During election campaigns, anyone associated with universities hears a constant rhapsody of hope and despair about student voting. Hope that this will be the year young people finally wise up and exercise their rights as democratic citizens and despair that they will probably just stay home, get high, and play Portal 2 all day.
The normal reasons cited for not voting are usually lame and easily shot down. I don’t know any of the parties or candidates, people say, but it has never been easier to learn who the candidates are and what their positions are, so that’s no excuse. They’re all the same, others lament, but a careful look at the platforms does show discernable differences on issues like, say, corporate tax cuts and public funding for political parties. And if that’s not enough, the pro-vote gang can lay on plenty of patriotic guilt-tripping: there are people dying in other countries right now to have the rights that you are throwing away!
But in a way, that’s why I don’t really want to vote this time, and I’m sure not going to be judgemental of those who choose not to. In one sense, I agree with the democracy boosters. Democracy is a fine and noble institution, born in the fires of classical thought, educated by the enlightenment, fired in the kilns of revolution and civil war, and now, at long last, buried up to its bunghole in Canadian crap.
Democracy in this country is a joke. The leaders of the three major parties are shameless hucksters, churning out policies only to position themselves favourably with the right demographics, and crafting messages they think will resonate. They are patently unwilling to debate serious public policy questions even if they were capable of it. But real positions scare away voters and that’s not how this game (and it is a game to them) is played. And so it is that our politics, devoid of authentic debate has slid quickly and unflatteringly into scandal-mongering and name-calling. Too fearful of proposing real change, political parties bicker over the smallest details of the budget which amount to how many tenths of a percent of our money they will take and how much will they give us back.
One could, of course, vote for the Green Party, but Elizabeth May, shamblingly petite and cursed with an absurd barn-door voice, is the opposite of the other leaders. They are style without substance; she is substance without style. Still, if the Star Wars movies have taught us anything, it’s that great wisdom comes in small hilarious packages, and one could even feel good about voting for May’s Greens (as I have done in recent years) except that a cabal of TV executives won’t give her the national exposure or credibility that comes with the leaders’ debate. And even worse, her party, more than any other, is knee-capped every election by the ridiculously out-of-date first-past-the-post electoral system. And so while May herself might be a joke we could all be in on, the election results will, once again, be a joke that we’ve heard before and wasn’t that funny to begin with.
In short, the argument against voting is that it takes seriously a state of affairs that deserves only mockery. To exercise my solemn and hard-won right to vote feels wrong when the vote is counted by an archaic system that will benefit factionalists who only want to win, not lead, and whose only measure of right is what will sell.
So stop the patronizing insistence that students have to vote. Perhaps the better thing to do is to praise them for their willingness to protest by not voting. Maybe all these young abstainers will grow up to be adult non-voters. In time, the participation rate (whose fall is constantly bemoaned) will drop so low that governments will finally have to recognize that a democracy no one can believe in is no democracy at all.
And out of that despair may finally come a real reason to hope.