Only 59 per cent of registered Canadian electors cast a ballot in the Oct. 14 federal election according to Elections Canada.

Never in the history of federal election campaigns have Canadians turned out to vote in such low numbers. The previous low point came in 2004, when 61 per cent of registered voters cast ballots.

Only 59 per cent of registered Canadian electors cast a ballot in the Oct. 14 federal election according to Elections Canada.

Never in the history of federal election campaigns have Canadians turned out to vote in such low numbers. The previous low point came in 2004, when 61 per cent of registered voters cast ballots.

“The sense that this was an election that should never have happened was strong, I think, from the very beginning, and the result will not have in any way changed most peoples’ minds about that,” said Jeremy Rayner head of the University of Regina political sciences department. “I’m sure it resulted in voter apathy.”

Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut had the lowest participation rates, which hovered between 48 and 50 per cent.

Prince Edward Island had the highest turnout with 69 per cent, and Saskatchewan matched the national rate at 59 per cent.

Rayner believes a weak Liberal showing played an important part in the election’s result.

“Combined now with the poor performance of the Liberal leader, there was really no way that non-Conservative voters could punish Mr. Harper effectively for doing what they considered to be calling an unnecessary election,” Rayner said. “Liberal voters sat this one out in very large numbers.”

He said a large portion of the electorate skipped the election not out of apathy, but out of conscious absenteeism.

Though this election may have been particularly alienating for voters, democratic participation has been falling in Canada for years.

“From a high of 79 per cent in 1958…we’ve seen a pretty straightforward downward decline” to this election’s 59 per cent, said Rayner.

In Australia, voting was gradually made compulsory in different provinces from 1925 to 1942. Those who fail to appear at a polling station are subject to a small fine - AU$20 for a federal election.

This has held electoral involvement between 70 or 80 per cent in Australia, but Rayner said their numbers are falsely inflated.

Down Under they have a system in which candidates on a ballot are ranked by the voter from most to least favourable. This has led to a need to randomize the order names appear on the ballot.

“Otherwise, people were just going in and going 1-2-3-4-5-6, and it was an advantage to come first [on the ballot],” Rayner said.

In his view there are systemic issues in Canadian politics that alienate voters. The percentage of the popular vote that a party gets does not necessarily reflect the number of seats they are awarded in the House of Commons.

For example, with 10 per cent of the vote, the Bloc Quebecois won 50 seats while the Green Party with 6.8 per cent did not win a single seat.

This is a cause for frustration among voters who do not identify with one of the major parties.

“If you don’t connect to the major parties there’s no other place where you can really park your vote without it being wasted,” said Rayner.

On the federal level, Rayner argued electoral reform has never seriously been considered. Efforts to do so in some provinces, particularly British Columbia, have failed because of the complexity of the proposed system.

He added that a distance has grown between voters and the consequence of their vote.

“The act of voting is now pretty much all we call upon most people to do in politics,” said Rayner.