Fort St. John Mayor asks city staff to look at ways of increasing local voter turnout

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman listens to a report from City Manager Dianne Hunter at last Tuesday's council meeting. Photo by City of Fort St. John

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman has asked city staff to look at ways of increasing voter turnout in the community after numbers show declining percentages of eligible voters heading to the polls in recent years.

Mayor Ackerman made the motion at last Tuesday’s council meeting, asking city staff to report to council on the benefits of creating a voters list, and to bring forward any other ideas or practices for voter engagement. At last Tuesday’s meeting, Ackerman explained her reasoning after seeing the voter turnout for last month’s city council by-election. The mayor’s motion passed unanimously.

The City’ Director of Legislative Services Janet Prestley said that the City of Fort St. John used to keep a voter list based on the provincial voting list, but that the city stopped compiling that list in the early 1990’s due to lack of updated data. Prestley said that since last Tuesday, she has emailed her cohorts from other municipalities about whether they keep municipal voters lists, or use the provincial voters list.

Prestley said that in addition to looking at a voters list, she is also looking at ways that the city could engage with residents in an attempt to collect more feedback on reasons that the may or may not get out and vote.

“Technically, in between the three different types of elections, municipal voting is way quicker than provincial or federal because of the fact that we currently use same-day registration,” said Prestley. “Unfortunately throughout the country, with municipal voting there’s a lot of apathy, and it’s only increasing. There’s a multitude of questions, and we need to figure out what the answers are, or if there are any answers.”

Prestley explained that though municipal elections do usually see the lowest voter turnout, she said that municipal governments typically have the greatest day to day impact on life for voters, ahead of provincial or federal governments.

Prestley said that at this point, she’s waiting to hear back from her cohorts to hear what their communities are doing to help address the issue with low turnouts before presenting a report to council.

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