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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Election 2022: What’s up with NOTL’s high voter turnout?
The new council will be inaugurated Tuesday night at the Court House Supplied

What is it about Niagara-on-the-Lake politics that attracts more voters to the polls than almost any other municipality in the province?

Overall, turnout provincewide on Oct. 24 was just 33 per cent, according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

But in NOTL, nearly 48 per cent of voters cast ballots, tops in the region and way more than most Ontario municipalities – despite a 10 percentage point drop from 2018. 

So what gives?

Re-elected Coun. Gary Burroughs said high turnout is fairly typical for the town historically, though he was alarmed by the fall off from 2018. 

He wondered if electoral controversy “on the mayor side” may have “dampened people’s intent to come out.” 

Social media activity, people “putting their opinions on everything” and certain “articles in the paper” might have curbed turnout, he said, but didn’t offer any specifics.

Livianna Tossutti, an associate professor of political science at Brock University, argues that contentiousness and controversy can motivate more people to cast  ballots.

“In places where there are competitive races that pique the interest of voters, or close races, you’re going to have higher turnout than in communities where the race is not competitive,” she said.

Her view seems consistent with the results of the Niagara Falls race, where Mayor Jim Diodati was head and shoulders above the competition in the polls with his 66.72 per cent share of the vote.

But Niagara Falls had one the lowest turnouts this year at about 27 per cent – barely one in four voters.

NOTL Lord Mayor-elect Gary Zalepa was pleased with the town’s high turnout compared to neighbouring municipalities.

“I was surprised, to be honest,” said Zalepa.

He thought the turnout might be credited to “a rather engaging campaign.”

But, “I definitely would like to see it higher,” he said.

Tossutti said this year’s drop in turnout is “consistent with the turnout trends we’ve seen at the federal and provincial level.”

“The most recent provincial election had the lowest recorded turnout in Ontario’s history and the 2021 federal election also had the lowest turnout in over a decade,” she said. 

According to Statistics Canada, lack of interest in politics was the most commonly cited reason for not voting federally in 2021. 

One reason the turnout in NOTL remains high among its neighbours is because NOTL has an older, wealthier population, all of which are predictors of higher voter turnout, said Tossutti.

“Generally people with higher incomes are more likely to turn out to vote at all levels of elections,” she explained. 

NOTL is also a smaller community, which can make a big difference in a municipal election. 

Tossutti said turnout tends to be much higher in smaller communities than it does in larger centres, like St. Catharines, which had alarmingly low voter turnout at just over 26 per cent.

But in the tiny township of Pelee in southwestern Ontario, where there were only 555 eligible voters, 324 of them – 58 per cent – cast ballots.