Stephen McNeil’s Liberals won their second consecutive majority on Tuesday night, but the number of people who cast their vote has dropped to an all-time low.
Of the 748,633 registered electors in the province, only 400,898 cast a ballot — less than 54 per cent — in a tight race which saw at least six ridings neck-and-neck for much of the night.
Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, which saw the re-election of Liberal Labi Kousoulis, saw the lowest voter turnout on record — just over 40 per cent of electors cast their vote.
The low voter turnout was also a contrast from the strong early voting, according to Elections Nova Scotia spokesperson Andy LeBlanc. Over the course of last week, 112,900 voters went to advanced polls.
LeBlanc told Global News that there has been a gradual decline since 1960, when voter turnout was 82 per cent. He said compared to the 2013 election where turnout was 58.2 per cent, the percentage had dropped to an unofficial number of 53.55.
But he couldn’t say why the rate continues to drop.
“We don’t speculate as to why that is, what we do is we look at the processes and try to find ways to improve access to voting, such as early voting opportunities where we did see an increase in that number,” LeBlanc said.
Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters Wednesday that the numbers were disappointing given how hard candidates work during the campaign.
“When you get the turnout down to near 50 per cent, to 53 per cent I think it ended up at last night, which I think is almost a five or six point drop from the previous election it’s disappointing,” McNeil said. “We need to take a hard look at what do we do and I don’t know the answer to it … but I think there needs to be a hard look at what can we do to help improve participation.
“The trend is going in the wrong direction and last night’s drop was substantial in my view.”
He added all Nova Scotians should be concerned about the lack of participation.
Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie said the numbers mean something needs to change.
“I think all parties now have to come together and get the message that people are not happy even with our system,” said Baillie, who saw his party gain seven seats from where the party sat at dissolution.
He said the government needs to think about how to modernize the system and make it relevant.
“I think that’s the greatest disappointment from last night for everybody and something that we really need to get going on,” Baillie said.
The PC leader also said he thinks the “snap” election had an impact on voter turnout and said having a fixed election date would be beneficial for everyone.
He called on McNeil to commit on fixed election dates.
“Then it’s on the people’s timeline when these elections are, not on the premier’s.”
However, one of the PCs newly obtained ridings saw one of the biggest turnout of voters, with 70 per cent of voters dropping their vote of the ballot box.
Leonard Preyra, a political scientist and former NDP MLA, said the problem with low voter turnout is that government doesn’t always represent the overall population.
“Well I think a representative government means that the members were elected to the legislature actually represent the population,” Preyra said.
He said divisive issues that parties are divided on are more likely drive people to the polls.
“It’s not clear we had that type of division of the vote last night,” Preyra said.
He said close races would bring in more people. In the case of Cape Breton-Richmond, which saw a high turnout, it was a close race despite a long-time incumbent.
“Where there’s high competition … you would get 70 to 80 per cent because feel their vote would make a difference,” Preyra said.
—With files from Marieke Walsh and Steve Silva, Global News, and The Canadian Press