Voter turnout plummets to an all-time low since 2009

Shamir Malik
February 5, 2020
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Only 19.1 per cent of McMaster students voted in the 2020 McMaster Student Union’s Presidential election, the lowest voter turnout for an MSU Presidential election since 2009. In total, 4810 students cast their ballots. The 2020 Hamilton Street Railway referendum that took place concurrently saw 5,763 students cast their votes, equivalent to a voter turnout of 22.9 per cent.

On Jan. 30, the MSU Elections Department ratified and released the results of the MSU residential election and  HSR referendum.

President-elect Giancarlo Da-Ré won the 2020 MSU Presidential election with 2,504 votes, a 1,529 vote surplus over the second place candidate, Jackson Tarlin.

Tarlin, the election’s runner-up, garnered 975 votes.

666 students abstained, and Krystina Koc received the lowest number of votes at 665.

Da-Ré will officially take office on May 1, 2019.

Voter turnout this year was the lowest it has been in a while, following a steady decline since 2018. Engagement fell from 41.6 per cent in 2017 to 28.1 per cent in 2018. In the following year, this steep drop appeared to level off, with a 1.2 per cent drop between 2018 and 2019. However, this year, the steep decline returned yet again, with turnout dropping by 7.7 per cent.

In the past five years, the lower the voter turnout, the greater the proportion of votes that went to the candidate who won.

In the past five years, the lower the voter turnout, the greater the proportion of votes that went to the candidate who won.

The MSU elections department investigated the sharp decline in voter turnout that occurred between 2017 and 2018. They concluded that it was likely because a large number of students opted out of receiving emails from SimplyVoting, McMaster’s online voting system. Offering students the choice to opt out is in line with Canada’s anti-spam legislation.

According to chief returning officer Peter Belesiotis, the elections department also emails students independently, regardless of whether they opt out of receiving emails from SimplyVoting.

“This has ensured that we reach all students with the relevant information, even those who may have opted-out from SimplyVoting emails. These email efforts are in addition to the print media, social media, video production and SMS messaging used to inform students of the election,” stated Belesiotis in an email.

Despite these measures, voter turnout was even lower this year, falling 9 points below 2018 levels.

Voter apathy and lack of trust in the student union may have played a role in this decline. A Silhouette article from 2018 speculated that candidates’ campaign strategies play a large role in voter turnout, citing class talks, student engagement and debate performance  as potential factors in determining voter turnout.

Abstentions this year were also significantly higher than they have been in recent years. Between 2016 and 2018, abstentions remained below 7.3 per cent. Last year, they rose to 9.2 per cent, and this year they jumped to 13.8 per cent.

Voters abstain for a variety of reasons. Students may choose abstention as a vote of no confidence, because they feel that none of the candidates are qualified. Alternatively, an abstention could mean that the voter cannot decide between multiple candidates, or they feel that they do not have enough information to make an educated vote.

The majority of students voted to continue the existing bus pass agreement between McMaster University, the MSU and the Hamilton Street Railway. The option for a 12 month bus pass with expanded service on Route 51-University received 2338 votes after the first round of the MSU’s ranked election system.

The second most popular option, an 8-month bus pass from September to April with no expanded Route-51 service, received 1901 votes.

The option for no bus pass received only 494 votes and was eliminated after the first round of the ranked election system.


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  • Shamir Malik

    Shamir is in his third year of the Bachelors or Health Science program. In his spare time he likes browsing through Netflix, writing poetry and taking naps.

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