Okay, show of hands, based on that title who is already angry at me and thinks I need to shut up!? Fantastic you all just voted. And you did so without knowing my reasoning for saying what I did. In fact you proved the point which I’m about to make. Every time an election comes up there are campaigns based solely on getting people to go vote. Low voter turn outs are a constant problem municipally, provincially, federally and internationally. But is the problem really people not voting? Why are we putting so much time and effort into getting people to check off a ballot, but not putting the time and effort into getting people to know about what they are voting for? I think there are reasons not to vote, and there are bigger issues to tackle than the number of voters.
Let me make this clear. I’m am not devaluing the gift of freedom we have or trying to disrespect those who have and who continue to fight for the freedoms of ourselves and those in other countries. But I do think that our focus has been misplaced on the idea that not voting means you’re spitting in the face of freedom and that it’s going to lead to a totalitarian regime taking over. I will openly admit there have been elections I’ve taken part in and elections I’ve chosen not to take part in. Those times I’ve abstained from voting I’ve gotten lots of grief from family and friends, but I stand by my decision. My first reason for doing this is rather simple. I did not like any of the candidates and did not want to vote in favor of any of them. My second reason for not voting is particular to provincial and federal elections, not so much municipal. Because of the way Canadian elections work, by voting for a local candidate I like I could help put into power someone I dislike as a leader or vice versa. For example you may really like your local Conservative MPP but strongly dislike the current Conservative leader. In that case how do you vote? You’re either not supporting the person you want to win or you’re supporting the person you don’t want to win. Either way you’re not having your opinions heard. For this reason I have chosen not to vote.
In both these situations I’ve had people tell me I should vote anyways. Choose an unpopular or third party candidate or choose someone at random. Really? How can it be so important to make my voice heard, to exercise my freedom but be forced into saying I support someone I don’t believe in? In my opinion it’s more irresponsible to vote for someone you don’t support than it is to not vote at all. By casting that throwaway ballot you’re telling the government “I want this person representing me” which is a lie. You are lying in an election, what could be more undemocratic and disrespectful than that? Luckily I later found out there is a way you can still make your voice heard while not supporting someone you don’t want in power. In many countries ballots include a “None of the above” (or something similar) option. In some Canadian election you can actually formally abstain from voting. When you go to the polling station you can simply tell them you do not wish to vote and not only do they record that but it is counted in the final results. Had I known this at the time I would have done so and I think it’s something that more people need to be made aware of. If this option was commonly known there would be higher voter turn outs and fewer false ballots being cast. The real numbers would show through more clearly. So please, if you don’t like any of your options, formally abstain from voting in your next election.
I don’t think this is where the problem stops though. The constant barrage of “please go out and vote tomorrow” ads is not only annoying, but detrimental to the democratic process. We have all become so hung up on making sure every person votes but why aren’t we making sure those people understand who and what they are voting for? The basics are covered in school but elections are so much more complicated than that. Without really understanding how your government works you can never make a truly informed decision. Anyone familiar with the term gerrymandering or who paid attention to the popular vote of the last US presidential election knows exactly what I mean. That is a topic far too complicated for my to tackle right now however there is another part to this I can talk about.
Get people interested in politics. It’s seen as this boring and mundane thing or worse a topic to be avoided in conversation, but why? This is literally what controls our daily lives and we’re supposed to just carry on like it doesn’t exist? We’re supposed to avoid any mention of it because someone might disagree with you? Surely if you are deemed responsible and mature enough to cast a vote you can have a civil conversation with opposing views. I think that a lot of the problems in politics stem from the fact that people don’t actually discuss, understand or look further into important topics. Like most things in life we get told a story by anyone and we take that as the factual account. The sad reality is that even though campaigns should be run on “what I can do for you” most are now run on “What they are going to do to you!” Sure there is nothing wrong with looking at opponents stances and choices then disagreeing or offering your own opinion. But the world of attack ads, slur campaigns and underhanded tactics prey on those who don’t educate themselves. They see you all as idiots who will believe anything they tell you because you’re too stupid and lazy to create your own informed opinion. This is why I feel so strongly that the focus shouldn’t be on “Get out and vote” but instead on “fact check, talk and learn”. Things like scientific data, survey numbers and votes made in council can all be found by anyone. It isn’t hard to look that stuff up and see if you’re being told the truth. And if you disagree with a vote your representative made, or you want to know why they voted that way, attend council meetings, follow them on social media or try to contact them. Ask yourself if the person you’re listening to has a viable plan to carry out these promise, does their argument make sense or are they simply pandering to what you want to hear? A good candidate will make the effort to get you some sort of response. And maybe if you have the chance to hear them out and actually have a short discussion about it you might change your mind and be happy your rep did their homework and voted for what they though was best.
However, if you don’t want to put that kind of effort into informing your self, if you just want to vote for the same party regardless of who they offer you or what they want to do, if you want to be fed lies and manipulated, if you want to vote based purely on herd mentality and whose name you see the most on lawns then please, I beg of you do not vote. Because if you do you will only be hurting our freedoms and undermining what democracy really stands for.