The case against voting -

The case against voting

These clowns aren’t funny anymore.


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.


The case against voting

  1. Thank you for the eloquent post. It encapsulates how I feel about “the youth vote” and why it just doesn’t make sense for people to engage in a process that doesn’t respect their engagement.

    Proportional representation will not necessarily fix voter apathy or declining turnout, but at least then, those who choose to ignore the election can rest easy playing Portal 2 and the rest of us who do care can finally be counted.

  2. If you don’t want to vote for political reasons (rather than just sheer laziness), then go to the polls and scratch your ballot. Those ballots are counted, too. If everyone who was disillusioned bothered to do that, then maybe we could make some changes. Students aren’t voting because they are making a political statement: they’re not voting because they just don’t see how it will personally benefit them.

    If you just stay home, you’re giving those who are looking after their own interests exactly what they want: apathy.

    Sorry, but it’s pathetic to encourage people not to fight for something better.

    • Gor, I see two problems with the spoiled ballot. First, the numbers are rarely reported. Second, so far as I know, there is no record of deliberately spoiled ballots as opposed to those spoiled by accident. What we should have is the right to formally decline our ballots and have them recorded as such, effectively voting for none of the above.

  3. If you are sickened by what you see in politics, then get off your ass and work to change it.

    I have no patience for people who arm-chair bitch about the politics of this country yet refuse to even lift a bloody finger to do anything to affect it.

    Enter the political process for yourself for once and you might realize that your wishes for a democracy “fired in the kilns of revolution and civil war,” may not be all its hyped up to be. I would actually be worried if elections embroiled such passions… it would be indicative of a seriously divided nation on the brink of violence.

    There are parties who are promising massive changes in this election–they’re called fringe parties. Check out the Christian Heritage party platform. Why aren’t you exhilarated over their dramatic public policy positions? Wait, what’s that? You find them crazy and wrong? Well, fancy that, you’ve answered for yourself why no modern political party adopts a radical reshaping of the federal government unilaterally that you personally want to see espoused on political party platforms.

    Here’s your answer to why our democracy doesn’t provoke passions equal to a civil war: We have an inability to appreciate the good government we generally have in Canada. That good govenrment formed from more than just voting, it formed from the work of hundreds of thousands of different people who poured their dedication, participation and heart into what they believed would improve this country. Their passion for improving our society is the reason why our government is among one of the most open and accountable in the free world.

    Your apathy on the other hand contributes nothing. It’s an excuse used far too often by young people (many of whom are my friends) to justify intellectual laziness to justify not engaging in the political process about what could matter to you… if you actually tried caring. So here’s my message: Get off your ass and contribute to the actual political process for once… write a letter to an MP, identify an issue your passionate about and advocate for it Study how we can improve this thing we call government. Your basic participation in these processes will influence the direction of this country far more than your vote (or lack therof) ever could.


    • Kelsey, yes if only there was some way I could speak out and make my voice heard. Some kind of regular log of my thoughts and ideas, perhaps on the web. Some kind of web log…

      In any case, why do the people elected and payed to govern get a free pass when they suck? Why do people always fall back on, “well if you don’t like it, get involved”? Well, most people are busy with other things — that’s why we have elected leader and that’s why we pay for a massive civil service: so they can lead and serve. Why should I have to do my MP’s job?

      We don’t apply this rule to other areas of society. The solution to a bad education system can’t be everybody homeschooling their kids. The answer to insufficient health care can’t be everyone becoming a doctor. We don’t expect public officials to give learned lectures on literature — that’s what you pay me for.

      So why do people get so crazy when others suggest that politicians are doing a lousy job?

  4. @Todd:
    I’ve worked at polling places. Rarely is a ballot spoiled by mistake without the elector realizing. In other words, if they mark the wrong thing or whatever, that ballot is placed aside, and they are given a new ballot.

    The only case where an elector can “accidentally” spoil their ballot is if they don’t mark the ballot in the circle, or leave some sort of mark that can allow them to be identified. Meaning, if they do either of those, they didn’t read the instructions clearly and they are to blame. It’s also incredibly rare.

    As a result, the spoiled ballots are generally a decent reflection of those who intentionally spoiled their votes.

    I just think there’s a difference between apathy, and disagreement with the political process. Apathy is never acceptable. Students are one of the loudest complainers when it affects them- tuition fees. Yet, when it comes to elections, we’re just like “oh I really don’t have the time”. If you want to be entitled to an opinion not to have an opinion, spoil your ballot. Otherwise, students should just keep their mouth shut for the entire 4 years otherwise.

  5. Todd do you actually think federal leaders and cabinet ministers who are running *actually* suck at their jobs? Do you know anyone who could do better.. and how?

    Regardless of their political viewpoints, I think all of the federal leaders are skilled politicians who have far more understanding of the dynamics of public policy and general public opinion than either of us have. All major federal leaders have every word they say publicly reported and tweeted on. It’s an incredibly difficult job where even one brash or unsubstantiated comment expressed by you could result in justified internal party mutiny, economic uncertainty or public outrage. These people are trying to assemble coalitions of millions of diverse people to support them so that they can enact change… do you have any idea how difficult that is to do?!

    You have to understand that your opinion of what constitutes a “lousy job” is one among a nation of 30 million people. No one has the right to have a monopoly on what’s right.

    We get so angry at advocates for not voting because your causing real damage to our flawed, but necessary, political process. Do you actually think you are achieving something by having people not vote? I’m sorry to remind you, but the Canadian Constitution has no provision to change our political system simply because voter turnout suddenly goes down… and any politician who gets elected from this artificially reduced voter pool will have no incentive to actually address this problem either because at that point in time, that artificially reduced voter pool will be the reason they’re sitting in elected office to begin with.

  6. Great, more sexist nonsense about female party leaders. Didn’t this go out of fashion in the 80s?

    So, if I understand you correctly, in an article suposedly bemoaning the lack of substance in politics, you write off Elizabeth May as a “joke” for being short, having “no style,” and having a voice you find objectionable (not something I’ve ever noticed myself, I have to say). That’s a hell of a way to make your point.

    I do hope you go with your instincts and stay home on election day though.

    • MTB, I think if you read the whole post, you’ll see that my point is that despite the fact that May is kind of comical (come on, she is), she is the best of the National Party leaders and her oddities could become endearing as were Chretien’s and MacKenzie King’s (that’s what I meant by a joke we can be in on), if the system didn’t destroy her chances. You’ll also see that I call her a woman of great wisdom, and that I identify the more serious problem as not her personal qualities as the decision to bar her from the leaders’ debates.

      So to conclude, I pillory all the male leaders, gently mock the female leader for a moment but then extol her as the best of our party leaders, and that’s old fashioned sexism?

  7. @Kelsey

    It is quite possible that some cabinet ministers do “suck” at their jobs because they aren’t qualified for them. Cabinet posts aren’t chosen by competency; they’re chosen by patronage. There’s no requirement for the finance minister to know anything about economics; there’s no requirement for our environment minister to care about the environment; there’s no requirement for our science-related minister to understand basic science; there’s no requirement for our health minister to have medical experience. These positions are pulled entirely from the ranks of the people who end up getting elected, and have nothing to do with their competency in their posts. The people who actually *matter* are the bureaucrats just below the cabinet ministers, who govern the day-to-day operations of the departments mostly independently of who is in government. Cabinet ministers are people who may be competent politicians, true, but that doesn’t mean that they are remotely qualified to run the departments they are assigned.

  8. Seriously though, Portal 2 looks awesome.