Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Musings: Don't panic about low voter turnout

Some musings for a Sunday before election day.

I love Molly Johnson, yes I do. Sure, as a singer, but I'm thinking mainly as the host of CBC Radio 2's weekend morning show. She has a soothing voice and her comments sound warm and heartfelt rather than the inane, tiresome prattling by other radio hosts on a certain tax-funded network that takes time away from the music I'd rather be hearing.  But I wish Molly (and anyone else who does it) didn't pontificate about how people should go out and vote no matter what.

George Jonas wrote a piece the other day about low-voter turnout being healthy for democracy. He suggested it shows that people are generally happy and high voter turnout is a sign of unease. I don't agree necessarily with his opinion on the desirability of low voter turnout, but on the other hand, it's also nothing to panic about. In a society where every citizen has the right to vote, then people who are interested and informed will generally choose to. The idea that people should go out and vote, no matter what, whether or not they know or care about the issues is facile. Mandatory voting is a position put forward by parties that have policies that appeal most to people who are ill-informed. When people say "you should vote" what they usually really mean is "you should vote the way I want you to vote."

The idea that everyone should vote whether they want to or not also stifles a political statement. There were elections I chose not to exercise my franchise because I didn't want to waste the time of formally picking the least offensive of a bunch of poor choices. Sometimes not voting is a statement that the political parties all need to do better. And I don't want to have to stand in line at a polling station to spoil a ballot. Not voting on election day can be a sign of apathy, but it is also a right and a choice and no one should tell you otherwise.

Molly said "women don't have the right to vote in Saudi Arabia, so make sure you vote for them tomorrow." Well gee, Molly, women don't have the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, so maybe we should drive to the polling station for them. And they aren't allowed to drink there either, so I guess I'll be drinking and driving for them. And they get stoned to death if they commit adultery, so give me a call if see where I'm going with all of this.

The point is that we have the right to vote and that the critical cornerstone of democracy. But you are compelled to exercise a right, it's no longer a right, it's a burden.

Yes, everyone should vote. But because you're interested in voting, not because Molly or I or anyone else tells you that you should. And if you don't, that's your right too.

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