Voter turnout has been on the decline since the late 1970s. The impact of this trend is especially felt among low-income residents who are less likely to vote than higher income voters. Elected officials are more likely to make decisions in the interest of the people who elect them. This, in turn, contributes to a vicious cycle of disconnectedness and democratic deficit where people experiencing poverty may not see their concerns addressed, and become even less likely to vote.
To turn this trend around in Ottawa, the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres (CHRC) and City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) have joined together in a three year project to increase voter turnout in low-income neighbourhoods and among people living in poverty, in both urban and rural areas of the city. Making Votes Count Where We Live, funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, seeks to engage residents, community partners and governments in putting into place strategies to increase voter turnout and long-term civic engagement.
At the community level, this project can contribute to residents and partners in the Community Development Framework reaching their goal of enhancing civic engagement in priority neighbourhoods. At the municipal level, these strategies can help the current Term of Council to Commit to and develop a democratic, engaging and visible process to maximize input from residents in the work of Council and in policy development, while ensuring that seniors, new Canadians, women and the economically disadvantaged are included.
This report is a summary of the participatory action research carried out by women living in low- income neighbourhoods who brought their insights and knowledge to the findings. Research and mentoring teams, comprised of residents and community developers, designed the framework, provided training in community research and supported women in their research. Five teams of women from different parts of Ottawa facilitated 20 focus groups with 202 participants from a diversity of the population. A total of 13 key informant interviews were conducted and a literature review undertaken. Barriers and supports to voting, as well strategies and actions for increasing voter turnout, were identified.
This report is a road map that invites residents, community partners and governments to take action so that Ottawa can benefit from the insights of people living in low-income neighbourhoods and living in poverty, as they actively engage in the electoral process and civic life of our city.