By Jason Menard
There are those quick to take the “get out and vote” stand. And while this statement is often made casually — as if it’s a foregone conclusion — the fact is that voting is not a game and even a well-meant idea can have serious ramifications.
For the most part, the get out and vote movement is well-intentioned. It’s just misguided. You’ve likely heard, “It’s your civic duty…” or some permutation of that thought. But whether they’re using the term duty, obligation, moral responsibility, they’re simply wrong.
Voting is our right. Just as not voting is.
I’ve said before that I don’t believe in the “get out and vote” message. I firmly believe that everyone should vote – but only if they’re willing to take the opportunity seriously.
I would rather have a 25 per cent voter turnout, with the clear majority of those voters taking the time to learn about the candidates, analyze all of the issues, and make a decision that they feel best represents their riding’s needs and desire, than a 75 per cent turnout packed with people who are making decisions based solely on name recognition or how a campaign sign caught their attention.
To put it another way, when you go in for surgery, are you going to ask the opinion of the doctor who has studied for this moment? Or are you going to entrust your health to a mass of people who really don’t know what your underlying problem is, but have seen the board game Operation before?
In the end, politics is not a game.
Encouraging people to get out and vote without having a knowledge of the issues is not just irresponsible – it’s downright dangerous.
Not all statistics are equal. Engagement advocates would love to report 50-60 per cent turnout rates. But what is that actually worth? To frame it in business terms, it’s akin to those social media gurus who boast about impressions and the number of eyeballs that your brand can reach – but if there’s no actual purchase made, what’s the point long-term? What’s the point of having a better voter turnout if those voters aren’t aware of the issues?
Again, we all have the right to vote however — and for whatever reason — we choose. But that doesn’t mean we have to encourage it. More doesn’t always mean better.
Ideally, every Canadian of legal voting age would take the time to get to know their riding’s issues, their candidates’ stances on them, and cast an informed ballot. But just as our right to vote has been established – and protected by those who have stood up to defend our country – so too has our right to not vote.
We have the right to not vote (and I say this as someone who has voted in absolutely every election at every level since I turned 18, but one – a 2001 Montreal municipal election that we were unable to make it to the polling station in time for. Because my wife went into labour and that took precedence).
And not voting does not mean you no longer have a voice – the favoured battle cry of the “Get Out and Vote” movement. You pay taxes? You have a voice. Whether you pay property taxes on your home, have them as part of your rent, or pay any one of the income, goods and services, or other taxes that we face every day, you have a voice.
By not voting, you’re abdicating your opportunity to choose who gets to hold the purse strings, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still have opinions, thoughts, and ideas of how those funds get spent.
Get out and vote also puts the onus on the wrong person — the voter. It ignores the root causes of voter apathy: why aren’t voters interested in voting? Why aren’t they motivated to support a candidate? The answers to that are tougher because they’re self-reflective. Parties and their supporters prefer to blame voter apathy, rather than question whether their efforts are making voters apathetic.
It can be a challenge to know for whom to vote. From advertising spin to misrepresentation on social media by parties and partisans alike, many are overwhelmed and not sure what to do. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I really don’t know enough to make an informed choice, so I’m not going to risk making the wrong one.”
That’s all it is. Our votes are not just an endorsement of a candidate, it’s our conscious decision to say, “I’m lending you my voice in the houses of government. I believe that what you are saying adequately meshes with my thoughts and beliefs. Use my voice wisely.”
If you’re not sure how your voices is going to be used then isn’t it the smart choice to keep it to yourself?
Get out and vote is an immature and naïve notion, but one that’s rooted in best intentions (as many immature and naïve notions are). Instead, the message must be “Get out and make an informed vote.”
If too many people choose wrong, our societal nose just doesn’t glow red, our province doesn’t just vibrate, and we’re not able to draw another card and hope to draw the funny bone. Bad political decisions can carry long-term ramifications.
Politics is no game. And while it would be nice if everyone would play, the consequences can be too severe if they don’t know the rules.