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OPINION - Getting to the Don't Votes

You probably know the Don't Votes. They were too busy to vote in the 1983 B.C. election. Same story in 1986. In 1991 they were out of town, in 1996 they didn't like the candidates and in 2001 they couldn't be bothered.

You probably know the Don't Votes. They were too busy to vote in the 1983 B.C. election. Same story in 1986. In 1991 they were out of town, in 1996 they didn't like the candidates and in 2001 they couldn't be bothered.

I hope the Don't Votes will vote in this year's election on May 17, but I wonder if they will. The alarming issue for our democracy in B.C. is that since 1983, thousands of British Columbians have joined the Don't Votes and sat on the sidelines, letting others decide who would run the province.

Here is the downward trend: 70 per cent of eligible British Columbians voted in the 1983 election; 67 per cent in 1986; 64 per cent in 1991; 59 per cent in 1996; and just 55 per cent in 2001.

In that last election, 1.6 million British Columbians voted and 1.3 million eligible voters found something else to do.

If this trend continues, in this year's election or the next one, less than half of eligible voters will cast ballots, and far fewer than that will choose the party that runs the government.

This could be dangerous for our democracy. As voter turnout decreases, the public and media begin to question whether government can claim it has a strong mandate, and eventually our political system is put at risk.

So for all of us who believe in our democratic system - the envy of millions of people denied these rights in other countries - there's a lot at stake in keeping the electoral process well supplied with the vital energy of votes dropped into ballot boxes.

It may be easy for those who do vote to get annoyed at the Don't Votes. The Don't Votes are out there enjoying the fruits of democracy while their neighbours are busy pruning and watering the trees.

But we have to look at why so many people aren't voting. The declining turnout may mean that British Columbians are becoming less involved with community and more disconnected from each other.

If people don't care to choose who governs the public institutions that directly impact their lives, it may indicate they don't care what's happening across the province - or even across the street.

The statistics show that many of the Don't Votes in our province are young people, although plenty of older folks don't vote as well. Just 27 per cent of eligible people aged 18 to 24 voted in 2001, less than half the overall rate.

Maybe the Don't Votes feel their votes just don't matter. Or that voting is too much of a hassle, that it's too much of a bother to figure out the voting process.

At Elections BC, we're trying to make it as easy as possible. The first step is to make sure you're registered at your current address. For the first time ever in B.C. and anywhere in Canada, you can register, update or confirm your registration on the Web - at

If you'd rather use a paper registration form, you'll find one inside the flyer we mailed recently to homes across the province. Or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-661-8683.

Also, in this election, voters will be asked to decide whether to change the entire electoral system, as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. Every election is important, but this one even more so, as British Columbians will be voting twice - once for a candidate and once on whether to change the voting process.

Also on the positive side, several youth-run organizations in the province are working on the issue of voter participation. They're encouraging young people to register, get involved in the political process and, most importantly, show up at voting places on May 17.

If I could speak with the Don't Votes, I would ask them to join in this great democratic exercise because we need them, because every election is historic and because history is made by those who show up.

Voting is the small price we pay for the fruits of democracy, all the things we enjoy because we live in a free society.

Those fruits come from an orchard that needs to be tended, just a little by each of us. Your ballot is waiting at a voting booth near you on May 17.

Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld heads Elections BC, a non-partisan Office of the Legislature.

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