Get out and vote! It’s a catchy, cute, and simple saying. Unfortunately, it glosses over the incredible responsibility that voting represents — and it omits the most important word: informed.
I generally find that these are a few good rules of thumb:
- If you’re voting because an infographic says you should — don’t;
- If you’re voting for a candidate because of something you heard once by someone, somewhere — don’t.
- And, most importantly, if you’re voting because someone told you to “get out and vote” and you think that’s all there is to it, please stay home.
We all have the right to vote. That’s a right that’s been fought and won generations ago. That’s a right that many in the world don’t have. And it’s a right that we must hold dear to our heart.
But it’s a right, not an obligation.
With that right also comes responsibility. First and foremost, the responsibility to respect the right to vote by treating it as what it is — an informed endorsement of a candidate to represent YOU in parliament and a license to lend your voice to the causes and actions that the candidate professes to represent.
“Get out and vote” is too simplistic. That’s how bad decisions are made. Those are decisions made on name recognition, historical sentimental attachments, half-truths, and partial information.
Do you know why attack ads are all over the TV from all sides? Because they work. Because they target the significant number of people in this country who want their news in easily digestible sound bites. Because they target the people who want commentary that “seems right” or “makes sense,” with no greater burden of proof required.
I’ve voted in every single election since I was old enough, with one notable exception (Montreal municipal election 2001. We were in labour. I’m giving myself a pass.) And I take my responsibility seriously.
But in 2011, approximately 7.5 million eligible voters chose not to vote for a variety of reasons. And none of them include “because they’re a bad person” or “because they don’t care about their country.”
There are those who value quantity of votes more than quality. Of course, that comes with the assumption that the Great Unvoting Masses are going to choose the candidate or party YOU think is best.
Get out and vote? It’s not that simple.
But if you want to cast an informed ballot, you can take simple steps to make an informed vote:
Search information yourself
Don’t trust what people are handing to you. I’ve yet to meet the politically motivated person who fairly distributes information, “Here’s why I think you should vote for the candidate I like. But, allow me to present a list of reasons why the other candidates are good and the deficiencies in my party’s platform.
Talk to the candidates in your riding about your needs
They’re available. Pretty easily actually. Call, e-mail, show up at events, open the door when they’re glad-handing, and ask the questions that matter to you. And, more importantly, tell them what’s important to you. The candidates, after all, are supposed to represent y
Understand where people’s loyalties lie
My social feeds are riddled with political discussions, but I can automatically discount 90 per cent of it. Why? Bias. I know certain people are so affiliated with a party or side that anything they say needs to be taken with a MINE of salt.
Consider where the national/local balance falls for your personal needs
Are you voting for what you feel is the best party for the country? Are you voting for the person who will best represent your riding and your interests? If you’re lucky, you’ll find both in the same candidate.
Every vote counts, so that means we all have a responsibility to make sure each and every vote matters. Voting isn’t about a tag line. Voting isn’t about earning a participation badge just for showing up (and if the I Voted stickers aren’t the adult equivalent of those ‘awards,’ then I don’t know what it.). Voting is about lending someone your voice and trusting them to speak words on a national level that reflect your intent and best interests.
Casting a ballot alone isn’t enough. Casting an uninformed ballot can actually be detrimental to the process. And encouraging more people to simply show up may only lead to more uniformed ballots. Instead of focusing on making it easier for people to vote, why not focus on making it easier for people to access unbiased, honest information and analysis? Not “all the news that’s fit to share [because it fits in our paradigm]” that you’ll get from the party wonks, but actual non-partisan analysis of the issues at hand and the qualifications of our candidates.
When we fix the disease that’s at the root of the problem – apathy and a disconnect from the political process caused by the fact that people don’t feel they’re being listened to or represented – then we can explore some of the other options. Forcing people to vote (mandatory voting) or expecting them to care about effectively ranking multiple candidates, when it’s hard enough now to get them to choose one, are luxuries that aren’t of this time. Knowledge first.
And if Canadians don’t want to take the time and choose to abdicate their role in the political process, that’s OK. We have the right to vote. But we have the responsibility to make an informed vote — and if the effort to do that is too much, or not of interest to some, they have that right to decline as well. You still pay your taxes, you still get a voice.
But if you want to be part of the electoral process, there’s still plenty of time for you to go out and take the steps needed to make AN INFORMED vote. There’s plenty of time. Do what you need to do to feel that you’ve made a decision based on fact and what’s best for you.
I’ll be happy to join you at the ballot box on October 19th. And whether we have 30 per cent voter turnout or 70 per cent voter turnout, as long as 100 per cent of those votes are informed, then I’ll be happy.