Photo by Kyle West

On Oct. 22, McMaster students headed to the polls, voting in their respective wards for councillor, mayoral and trustee candidates, respectively. Despite improvements overall for the city, the numbers suggest that student turnout continues to falter.

Overall turnout this year for the city was up from the 2014 municipal election turnout, with 38.6 per cent of eligible voters compared to 34.02 per cent casting a ballot.

Ward 1 also saw an increase in turnout with 8,944 ballots cast, resulting in a 42.52 per cent turnout. This is an improvement from 2014 and 2010, when turnout was at 40.74 per cent and 40.70 per cent, respectively.

Age and McMaster-specific voting stats are not available, but city-wide and poll-by-poll results in Ward 1 offer a glimpse into how many McMaster students voted.

Binkley United Church, Dalewood Elementary School and Temple Anshe Sholom are three of the closest polling stations to campus. In 2014, these three stations counted 1,725 combined votes. This election, that number was at 1,784.

However, this year, a new polling station at the Church of God Hamilton also registered 312 ballots.

McMaster has around 31,000 students. Even if all the votes at the four closest stations were students, the combined 2,096 votes cast at those polls is under 10 per cent of the student population. If only 10,000 Mac students live on campus or in student housing, 2,096 votes would still fall well short of 30 per cent turnout.

Because many students live in other wards and may have voted there, it is hard to measure student turnout completely accurately. However, the polling numbers seem to indicate that student turnout still remains low in student housing areas, with small to modest improvement from 2014 to 2018.

Before the election, the McMaster Students Union ran a MacVotes campaign to encourage students to head to the polls. On the day of, MacVotes continued tabling and walked students to the polling stations.

MSU vice president (Education) Stephanie Bertolo said that candidate campaign staff told MacVotes that a large number of voters at Dalewood Recreation Centre and Binkley United Church registered on the day of the election. Many of these were likely students who had never voted in Hamilton at their current address.

“Overall, I believe we ran a very successful campaign,” said Bertolo. “Many students engaged with the campaign both online and at our table, asking us questions about how to get out to vote.”

Nonetheless, the city-reported polling numbers suggest that the campaign was only somewhat successful in increasing student turnout, at least for this election. One way to potentially improve student turnout is to have more convenient polling stations for students.

During the 2006 municipal election, there was a polling station on campus. However, the station was pulled in 2010 and has not been reinstated since.

Newly elected Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson said in a statement after the election that she supports a McMaster polling station.

“Not having a voting poll at McMaster University campus is not in the best interest of our city, our nation or our democracy,” Wilson said. “We must normalize voting and make it easier, not more difficult.”

Despite the MacVotes team’s increased push to promote voting, it appears many students still opted not to vote. While the underlying factors and reasons for not voting are unclear, is is fair to say there is a lot of work still to be done to motivate students to get civically engaged.

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