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Young Hamiltonians reflect on low voter turnout in this year’s municipal election

After months of campaigning, debates, Twitter discourse and tension, the results of the municipal election are in.

This election saw the largest turnover of Hamilton’s city council in over 20 years, as well as the election of Hamilton’s first woman mayor, first East Asian councillor and first non-binary councillor, making it a historic moment for the city.

But while mayor-elect Andrea Horwath and nine new city councillors celebrate their wins, another issue has been looming in the shadows since Monday: low voter turnout.

A hand holds a brown envelope just above a ballot box. Another hand is seen pointing towards the box.
Voter apathy is just one explanation for low turnout at this year’s election.

Only 35 per cent of eligible voters in Hamilton cast their ballots this year, marking a three per cent decrease in voter turnout compared to the last election in 2018.

The lack of Hamiltonians at the polls this year is leaving city councillors and their constituents wondering what’s stopping voters from showing up on election days.

Newly-elected Ward 2 city councillor Cameron Kroetsch took to Twitter to voice his disappointment in this year’s turnout.

“I’m not going to stand on the shoulders of [the electoral system’s] flaws and scream victory,” he wrote. “I acknowledge that I was only elected by 16 per cent of those eligible to vote, and that not nearly enough people are even eligible to vote.”

Likelihood of voting increases with age, meaning the younger someone is, the less likely it is that they’ll vote. Mail-in ballots and on-campus polling stations are two of the solutions the city has implemented to tackle chronic low voter turnout in its younger population. But sometimes the issue for young people isn’t ease of access to polling stations.

A screenshot from the Government of Canada website shows confirmation of voter registration
Students who recently moved to Hamilton can change and check their voter information online.

Felicity O’Neill, a 24-year-old Hamilton resident, says that for her, not voting was a combination of several issues.

“Believe me, I wanted to vote,” she said “But between a hectic work schedule and navigating a fairly new disability, I couldn’t make it. It feels bad and it feels like a lame excuse. But I physically couldn’t make it to the polling station, and by then I had missed the deadline for advance or mail-in voting.”

“There’s a certain embarrassment or stigma to not voting,” she added.

Others in Hamilton are feeling the same stigma. One 23-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, said she didn’t vote simply because she felt she didn’t know enough.

“It’s almost intimidating,” she said. “I don’t know anything about politics, and I’m embarrassed to admit that. I feel like I’m too young or too uneducated to really make an informed decision. And if I’m being completely honest, I feel like my vote just doesn’t matter in the long run anyways. What am I really changing with a vote?”

Tackling voter apathy among young people is no small task. But according to one Hamilton resident, it starts with simple human connection.

“I think a lot of people in their 20s just aren’t engaged with municipal politics in general,” McMaster student Gavin Rees said. “They don’t realize that municipal elections are arguably the most important way to make your issues known because our daily lives are most affected by what happens at the municipal level. I think fixing that starts with conversations between friends, because like municipal governments, the people we interact with on a daily basis also have the most influence over our lives.”

To learn more about what’s happening in city council and the results of the 2022 municipal election, visit hamilton.ca.

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