Nunavut election turnout only 66 per cent?


In your thorough coverage of last week’s elections you report turnout as 98 per cent, or slightly lower‚ as the Chief Electoral Officer suggests.

There are two ways to calculate voter turnout. The first method takes the number of people who voted and divides by the number of registered voters. In Canada we typically use this method, in part because we assume that the voters list is relatively complete. It was this method that was used to calculate the figure of 98 per cent.

The second method takes the number of people who voted and divides by the number of adults in the population who are eligible to vote. This is normally used to get a sense of voter participation when we have reason to doubt the enumeration lists, or when we allow unregistered voters to cast ballots. This is the method used in the U.S., for example.

If enumeration has been thorough, in other words, if all eligible persons are included on the voters list, then the results of both calculations will be similar. If the numbers are far apart they tell us that the voters list left off a large portion of the electorate. If the numbers are far apart and we only use the higher number, we over-estimate voter participation.

In Nunavut, the numbers aren’t even close. Almost 100 per cent of registered voters may have cast ballots, but if we calculate using the second method we get a turnout rate of 66 per cent. In other words, two-thirds of all eligible Nunavummiut, 18 years and older, cast ballots in the territorial election.

The CEO has suggested that adding to the electoral list all those unregistered voters who cast ballots will create a more accurate gauge of turnout for the most recent election.

This isn’t true. When we calculate turnout, we figure out how many active people there are in the entire population. If our “population” starts as an incomplete list of people who were registered, and then we add people who voted, we’re still only focusing on people who are easy to find, who are engaged.

We’re still missing the people who are not active and ignoring them when we say that turnout was 98 per cent. It’s important not to forget that one-third of all adults in Nunavut chose not to vote in last week’s election.

Ailsa Henderson, PhD.
Department of Political Science
Wilfrid Laurier University

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