Ranked Ballots Not Even Top Reason Why People Aren’t Voting

Ranked ballots — it’s easy as counting 1-2-3, right? But voting is so much more than that — and focusing on the symptom, rather than the disease, is not going to solve a much larger problem of voter disenfranchisement.

London’s council is discussing ramming through electoral changes to a ranked-ballot system in time for the next election. Yesterday, Dave Meslin — an advocate for ranked ballots, was on the Devon Peacock show promoting ranked ballots. In his oversimplification of the issue, he stated, “the suggestion that people won’t know how to count to three is actually quite offensive and patronizing to the residents who live in London. I’m quite confident they’ll figure it out.”

What’s insulting is the insinuation that voting is that simple. It isn’t. It’s hard. The act of voting itself is simple, yes. But the act of casting an informed ballot is much more difficult and requires much more of an investment.

Unfortunately, voters have historically not seen a return on that investment — and until that changes, any adjustments to the voting protocol is just putting lipstick on a pig.

Those who advocate for mandatory voting and, to a lesser extent ranked ballots, are of the mistaken belief that the process is what’s wrong. The act of voting is not the challenge — it’s the return on the investment of voting that’s lacking and has caused people to become disenfranchised with elections. Add to that an increasingly polarized and toxic political discourse and you have a recipe for defeat.

It’s not apathy. People care. But they just believe that nothing they say matters.

There are two groups of people who need to take accountability. First, the average voter needs to be invested in the process. Unfortunately, few are — and for those that do, the experience is like a bad high school relationship.

Oh, sure, you may be showered with affection during the courting phase. But soon after, he or she may start to drift away, hang out with friends, and ignore your needs and requests. You may consider a break up, but — lo and behold — four years come around and he or she is back! “I’m sorry, baby. I know I took you for granted. I’ll do better. Just give me another chance. I promise I’ll give you what you need.”

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s a challenge for those with the time and inclination to penetrate the inner circle. And largely ineffective. Imagine what it’s like for those who don’t have that access — for people who are working day-to-day just to get by, take care of their families, and have some time for personal enjoyment. Politics isn’t a game to them, it’s not a way of life, and, thus, they get disconnected.

But the greater responsibility lies with the politicians who must prove that their commitment to the voters they worked so hard to woo extends beyond the ballot box.

If politicians want people to make that investment in the process, then they have to treat a vote less as a blank cheque and more of a mandate to ensure the voters see a return on their investments. When we vote, we’re giving politicians our most important asset — our voice — and we expect that to be consulted and respected.There’s also a huge educational component to this and we need to do a better job educating our children — both as parents and though the educational system.

I firmly believe everyone has the right to vote. But I also believe that everyone has the responsibility to cast an informed ballot — and I have no issue with people who feel they aren’t informed abdicating their vote to someone else. They still pay taxes; they still get a say, but if they feel they’re not properly informed, why force them to vote?

After all, I can walk around all day casting ballots at union halls, school boards, and various meetings — it’s easy to mark an X or check a box. But if I have no idea for whom or what I’m voting, is that worthwhile?

I vote because my parents taught me how important it was. They took me to the ballot stations. We watched the news together and discussed the issues at hand. And I’m proud to say I’ve only missed one vote in my life (2001, Montreal municipal election — birth of my daughter. I’m going to say that’s a good reason). I also remember taking in class about elections, looking at the process, and discussing the issues of the day.

Educationally, now the first exposure many students get to elections is students’ council — and those are nothing more than glorified popularity contests. So why are we surprised that many people vote merely for name recognition, or because they’ve “always” voted for a particular party. We need to make our electoral process a more integral part of early years’ education. When the process (including reading news, talking to candidates, asking questions, etc.) is normalized at a young age, it will carry on later in life.

Sloganeering and image is easy; politics and policy is hard. Improving our investment in the latter is the only way to make any electoral process better. Right now we have people who aren’t invested in the process choosing to stay away. Our current system has created an environment where we can’t get them to make one informed choice — so how can we expect them to suddenly make up to three? A new method of voting won’t make a difference — a better social and educational focus will.

Will it be the end of the world if we have ranked ballots? No, not at all. (For the record, I’m a fan of proportional representation, but that simply doesn’t work at the municipal level — after all, we don’t have party affiliations in City Hall, right? *wink*)

Will it make voting better? No, not at all. In the end, it’s a thing — likely motivated more by political positioning than good politics. It’s a thing that can be pointed to and said, “Look, we did something” when the next courtship period comes around.

But it’s ultimately a showy distraction that ignores the real problem. That’s what we’re good at in London, but we can strive to be better. It’s not a quick fix and it won’t be a showy “solution” that we can run on in an upcoming campaign — but it is something that can have real, long-term benefits.

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