeking a fourth seat in the at-large race, said it’s time the city got with the times and introduced online voting.
Council rejected it once already this year, but she said it’s time is coming. It’s the only true way to see larger number of people participate in the democratic process.
“We haven’t done that and I think that’s regressive,” she said.
Today’s youth live online, and people with accessibility issues often find it too bothersome to get out to the polls.
“That’s the era that we’re living in now,” she said.
Hannam said the next council would have to approve online voting in order for it to be introduced in time for the 2018 municipal election.