Photo by Zoha Khalid

With less than a week to go until municipal elections, it remains to be seen if efforts to promote engagement made within the City of Kingston will have a positive impact on voter turnout.

Historically, municipal election voter turnout exhibits similar but exaggerated patterns to what is seen in provincial and federal elections – skewing primarily towards older demographics and particularly towards those who own their own home.

Voter turnout in Kingston since the 2000s has consistently hovered around a percentage in the high 30s to low 40s, which is fairly typical across the province and Acting Deputy City Clerk Derek Ochej says municipal elections consistently see lower turnout than their provincial and federal counterparts.

While the city makes outreach efforts in every election, the wealth divide remains clear in voter turnout results.

Ochej says current data collection methods lead to renters being less likely to receive information than homeowners.

“I think it’s just a matter of the fact that the way voter registration information is gathered through the MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation), it is a lot based on property ownership,” Ochej said

“The accounting of people in apartments is difficult in rental properties… it’s a transient population, people might not stay for long periods of time so we do get a significant number of people who might be registered but then they move and that isn’t updated.”

In Kingston, there is nothing mandating landlords or property holding companies from distributing election information, however there is a bylaw stipulating that electoral candidates cannot be prevented from campaigning in apartments, condominiums, or non-profit housing between 9 am and 9 pm.

Ochej said this year in an attempt to try to bridge the gap the city sent out an election info postcard in a targeted mailout to dense areas of residential rental properties in Kingston.

The city has made some effort to hear from the most vulnerable populations in Kingston as well, with a new initiative working with Housing and Social Services to create info to be shared through community partners.

Housing Programs Manager Joanne Boris says the effort has been made through community partners like AMHS, shelters, and food programs to inform unhoused and lower income members of the community on how they can have their voice heard.

“It’s been an effort to ensure that there was a plan created to try to reduce as many barriers as possible to vote,” Boris said.

“What we really rely on are our community partners to disseminate that information that we’ve provided to that population and to help them feel engaged in the voting process.”

In speaking to community partners, it seems those efforts were already being undertaken in part in previous elections without the city’s help.

Dan Irwin, Executive Director of Partners in Mission Food Bank, said when they were contacted by the city they were happy to distribute the information pamphlets, but that the effort from the food bank’s side to encourage voting is not a new one.

“We put up stuff about every election because we know that our clients tend to vote less,” Irwin said.

“But yet it’s probably more important for them to vote than anyone else… there’s some very major decisions that get made in politics that impacts the vulnerable community and if they’re not voting, they’re not getting heard.”

The info distributed is more focused on informing people how to vote, and anyone interested needs to take it upon themselves to learn more about candidates.

The city also distributed similar information in an effort to engage another segment of the population that sees lower turnout, that being students.

Unlike apartments, Queen’s residence prohibits door to door campaigning similar to other universities in Ontario.

In a statement from Queen’s the university said it is committed to providing students with the information needed to engage in the process, and highlighted ways candidates can further promote their platform to the student population.

“The City of Kingston shared information that was distributed to students and had representation at an orientation event on campus in September,” the statement read.

“Candidates and their canvassers may also book space in lobbies at each residence dining hall, including Jean Royce Hall, Ban Righ or Leonard, and can also request the arrangement of a special speaker event, by contacting the residence student government.”

Perhaps the biggest change the city hopes will boost voter turnout is an expansion of voting opportunities.

While online voting has existed for the past two elections unlike some municipalities, the city increased the number of online voting days from 10 to 20, and with advanced voting opening on Tuesday the city increased that element from one day to five.

Ochej said the hope is that making the process more accessible will boost the overall turnout, combatting perceived voter fatigue in the aftermath of federal and provincial elections.

“Part of the issues with voter turnout… I’ve been reading a lot about voter fatigue from elections or it’s other issues that people have with government, they might not see a particular slate of candidates as representing any of their interests,” Ochej said.

“I think the biggest thing for us this year will be seeing if the increased opportunities will have an impact on voter turnout.” 

From his position, Ochej says he doesn’t generally hear feedback of why people don’t vote, as the majority of people he engages with are doing so out of an interest in voting.

As of October 21st, the voter turnout for Kingston’s Municipal and Trustee election is 12.82%. The majority of electors have voted online thus far.

“12,404 electors have voted; 3,722 voted in person and 8,682 voted online,” a City of Kingston spokesperson told YGK News.

Voting day is October 24, with Kingston Transit fees being waived on that day.

Advanced polls and online voting remain open until the 24th, more election info can be found here.