Mandatory Voting Isn’t the Answer, Especially When Getting Educated is So Much Harder Now

By Jay Menard

More voters isn’t the answer. More educated voters is. But the fact is that it’s increasingly challenging for the average person to know what’s true and what’s just partisan spin.

Like clockwork, the idea of mandatory voting has come around again — this time with the Liberal Party has been floating a trial balloon about the concept. For mandatory voting to work, you have to incentivize the process — either positively (through tax breaks) or negatively (through threats). But what it misses is the fact that a 100 per cent voter turnout doesn’t mean anything if the vast majority are simple going through the motions.

Mandatory voting  doesn’t change the simple reality that a forced vote is not necessarily a good vote. And there can be no assurance that people who have previously not bothered to vote — for whatever reason — will suddenly take the responsibility seriously.

And it is a responsibility.

We all have the right to vote. And we have the right not to vote. The responsibility comes from how we apply that right.

It’s not enough to merely cast a ballot. We need to encourage people to cast an informed ballot. And if they choose not to, then we should be OK with that.

Some people are content to pay their taxes, live their lives, and engage in priorities important to them. It doesn’t mean they don’t care — it just means they care about different things.

There’s no threshold for what qualifies as an “informed ballot.” It’s open to interpretation and there’s no test in place to determine such. It’s just a fact of life that while we force people to take a test to drive a car, we have no problem handing them the keys and giving them the freedom to ‘drive’ the country with no proof of anything.

So how does one get educated? That, in itself, is a challenge. Though we have more and easier access to information thanks to the Internet, social media, and on-line media sources, more is not necessarily better.

I pity the person who stumbles across the #ldnont hash tag looking for unbiased information about the upcoming municipal election. The same issue is filtered and often refracted through very polarized prisms, often by people appearing neutral, but with undeclared (or underdeclared) ties to candidates. Without the appropriate Partisan Politics Decoder ring (gained only through experience and watching on-line behavour), it’s impossible for the average person to know what’s true, what’s hype, and what’s hypocrisy.

We, as Canadians, love to poke fun at Fox News, but our own media is increasingly polarized. The views espoused by the CBC and SunMedia could not be any more one-sided, and the idea of media neutrality seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

With the advent of social media, those media lines are further blurred. Reporters, supposedly bastions of neutrality, weigh in with personal views — not as columnists, but as representatives of their media outlet. While it’s good for debate, it does force one to consider whether there’s a bias in place.

So where do you go for information? Preferably the source. There are plenty of debates to attend and resources — both on-line and off — that can help form your opinion. Even better, you can reach out to your candidates and pose questions.

But that takes time, effort, and the ability to cut through the campaign rhetoric to understand what’s feasible and what’s posturing. Many people just don’t have the time or the inclination to do that.

And that’s where we run into less-than-ideal voting patterns: name recognition, “I heard from a friend”-itis, and party alignment. More of that isn’t better. Nor is a 100 per cent commitment to neutrality and education realistic.

Voting is not the key to engagement. Voting is not the key to being allowed to express an opinion. We already have a mandatory requirement — and that’s paying taxes. Income, property, and sales taxation (Within reason. Yes, foreigners pay taxes when they visit, etc… Though it should be obvious, someone inevitably brings up this ludicrous argument) affords us the right to speak up, at any time, about how our money is being spent.

My own vote is yet to be decided. Heck, there’s still over a month to go and much to be debated. I’ve never understood aligning with a candidate early, because so much can change. Proof is in this very election, evidenced by the fact a candidate with whom I thought I was aligned is now falling out of my favour — guilty both by association and lack of disassociation.

There’s still time. Nearly 50 days to talk to candidates, review literature, and cut through the veils that many are trying to cover our eyes with. There is only one clear filter you can trust — your own. But it takes time, dedication, and a willingness to ensure your view is as clear and informed as possible.

Not everyone can do that. And just like no one should be forced to drive a car without proper training and licensing, it’s OK if people want to hand over the keys to the country (or city, or province) to those who are better equipped.

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