Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vote, Or Pay a Fine

A look ahead to begin. The American election is on November 2, which is now only three weeks away. Next week I’ll make my final predictions before election day. Normally I hold off a couple days before the event and predict the night of, but I want to get my predictions in sooner rather than later. Look forward to that.

An election is approaching in Ontario. I’m having some trouble participating in the democratic process this time. That being said it got me thinking about how we exercise democracy in this country. The fundamental building block in our democracy is that citizens vote and popularly elect officials to represent their community’s views. There is a part I wonder about. What if no one votes?

Despite what you might hear Canada’s voting rate is not really trending that far downward. In fact in 2006 the turnout was 64.7% and in 58.8% in 2008. 58.8% is the lowest turnout in Canada’s history. Post World War II the highest turnout was 79.4% in the 1958 election. For much of the twentieth century the voting rate has hovered at about 75%. In the 2000s the number averages in about the 60’s.

A majority of Canadians still vote, but what if the number continues to decline? If an election was held and 55% vote, is the election still valid? What about 50%? 45%? What if 30% of Canadians vote in an election? At one point do we say that the elections results are invalid?

I believe that the more people who vote the more legitimate an election result is. Therefore the question comes to mind, why don’t we have compulsory voting? If everyone voted the elections would represent the true voice of the country. For those that don’t want to actually pick a political party or politician they can pick None-of-the-Above.

There is another aspect to consider. It would transform politics. Given that turnout is so important in our elections parties sometimes appeal to the extreme ends of the political spectrum to turnout votes. If everyone was going to vote anyway political parties would have to work on building majorities across their ridings and the country.

Changes would have to be made to our elections. I believe polls would have to be open from 7 AM to 10 PM Sunday to Saturday. That’s in an ideal world. You could also accomplish full voting through early or mail-in voting.

Voting, in my opinion is a civic duty, not just a civic right. It’s a responsibility citizens have to their government to ensure that the system functions as it should. I know there are problems with this idea, but I believe it is something that should be seriously considered if voting rates fall to 50%. I just wonder how far turnout can drop before action must be taken.

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