Stop shaming young people to vote -

Stop shaming young people to vote

Ultimately, the decision to vote should be a personal one


The other night I participated in an organized group discussion about the youth vote and upcoming federal election. (Doesn’t that sound riveting?) As part of the event, participants were asked to indicate to the group if they plan on voting, and if so, who they plan on supporting. Among the crowd was a group of brave souls who, feeling disengaged and disenfranchised, declared their intention to stay home on May 2. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “ZOMG, someone, save them!” “Others are dying for this TYPE OF DEMOCRACY!”

I was beginning to believe “Not Voting” was some sort of communicable disease by the way these individuals were avoided that night. It was mostly leers and whispers until the microphone made its way around and self-appointed democracy-advocates made their impassioned pleas to the misguided. “You’re ruining it for everyone!” they said. “Don’t be politically lazy!” “We are the future!” “Gaaahh!”

Of course, the vomit was slowly rising in my throat by that point. Most upsetting was that I generally agreed with the voting advocates (minus the starry-eyed optimism). I think young people should vote, especially since it’s clear politicians won’t pay greater attention to the concerns of youth until they’re convinced they can rely on their votes. Young people can make the change by voting. I was incredibly dismayed, however, by the tone of the individuals who chose to unleash verbal attacks on the non-voters. They were convinced that the deliberate choice to refrain from voting was a disgraceful one and something certainly worthy of indignation.

It’s not surprising that this election has given rise to that sort of sentiment. Over the past few weeks, young people have been the target of pundit pleas, messages from TV personalities, and campus pressure to participate in vote mobs. And while the messages have largely been positive–encouraging youth to exercise their democratic right to cast a ballot—the latent effect has been to make a taboo of the equally democratic right to not cast a ballot. It seems focus on getting young people out to the polls has demonized the decision to stay home.

The reasons cited for choosing not to vote are usually the same among young people. They either don’t care enough to vote, they feel they aren’t well informed enough to vote, or else are so disenfranchised and dismayed by the system that they don’t want to validate the process by voting. I personally feel each reason to be insufficient (though I can sympathize with the last one, especially since there is no constructive way to express discontent with the system since spoiling a federal ballot is illegal in Canada, for some reason), but each individual has the freedom to decide if she or he wants to participate. Voting is a right, not an obligation, just as, say, the freedom of peaceful assembly is a right, not an obligation. Just because that right exists doesn’t mean we are compelled to make use of it.

The shamers will also soon come to realize that one of the worst ways to get people on your side, especially in politics, is with guilt and pressure. (Ask your friends about their blocked Twitter lists if you need any further confirmation.) Perhaps it is true that young people who choose to stay home will be “ruining it for the rest of us” by lowering turnout numbers for the youth demographic, but reminding them of that will not further anyone’s cause. Nor will a vote mob dance party–sorry to interrupt the glee. The outraged can try to explain to committed non-voters why they should vote (as opposed to explaining why they are terrible people for choosing not to), or else, move to Australia and enjoy life. In Canada, the decision to vote is a personal choice and one that should be respected, even if we don’t like it.


Stop shaming young people to vote

  1. I agree on principle, but what bothers me is many of these people who choose not to vote will be the ones taking to the street, particularly in Quebec, screaming over tuition increases. This is regardless of the fact that Quebec’s tuition is so far below the national average, and hasn’t changed even though inflation has in 30 years.

    The way I see it if you choose not to vote, it’s your right. However, you then lose all right to protest ANYTHING until the next general election. Otherwise, you’re just being a whiny hypocrite.

  2. Why do you lose your right to protest if you don’t vote?

    As one example, say I want to vote for lower tuition fees and anti-scab legislation in Manitoba. I have a choice between three parties, all three of which support increasing tuition fees, and none of which support anti-scab legislation. How do I vote for lower tuition? And if I choose not to vote for higher tuition, why do I lose the right to engage in freedom of expression and protest, which is supposed to be another part of our democratic system, simply because I don’t want to vote for people who don’t represent my opinions or my interests?

    Now, this is focusing on one issue just to make it easier as an example, but lots of people feel unrepresented by the political system and by the choices put in front of them. Why can’t they engage in other actions such as protest to have their voice heard – something more likely to get your voice heard than voting for someone who doesn’t represent you to legitimize policies you don’t like coming from an institution with no credibility?

    And aside from that, what exactly is R. proposing? Losing your right to protest? Does that mean that the government should keep track of whether you vote or not, then whenever someone actually uses their right to free exression, police intervene to haul away anyone who didn’t vote? And this is more democratic than people choosing not to vote for people to represent them?

  3. Obviously I’m not proposing that as legislation. Elections Canada has no record of who actually votes and who doesn’t.

    I get what you’re saying, but there are a lot of people who choose not to vote simply because they don’t care. It’s not because they feel unrepresented. They just see it as “a burden”, and well “if everything is good now why should I care” kind of thing. If you truly feel unrepresented, go spoil your ballot. Otherwise you’re sending the message of apathy and that the political parties should take no interest in you.

    Consider it this way. Look at the vote mob movements. The idea is to show the political parties that their campaign platforms have to consider students as well. Currently, the parties couldn’t care less about it because we’ve demonstrated that we don’t care about voting.

    What if we told the parties we will vote? We will vote based on who commits to anti-scab laws? THIS is when the parties are listening to the voters most. Waiting until a party is elected, then protesting it will do little because there’s no incentive.

    If the parties would see that listening to students has a benefit for them, then students might become more interested. However, it has to come from the students first. If the parties know that if they raise tuition incessantly, that they might lose the next election because we vote, then it might have an impact. However, if we just take to the streets, but stop caring when an election comes around, the parties will just ignore us (which is what’s happening now).

    This is why I simply say you can’t just throw a fit when something doesn’t go your way, when you demonstrate you don’t care when given the chance. Vote now. Make a statement that the youth/students of Canada care about our government, regardless of its an accepted or rejected ballot. And hey, maybe change will come.

    But if you don’t, seriously, I don’t want to hear you complain.

    Take this as an example: Your union is negotiating a new contract for employment. Before the deal is signed, the union solicits your feedback. This is when it matters. After the contract is signed, (after the government is elected), they could listen to you, but really they probably won’t.