I confess, I’ve always been a bit of an election geek. I couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could vote – it was, as far as I was concerned, far more exciting than driving a car. (I was also quite pleased to be the first member of my family ever to post an NDP election sign on the lawn of my parents’ traditionally Liberal suburban Ontario home, but I digress.)
To this day, I find elections entertaining. I love the campaigns – the brochures, the door knocks, the Tweeting, even the all-candidates’ meetings. And, on election night, whether I’m working or not, I tend to remain glued to election results coverage online or on TV (or both) regardless of whether the vote at hand is municipal, provincial or federal.
All of which, however, I find secondary to the one act in an election that still thrills me: casting my ballot.
Despite the fact that I’ve done it dozens of times in the 25 years since that very first trip to the polls, there’s something about heading to the polling station and marking my “X” that remains oddly exciting.
That one small act makes me feel that I am doing my part for democracy – that although I am but one voice, it’s one voice among thousands (or millions), and together we add up to a whole greater than the sum of our parts.
Admittedly, I have a poor record when it comes to backing winners; for awhile there I almost felt compelled to send apology cards to any candidate I voted for, as they all seemed to go down to ignominious defeat.
Admittedly, too, I have enormous issues with the first-past-the-post electoral system, particularly in provincial and federal elections – I don’t for a second believe it properly reflects the actual wishes of the people. (But that’s a blog post for another day.)
All that aside, I still vote every time I can.
And there’s no surer way to make me crazy than to tell me you don’t vote.
I hear it often, and from many people whom I consider to be thoughtful, intelligent, contributing members of the community. Usually, the “Oh, I never vote” is accompanied by a statement something like, “Why bother? They’re all corrupt/greedy/stupid/untrustworthy/insert-unflattering-adjective-of-choice here.”
Sorry, people, I just don’t buy it. For one thing, it’s not true – sure, politics has its share of corrupt/greedy/stupid/untrustworthy people, just like any other field. But to paint all political hopefuls with the same brush and use it as your lame justification for not being bothered is just not good enough.
There is no excuse, not one, for not taking a short time out of your day once every few years to exercise your democratic responsibility.
If you don’t like the people who are being voted in, then ask yourself why. Could it be because you – and people like you – aren’t bothering to have a say? The people getting elected are being chosen by somebody – so if you don’t like who the rest of us (you know, those of us who actually bother) are choosing, then get off your butt and do something about it.
If you don’t like the quality of the people running for office, that makes it even more important for you to get involved – ask questions at all-candidates meetings, hold the hopefuls’ feet to the fire about what matters to you, write letters to your newspaper editor. Heck, even run for office yourself if you just can't stand it.
And, on election day, if you’re really unhappy, then march to the polls and spoil your ballot in protest.
But whatever you do, don't just write off that chance to vote.
How can you in all conscience not cast a ballot when, in other parts of the world, people are literally dying for that simple privilege?
I know it’s a cliché to say it, but as always, it’s a cliché because it’s true. History is full of stories of nations that fought long and hard for the right to govern themselves, of oppressed people who rose up and defied despotism and tyranny of all stripes for the right to determine their own destiny.
Even today, the fight continues around the globe.
Out of curiosity, I Googled “how many democracies are there in 2014” and came upon the Freedom House website – which informed me there are 88 countries considered “free,” with another 59 considered “partly free” and 48 considered “not free.” I’m sure those definitions are arguable in all kinds of ways, but the point remains: people to this day are fighting and dying for the privilege of marking that “X” on that piece of paper.
Even here in Canada – a free country by any definition – that right hasn’t always been clear for all of us.
When my grandmothers were born, women didn’t even have the right to vote - the federal Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women wasn’t passed until 1919.
Other groups – like Chinese-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians – were even less fortunate. The federal Elections Act was finally amended in 1948 to remove race as grounds for exclusion from voting. Even then, First Nations people didn’t earn the right to vote in federal elections (without losing their treaty status) until 1960.
I could go on and on.
But the point stands: People have fought long and hard for this one right, and you’re writing it off because – whatever excuse you wrap it up in – you just can’t be bothered?
So, frankly, if you don’t get out there to the polls on Nov. 15, then I don’t want to hear what you think about much of anything. I don’t want your opinion about traffic, or taxes, or schools, or parks. I don’t want to know whether you hate the highrise that’s being built down the street or whether you feel safe walking in your neighbourhood at night. I don’t want to hear you moan about the lack of ice time at your local arena or the fact that your local soccer fields are poor quality or the fact that the city needs a bigger theatre or a better art gallery. I don’t want to hear that you hate shopping malls or SkyTrain or that you wish the city did a better job clearing snow.
Because you have a say in ALL of those things – and if you’re not availing yourself of it, then I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself.
Democracy gives us many rights, which go hand-in-hand with responsibilities. The very simplest of all of those responsibilities is the small act of marking your choice on a piece of paper.
As the French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville famously said, we get the government we deserve.
Join me on Nov. 15, won’t you, and let’s make sure we get a good one.
Julie MacLellan is the assistant editor of The Record and Burnaby NOW newspapers, a New Westminster resident and a die-hard voter. Want to comment on this column? Join the #whyivote conversation on Twitter. (Use the hashtags #elxnnw and #bbyelxn.) Find Julie there @juliemaclellan.