Deepening Democracy: Questions on Engagement

Issues related to engaging citizens

Voter turnout is a key indicator of voter engagement, but voting itself does not exhaust the opportunities for governments to engage citizens.  Increasingly, voters want greater opportunities to initiate policy formulation and to participate in shaping policy as it is being created.  During elections, voters want their concerns to be heard and addressed as part of the political process.

1. Pre-Registration of Young People: Do you support pre-registration of citizens at the age of 15 or 16 (eg, through high schools and/or driving license offices)?

Voter turnout is lowest amongst young voters, and studies show that people who don’t vote early are the likeliest to become habitual non-voters. A number of US states have implemented pre-registration and have found that this results in modest increases in turnout.

2. Lowering the Voting Age: Do you support lowering the voting age to 16 or 17?

Some jurisdictions (most notably Scotland) are debating lowering the voting age to 16 to encourage young people to become engaged in politics and voting. This would enable high schools to explicitly encourage first-time voters through curricular activities.

3. ‘Gag Law’: Exemption on Third Party Registration for Individuals and Small Entities:

Do you support implementing an expenditure threshold for individuals and small entities (eg, non-profit organizations) below which they are not required to register as election advertisers? In the 2012 reference case in the BC Court of Appeal, Fair Voting BC argued in support of the BC Chief Electoral Officer’s request for an expense threshold, below which registration as a third party advertiser would not be required. This request did not form part of the court’s ruling and so remains in force.

4. ‘Gag Law’: Exemption on Third Party Registration for Charities:  Do you support exempting charities from the requirement to register as election advertisers?

Significant evidence has been put forward in court regarding the ‘chill’ effects of the current third party registration requirements on charitable organizations. Charities are already prevented from engaging in significant amounts of ‘political speech’ in order to retain their charitable designation.

5. Initiative Rights: Do you support a process to review and refine BC’s Initiative Act to make it more accessible to BC citizens?

While BC is unique amongst Canadian jurisdictions in offering voters the ability to launch an initiative process, onerous requirements such as overly restrictive and bureaucratic signature documentation rules and the need to win approval by 50% of registered voters (NOT 50% of those voting) make it unusable in practice. Even the recent HST referendum (the only initiative to go to the voters in the entire history of the Initiative Act) would have failed under the formal initiative rules and was in fact run under the Referendum Act, not the Initiative Act.

6. Internet Voting: Do you support moving towards adopting internet voting only when and if independent professional computer security organizations publicly endorse such a move?

A number of people have suggested adopting internet voting as a way of boosting turnout. Elections BC is currently studying this question, but, to date, the academic evidence seems to suggest that there is little impact on voter turnout. Instead, the main benefit seems to be convenience for committed voters. Furthermore, computer security experts at a Princeton symposium last November concluded that fundamental security problems cannot be considered to be solved and that online voting cannot be made verifiably secure for the foreseeable future.

7. Internet-Mediated Citizen Engagement: Do you support significant expansion of internet-mediated processes for engaging citizens and NGOs in public policy development?

In contrast to internet voting, there is considerable energy and broad enthusiasm for increasing citizen engagement through online and deliberative processes, as exemplified by the over 50 foundations, NGOs and universities participating in the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (deliberative-democracy.net) and the hundreds of enhanced engagement activities they have conducted.

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