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June 2014: Yes we CANA get out the vote

June 12, 2014


My great-grandfather never got to vote. In 1906, thanks to the Second Reform Act granting the vote to skilled urban working class men, my grandfather, aged 22, voted in his first general election. In 1918, thanks to the Third Reform Act, my grandmother, aged 35, was able to vote for the first time.

I once asked her if she’d been a suffragette. She laughed and said no, that they’d all been toffs. But she was grateful to them. Both my grandparents saw voting as a hard-won right and they made sure they exercised it.

I thought about both of them in May 1979 as I stood in a polling booth at my first general election. The Labour government’s inaction during the previous “Winter of Discontent” (at almost no point over a period of several months had some vital service or another not been on strike), made it almost impossible for me – as I had been raised on my granddad’s knee to do – to vote Labour. But what was the alternative? Thatcher? Not bloody likely.

I seriously considered not voting, but the thought of both my grandparents spinning in their graves had forced me to the polling station. I stared at the ballot for some time, before putting an X beside the Liberal candidate’s name. It was, I knew, tantamount to a wasted vote, but to not vote at all struck me as borderline criminal.

In Australia, there’s nothing borderline about it. The voting-age population are expected to register and, when the time comes, legally required to get off their backsides to vote. Of course, there are always people willing to pay the $20 fine for first time failure to vote. (In some parts of Australia repeat offenders face higher fines and punishments, up to and including the loss of their driver’s licence.)

The government claim of a more than 90% turnout for the last general election has been disputed. It has been estimated that 10% of the eligible population (mostly young people) have never registered to vote.

And therein lies the rub. Those pesky young people. How do you get them to vote?

Earlier this month, the world (other than mainland China) marked the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. An unknown number (possibly tens of thousands) of student protesters were murdered for demanding democracy. In the aftermath of the bloodbath, the Chinese authorities realised young people were not as pliable as their parents had been. They wanted more. Elections and the right to vote (let alone the right to protest) were never going to be in the equation, but young urbanites were offered things to distract them: computers (with censored internet access), i-Pods, i-Pads, smart phones.

It’s tempting to think (although hard to believe) that young people in North America here have been similarly lulled into apathy. Far more likely is the fact that none of the major parties are offering any solutions to their biggest problems: low expectations and high levels of debt. (And as long as Boomers vote and young people don’t, that is unlikely to change.)

Would I, in their situation, vote to maintain the status quo? Hard to say.

In the run up to the Ontario election, I heard one pundit pretty much begging people to turn up at the polls. “Reject your ballot, spoil your ballot,” she said, “whatever you want. Just show up.”

There is a reason showing up matters.

In the UK, the Conservative government has been able to shred the social fabric of the nation (with the suicidal assistance of coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats) by winning over a mere 23% of eligible voters in 2010.

Here in Canada, the full horror of a first-past-the-post Harper majority government was unleashed on the country by 24% of eligible voters.

Compulsory voting might not have changed either of these outcomes. As Australia itself proved last year, a “dickhead” like Tony Abbott can still become Prime Minister. But at least a legitimate majority (54%) of Ozzies voted for him.

So, how do we get people – of all ages – out to the polls so election results are an actual reflection of public will?

Here’s my magic wand, “Yes We CANA” solution.

Compulsory voting. If jury service is compulsory, why not voting?

App enabled. Let’s face it, the odds of getting young – and other disenchanted – voters to line up in a school gym are slim. (Call me crazy, but I quite like voting this way.) If there isn’t an app, it ain’t gonna happen. If we can file our taxes on-line, why can’t we vote? The technology already exists.

And, most importantly, give us what we really want: a None of the Above (NA) option. And if, as is all too likely, the NA votes – which must be logged – are the majority, proportional representation automatically kicks in before the next election, which must beheld a week later. Alternatively, I could automatically be appointed as a benevolent dictator who will immediately shut down the tar sands, install solar panels on every roof and make university education free.

Take your pick.

Just vote.


From → Columns

One Comment
  1. June permalink

    Great Column, We worked the polls in our area, had nearly 60% turnout. plus quite a number of young voters.

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