Damned if you don't

Posted 03.18.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | There is a temptation to tell all the politicians to just Go to Hell in this provincial election. How? By not voting. Or by spoiling our ballots, which is supposed to indicate an unhappy electorate.

If only politics was this simple and clean.

A spoiled ballot is thrown out -- such ballots are not recorded, and certainly not studied as a sign of voter disengagement. Nor do low voter turnouts translate into the slightest changes in our elections or voting procedures. We've had declining voter rates for years, and apart from tsk-tsking and hand-wringing, have you seen any change?

Anyone proposing we vote on-line, for example, to make voting more convenient? Anyone proposing that voting be mandatory, as it is in many countries, with fines levied against non-voters when they pay their taxes?

And, even more far-fetched, have you seen any of the parties take non-participation seriously? Have the parties explored the reasons for low voter rates and explored methods to increase citizen engagement with our political process?

If you have found such evidence, I'd love to hear what you've found -- apart from the usual pious hand-wringing and crocodile tears. One thing must be made unquestionably clear: it is impossible to be a non-participant in our system. In effect, non-voters or spoiled ballots are counted -- the non-votes are in effect considered to be votes for the winning side!

For example, Prime Minister Harper won 39 percent of the vote and rules as a majority government, as if he had won at least 51 percent of the vote. That's very, very different than requiring the winner to get 51 percent support. So the non-votes are, in this screwy way, counted.

The 20 or 30 percent who do vote for the party which ultimately wins are effectively credited with the non-votes -- to give them the imaginary goal of 51 percent, which a democracy implies.

So, your non-vote will be counted as supporting whoever wins. That's participating, folks, but not participating as you might expect.

Secondly, non-voting leaves the field to those who are motivated to vote -- party militants, the faithful, and the crowd who vote not for the good of the province but for their own ideologies, the single-issue fanatics.

By not voting, do you really intend to vacate the field to the fanatics and militants?

You must vote, is our Canadian rule, because we will count your non-vote as we wish, not as you may have wished.

Add this to our first-past-the-post or winner-take-all system of counting ballots, and we have a political system which most observers would identify as non-democratic. How can a party which does not win even 50 percent of the ballots be given all reins of government?

Our electoral system needs reform, but right now you and I, ordinary voters, can do something about this. We can express our choice by voting. Not-voting is to support someone else's choice.


Copyright © 2014 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.14