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Nova Scotia Election: Concerns growing voter turnout could drop below 50%

Click to play video: 'N.S. election debate gets low online engagement' N.S. election debate gets low online engagement
Some concerns for the rest of the election campaign have risen after low online engagement has reported Wednesday night. Alicia Draus has more. – Jul 29, 2021

It’s a short election campaign with just one month from when the writ was dropped to when Nova Scotians hit the polls, and each of the three main party leaders are busy doing what they can to get votes.

Day after day, the leaders are making announcements outlining the details of their platforms and making promises on what to do if elected — but how much are Nova Scotians paying attention?

READ MORE: Keeping track of the N.S. election and promises from main party leaders

“It’s early at this point,” said Dalhousie University political scientist Lori Turnbull.

“I don’t know if everybody’s totally switched into this yet, it’s the end of July, it’s vacation mode.”

This is the first time the province has held an election during the summer months in nearly two decades and it could play a role in voter turnout, but Turnbull says there are many other issues at play.

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“It’s become harder over the years to get people to engage in traditional politics and elected politics,” Turnbull said.

“I think people are frustrated with political parties. They’re frustrated with partisanship, the sound bites, the kind of deflection of meaningful questions as opposed to any attempt to give a meaningful answer.”

For those who do follow politics closely, it’s still not always easy to decide who to vote for.

“The issues are pretty well the same for all the parties, they’re all talking about the same things,” said Shirley Furlong, a resident on the Eastern Shore.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that’s really outstanding with brilliant ideas at all.”

Halifax resident Calandra Mulder says she already knows who she’s voting for but also says she doesn’t like the current system, which is so heavily party based. She says she spent 10 years in the Arctic where there were no parties and people voted for individuals who best represent them.

“The party system I think is fundamentally flawed, I think at this point, we need a whole new electoral system,” she said.

Other Nova Scotians like Sammy Saber say they just don’t follow politics.

“I can’t see how I’m going to change anything,” he said, as to why he isn’t keeping up with the election.

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Click to play video: 'N.S. election debate gets low online engagement' N.S. election debate gets low online engagement
N.S. election debate gets low online engagement – Jul 29, 2021

Turnbull says that’s a common response, especially among those who don’t see themselves reflected in politicians.

“It’s one of the reasons why diversity and inclusion is very important,” Turnbull said.

“I think a lot of people actually don’t see themselves in the political process and they don’t think it’s responsive to them.”

In the last provincial election in 2017, just under 54 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, and there is some concern that voter turnout could drop below 50 per cent this time.

“That’s dangerous, that’s uncomfortable,” Turnbull said.

“There can be a lot of impacts. One of them is that we end up with political outcomes and policy outcomes that are not as good.”

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Turnbull says if fewer people are engaged in the political process, then it means MLAs are less informed as they should be, and no matter how much debate happens over a policy, there will always be half the population missing in those conversations.

Turnbull says one good thing about this election though is the diversity of candidates, with all three parties making an effort to diversify their slate and have better representation of our population’s demographic.

“I don’t know what the house will look like when the election is over and how much of that diversity is going to translate into seats in the house, but we’ll find that out,” said Turnbull. ‘

READ MORE: The Nova Scotia election, the pandemic, and the unreliable internet many still face

As for engagement, it’s still too early to tell how involved Nova Scotians are in this election. Early indicators show early voter turnout has increased by about 150 per cent compared to the same time in 2017.

Already 7,882 votes have been cast at returning offices. At the same point in the last provincial election, just 3,183 early votes had been cast.

In addition to that, 2,158 Nova Scotians have received applications for a write-in ballot.

“I hope this is good news for turnout but I am not sure,” said Turnbull, noting that it could just mean that those who are planning to vote are planning to do it early this year.

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