Getting the word out - The Orca
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Getting the word out

Dene Moore
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Dene Moore: The milk is spilled; we’re having an unscheduled election. The pandemic and decline of local media will force parties to find new ways to engage with voters – especially young ones.

I won’t do any pearl-clutching this week over the timing of a provincial election during a pandemic. That bus is full, and there are no shortage of opinions about B.C. heading to the polls more than a year ahead of schedule.

It’s worth remembering, though, that before 2005, the writ was often dropped at the whim of the ruling party – and that a fixed election date hasn’t done a damn thing for voter turnout.

In fact, from 1928 to 2001, voter turnout hovered between a low of 65.3 per cent turnout to a high of 77.66 per cent of registered voters in B.C. Turnout in 2005 dropped significantly that year to then-new-low of 62.36 per cent of registered voters, from 70.95 in 2001.

Then it got worse.

Voter turnout hit an all-time low in 2009, with just 55.14 per cent of registered voters bothering to take 15 minutes out of their day to cast a ballot.

What if the government flouting its own fixed election date gets more British Columbians out to the polls? Politics in this province needs a shake-up; maybe the PandElection will do it.

First, the tried-and-tired election staples of election bus sound-bite photo-ops and poorly-attended local candidate debates can be furloughed for now, and I hope, maybe forever.

Let’s see what the parties can come up with that might actually engage with citizens, in their homes, online, via snail mail or email – whatever it takes. There is a whole new world of communications that, like it or not, the pandemic has helped usher into our living rooms.

Second, the loss of most of B.C.’s local media and the shocking contraction of the few that remain mean they will be hard-pressed to provide the type of daily and in-depth coverage we’ve all taken for granted. There simply aren’t the media resources in this province anymore to do the work of keeping the electorate informed the way they have been able to in the past.

Notice it, and do something about it in time for the next election.

The dearth of media means parties have to provide clear and concise platforms, and communicate openly and often with the public. It also means voters are very susceptible to the social media manipulation we’ve seen rise in the U.S. and other jurisdictions, peddling half-truths and outright lies on both sides of the political spectrum.

Voters will need to bring their brains into the voting booth (or envelope) with them. This has not worked well south of the border. Let’s try to do better.

Third, a messaging makeover may just capture those youth voters who are remarkably absent when it comes to the boring backbone of democracy – getting themselves to a polling station on election day.

There seem to be no shortage of passionate young people when it comes to getting a selfie at a protest or posting a clever meme – but the numbers on voting day are pathetic, and have been for some time.

In 2017, 56.2 per cent of voters aged 18-24 cast ballots. More appalling, just 46.3 per cent of voters aged 25-34 bothered to do so. Pathetic.

In comparison, 67.4 per cent of voters aged 55-64 who cast ballots and an admirable 75 per cent of voters aged 65-74 and 67.7 per cent of those aged 75-plus.

Overall, 61.2 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in May 2017.

In 2017, the balance of power in this province was ultimately decided by a few votes in a single electoral district. It was the closest election in B.C.’s history, according to the chief electoral officer.

Every vote counts.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.

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