Overall turnout, however, remains low, say returning officers
Among some of the larger towns in the St. John’s Metro region, the capital city had the largest voter turnout in the municipal election Tuesday, but Conception Bay South (C.B.S.) had the biggest increase in voters.
Mount Pearl resident Gordon Cooper votes under the supervision of poll clerk Isabel Sauvé Tuesday at the Church of the Ascension on Smallwood Drive.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
“The Town of Conception Bay South is pleased with the increase from 22 per cent in 2009 to 34 per cent in 2013,” mayor elect Ken McDonald said Wednesday.
“We would like to see the percentage of voter turnout higher in future elections, but are pleased with the election process this year.”
In the town there were 15,337 eligible voters, with 5,154 of them casting votes.
In most municipalities across the province each deputy returning officer struggles with increasing the voting population and shares the same concern of how to get people interested in exercising their right to make a difference in the community they live in.
Terry Lynn Smith, Paradise’s returning officer, said she is at a loss as to what more the town can do.
She told The Telegram Wednesday, of the 14,000 eligible voters only 4,946 cast their vote, or 35 per cent.
“I really expected a higher turnout, or we were hoping for a higher turnout,” said Smith.
“We had 32 per cent the last time so it came up a little bit, but it’s still pretty low. I guess more work has to be done. It’s difficult to know what more towns can do,” she said, adding they use social media, their website and advertising to inform residents about voting and the deadlines to register.
In response to concerns expressed Tuesday night about the counting of ballots in Paradise, the town’s chief administrative officer Rod Cumby put a notice on the town’s website Wednesday.
“I guess there were some questions why the count took so long and some misinformation out there that people were inappropriately hanging up the vote which was not the case,” Cumby told The Telegram.
He said a candidate or an agent asked to be present during the counting, which is allowed under the Municipalities Act, so the town wanted to put up the legislation to let people know what was going on.
The act states that during the counting of ballots one agent per candidate may be present with election officials, the candidate is not entitled to appoint more than one agent per polling station and that all present during the ballot counting shall be given full opportunity to examine each ballot.
Cumby said the town was questioned by a candidate’s agent as to how he could examine all ballots if multiple ballot boxes were to be counted at the same time within a polling station. The agent wanted to exercise their right to have all ballots examined. In the case of Paradise, there were 27 polling booths (including the advance poll) divided into three polling stations.
“Therefore, the decision was made by the town to open the ballot boxes in such a manner as to ensure all agents present during the ballot counting were given full opportunity to examine each ballot. The intent of this decision was to ensure that the election process was transparent, open and fair to all candidates and their agents,” read the letter.
Also hovering around the 35 per cent voter turn out was Mount Pearl which had 16,984 eligible voters with 5,975 votes cast.
While St. John’s is the only municipality to use mail-in ballots it still ran into trouble Tuesday night at polling stations where people could still register and vote up to the 8 p.m. deadline when polls have to close under provincial legislation.
However, Jennifer Mills, communications and public relations officer, said they couldn’t have anticipated the number of people who showed up just before the polls closed.
“That is extremely unusual. That hasn’t happened before,” she said.
“We haven’t seen it in previous years. We’re absolutely thrilled all these people came out and we would have kept the polls open as long as they needed to be to get through all those people who were there at 8 p.m. Unfortunately if you came after 8 p.m. we couldn’t let you in because that’s provincial law. We had to close at 8 p.m. but there were some very long line ups,” said Mills.
She said there were a lot of late comers in all the wards, but mostly in Wards 2 and 4 where the councillors have decided to retire.
Mills said the city sent out 67,354 mail-out kits (which included those at the satellite sites), with 35,688 ballots cast or 53 per cent voter turnout.
“We’re pleased with the 53, we would always like to see it higher but last election it was at 52 per cent so its good to see an upward trend,” she said.
P. Ryan, a 39-year-old voter in Ward 4, said he waited more than 45 minutes to vote.
And while he was able to cast his ballot, he said he wasn’t happy with the results.
“I thought it was time for change. From the turnout I wouldn’t say a lot of people cared too much about this election. Everyone is happy with the status quo I guess. Apathy is everywhere,” he said.
For the first time since the 1960s St. John’s council will be made up of all men led by Mayor Dennis O’Keefe.
Ryan says gender doesn’t play a factor in his voting capacity, but he expects more of the same decision-making process from the new council.
“Status quo, nothing special. They are pretty well the same group we had last week. Led by the same person,” he said.
Bill Walsh, a retired senior living in St. John’s, said he voted for O’Keefe and hopes the new council does more to help seniors.
“I’m in that situation and we were interested in a seniors condo, but we have concerns about the condo fees, and paying full taxes to the city on top of that. So we’ll see what they end up doing for the seniors in the community,” said Walsh.