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Why did so many people not vote?

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The dust has settled on Election 2020 and, as the saying goes, the numbers don't lie. We don't think. Aside from the massive 24-seat victory for the Progressive Labour Party, the other equally impressive number was the number of registered voters who did not vote.

Those that did not vote numbered 20,551 people out of a total 46,311 registered voters, according to the Parliamentary Registrar. That is a significant number when compared with the 25,760 people who did vote, and of that number 15,995 voters gave the PLP its sizeable parliamentary majority. A further 9,765 people voted for the alternatives.

Of course, people are entitled to vote with their feet and elect not to vote. That, too, is their right. As for the reason or reasons why, there are probably as many theories and explanations and excuses as there are voters. And pundits.

But first a little perspective.

I remind myself of the well-known adage when it comes to advancing arguments based on numbers: there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics.

On the other hand, facts are facts.

Voters were not able to exercise their right to vote in three constituencies where the Opposition elected not to put up candidates: Pembroke East Central, Pembroke Central and Warwick South Central. If they had been given the opportunity, it is reasonable to presume they would have voted. In the 2017 election, they totalled 2,617 voters.

That number should be taken into account when considering the reasons for the low turnout and the overall figure reduced accordingly.

That would take the number down to, using the 2017 results, 17,934 voters.

It has been also suggested in some quarters that the number may include voters who no longer reside on the island, but remain on the electoral rolls, or who were abroad at the time of the election, such as students, and thus unable to vote. But just how many that could be is anyone's guess.

So let's stick with 17,934 voters, and it is a lot.

So here's the question: how does this number compare with previous years?

In 2017, 34,065 out of 46,669 registered voters voted; 12,604 did not.

In 2012, 30,861 out of 43,616 registered voters voted; 12,755 did not.

In 2007, 32,044 out of 42,295 registered voters voted; 10,251 did not.

There are two other past elections where it is useful to compare voter turnout, 1998 (the PLP's first victory) and 1985 (a previous snap election). But first a note of caution: that was back when there were dual-seat districts and voters had two votes, although they were not required to exercise both. Voter registration was annual and voters were dropped from the rolls if they did not re-register every February. My figures are therefore rough and ready, and very much approximate, particularly for the 1985 election as the records are incomplete on the registry website.

In 1998, 27,873 out of 36,073 registered voters voted; 8,200 did not.

In 1985, 18,508 out of 29,348 registered voters voted; 10,840 did not — and in one constituency, two United Bermuda Party candidates ran unopposed.

Here's the takeaway: it very much appears as if there is a bloc of voters as few as 8,200 and as many as 12,755 who routinely do not vote. Period.

So it would appear that this time we can safely surmise that anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 eligible voters, who normally do vote, elected this time not to go to the polls. That is a significant number of voters in constituencies as small as ours.

A closer look also shows that the 15,995 who voted PLP was down 4,064 from 2017; up 1,778 from 2012; and down 805 from 2007. The 8,314 who voted OBA was down 5,523 from 2017 and down 7,635 from 2012. (These figures do not take into account that there were three constituencies in which no votes were cast, all of them PLP strongholds.)

The numbers tell a story.

For the PLP government, this means that its crushing victory was not underpinned by the widespread support that its parliamentary numbers might otherwise suggest. It may wish to take that into account going forward. History shows us, here and elsewhere, that the seeds of future defeat are often sowed in handsome victories.

For those who seek to provide an alternative, those numbers represent promising and fertile ground.

For all parties, there is now time for them to drill down on their records of who voted, and who did not, and to ascertain the reasons why — on the doorstep. This is the base on which to govern and to build.

Canvassing does have its rewards.

Crushing victory: David Burt talks to the nation on election night (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 07, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated October 07, 2020 at 1:31 pm)

Why did so many people not vote?

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