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Increased Voter Turnout Indicates Role for Students

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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Written by Gonzalo Moreno

Last Monday’s municipal election in Guelph offered some interesting data for number crunchers. Total turnout, while up over 14%, still sits well below 50%, a goal that would seem reasonable in view of the turnouts for provincial and especially federal elections. According to City data, 4336 more people cast a vote for mayor last Monday than they did in 2003.

Most wards contributed modestly to this increased turnout. Wards 1, 2 and 4 registered increases in turnout of around 10 per cent, while Ward 6, the biggest and most rapidly expanding in Guelph, actually lost over 10 per cent of its turnout. Ward 3 registered an increase in voters by over 25 per cent.

But the overall increase in voters was carried mostly by Ward 5, which includes the University and its environs, including all on-campus students and a sizeable proportion of the off-campus ones as well. The increase in turnout in this Ward was a whopping 70 per cent, and contributed roughly half of the city’s total increase in voter turnout. Ward 5 also cast the biggest number of ballots overall.

The two elected councilors from Ward 5 (Lise Burcher and Leann Piper) also sported the two highest numbers of votes for any council candidate in the city, by a margin of almost 1,000 ballots, and their lead on the other non-elected candidates almost doubled that of the next widest lead for an elected councilor. Burcher had been one of the most progressive councilors on record in the last term, while Piper was endorsed by fellow progressive councilor Cathy Downer, who chose not to run this time around.

Considering the anonymity of ballots, it is impossible to quantify the exact role that students played in the complete turnaround in civic engagement that Ward 5 showed in the 2006 municipal election. However, the fact that the ward went from casting the least number of votes in 2003 to the most number of votes in 2006 suggests that student presence let itself be heard this time around like it had not done in previous occasions.

It is also not a coincidence that of the 12 candidates to City Council identified by Thecannon.ca as being more “student friendly,” 11 were elected (some against incredible odds) and the 12th lost by 15 votes. The number-crunching is in, and it may be the beginning of a time of greater student involvement in the Royal City.

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