Poor voter turnout is a non-issue

“… democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” Winston Churchill, speech, House of Commons, 11 November 1947.

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

Voter turnout is shockingly low in Canada. In the last federal election in 2011, only 61.1 per cent of the eligible voter population cast their ballot. Provincially it was even lower, with less than half the population participating — 49.2 per cent — in Ontario.

Democracy Watch has called this a crisis and several politicians and political analysts have been incredibly outspoken with their desire to see voter turnout increase greatly.

On a personal level, I’ve had many teachers tell students to get out and vote and even some of my Facebook friends have pushed others to get their voice heard. To combat the trend of decreased turnout, every now and again the topic of mandatory voting springs up.

Yet every time I hear someone stressing about the number of active voters, I ask myself the same question, “Why does it matter?” It’s a question that’s yet to be answered. I am a strong believer in the clichéd saying that democracy is flawed, but there is no better alternative.

And because of my commitment to that saying, I’m hard-pressed to get annoyed at low turnout.

Democracy is a system where the vote of the most ignorant and uninterested person means as much as a genius’.

Even worse is the fact that racists, misogynists, homophobes and even incarcerated criminals have the same voting rights as the average Canadian.

That said, the question shouldn’t be, “How do we get everyone to vote?” It should be, “How do we keep our democracy open, free and effective?”

The numbers tell an interesting story. When looking at the voting block with the smallest turnout, it’s the youth.

And when studied, the youth are also the most uninformed on the issues. So really, what’s the problem?

What good does it serve a country to actively spend money promoting younger and uninformed voters to cast their ballot?

To make matters worse, a normal population pyramid would have the youth greatly outnumbering the rest.

Explicitly trying to generate voting in one huge, relatively uninformed segment of the population is not a noble deed, but a recipe for disaster.

Another scary tactic being pushed is the idea of online voting. Again, this is a way of trying to get the unmotivated youth to vote.

What I love about our current system is that if you want to vote, you have to leave your house and get yourself to a voting booth. That shows at least some minor political commitment and serves as a mental barrier against the less-enthused Canadians.

At first I thought I was the only one who realized pushing young voters wasn’t the best idea, until I realized it’s not about “strengthening our democracy” at all.

It was about strengthening the base of left-wing political parties. Apart from being less informed, younger voters often tend to lean towards the left wing.

So when I hear Liberal or NDP supporters calling on university students to vote, I don’t see it as a righteous act, I see a partisan ploy. It’s a calculated stunt to gather support.

Low voter turnout is not a crisis. In fact, if you realize you don’t know as much as you should on election day, choosing not to vote is ironically the more patriotic move.

As a free Canadian you have the right not to vote. You have the right not to care.

The ideal situation is one in which every Canadian cares passionately about what happens in Canadian politics and spends much more time and effort discussing, reviewing and arguing political ideas. But that’s far from reality.

Many Canadians are just too busy going to school or taking care of their families to engage in the political discourse — that’s normal.

Our electoral system needs to remain open for everyone of age to voice their opinion, but no one should be pushed by parents, teachers, bosses, friends or the government to make a choice based on little or no information.

So enough with pumping millions of dollars into advertisements designed to get younger voters out, but then pushing them aside for four years until the next election rolls around.

Online voting helps only hackers and unmotivated citizens, while mandatory voting actually infringes on our freedom not to vote.

Our democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s not falling apart either. Voter turnout isn’t an issue, so let’s stop making it one.

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