Residents in Lake Country had just one polling station to cast ballots in the municipal election leading for calls to open polling stations in the wards. Officials say it would be an expensive endeavour.

Lake Country voters asking for polling stations in wards, but answer not so easy

With voter turnout as low as it gets in the Okangan Valley, Lake Country may look into ward polling stations

With Lake Country’s voter turnout amongst the lowest in the Okanagan Valley, some residents and politicians are calling for voting stations in the wards for the next municipal election in four years time.

But election officials say it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Under 25 per cent of the eligible voters turned out to cast ballots on Nov. 15 in Lake Country with Okanagan Centre leading the way with 32 per cent of the eligible voters casting ballots in that ward. Twenty-seven per cent of the voters turned out in Oyama while 21 per cent voted in Winfield and just 17 per cent cast ballots for mayor and councillor-at-large in Carr’s Landing with its council candidate acclaimed.

The low voter turnout came as a bit of a surprise to some involved in the election, including election officials at George Elliot School, a very busy place on election day as the only polling station available in Lake Country.

“We were so busy and the turn-out was lower than the last election,” said deputy elections officer Willene Perez. “We were busy but we thought it was good because it meant the turnout would be good.”

Failed candidate Randy Rose, who brought up issues that appeared to resonate with people at the all-candidate’s forums, said it was disheartening to see the turnout numbers.

“There is a huge number of voters who are simply disengaged respecting our municipal government,” said Rose. “Despite my efforts to raise awareness, most residents don’t see the importance of holding our leaders accountable for their actions. I think there should be separate polling stations in Carrs Landing and Oyama and perhaps Okanagan Centre.”

One thing that slows the process down in Lake Country is making sure residents are voting in their proper ward. As voters showed up, officials looked up the person’s address to confirm which ward they would be voting in.

“It used to be that people would come in and say what ward they lived in but we had to look everyone up,” said Perez. “We can’t take the chance someone thinks they live in Okanagan Centre abut they are in Winfield. That wouldn’t be fair to the candidates and wouldn’t be a fair election.”

Election officials admitted there were some long line-ups to vote and the new electronic voting system wasn’t as fast as they had hoped. But taking voting stations out to the wards isn’t a simple fix.

There was $16,000 allocated to the municipal election from the Lake Country budget and to staff polling stations in the wards would take more paid officials than the 10 that were at George Elliot to staff the station from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

More voting machines would also be needed as well as finding places to rent to be open for the election.

“It’s not cheap,” said Perez. “We hear it every election, people are amazed we only have one polling station. Even if we added more tables, we wouldn’t have fit into the (George Elliot) gym. It would have to be another location, a bigger location.”

Election officials will present a report to council, likely at the new council’s meeting on Dec. 16.

Eligible voters per ward    Votes cast per ward    Percentage

Carr’s Landing:     697               116                              17

Okanagan Centre: 2,005            636                              32

Oyama                 1,510            407                              27

Winfield                5,103            1,064                           21

Total:                   9,315            2,223                           24

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