For democracy to thrive, it perhaps must inspire. And if politicians fail to offer the necessary motivation, maybe money can.
After just 41 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot during the last provincial election, the Alberta Liberals are proposing that each citizen who votes in the next one receive a $50 tax credit. “It’s an attempt to push people to think maybe a little bit outside the box,” says Liberal Leader David Swann. “We’re headed for trouble if more and more people check out of this democracy.”
Turnout in Alberta was at 60 per cent as recently as 1993, but has fallen in each of the last four elections. This mirrors what has occurred federally, the last national election drawing an all-time low of 58.8 per cent. With just shy of a million votes cast in the last provincial election, a tax credit would have cost the Alberta government approximately $48 million. “I guess one would have to ask, ‘what’s democracy worth?’ ” says Swann.
The Canada Elections Act already has some incentives built in: citizens are allowed three consecutive hours, without penalty by their employer, to cast a ballot, and portions of financial contributions to parties are tax deductible. The idea of a tax credit for voting has been floated before, but it doesn’t appear any jurisdiction has enacted such a policy. Critics lament that anyone would vote for financial gain, but a tax credit is a less punitive alternative to the mandatory voting imposed in some countries. In Australia, where voting is compulsory, those who fail to show up at the polling station must provide a valid reason for not doing so or pay a $20 penalty. Turnout there has historically averaged about 95 per cent. “We looked at Australia and how they increased their voter turnout by using a stick,” says Swann. “And I’m more inclined to the carrot.”