The recent passage of the federal Fair Elections Act has prompted debate about citizens right/obligation to vote for representatives at all three levels of government.
In recent years, we’ve seen a drop-off in voter turnout at all levels. In federal general elections, for example, the turnout has dropped from an average of 75 per cent during the period after World War II to 61 per cent in the 2011 election. At the provincial level, in Ontario for example, the turnout slipped below 50 per cent for the first time in 2011.
Now some, like Andrew Coyne of the National Post, are asking whether voting should be mandatory. Coyne writes, “The argument for compulsory voting is analogous to that for taxation.” Another comparison made is to jury duty. Not bad points and, in more than 30 countries around the world, voting is, apparently, compulsory in some way or other.
While I have sympathy for the wish to increase the number of people voting, especially among youth, I’m not ready to support making the practice compulsory.
We shouldn’t have to use coercion to get citizens to exercise their franchise. Good grief, women of the world were still fighting for the right to vote well into the twentieth century—suffrage was not extended to the women of France until 1944. And the women of Québec had to wait until 1940 for full suffrage.
It seems incredible sad to me that in my lifetime many women fought very hard for the right to vote yet, today, millions of young Canadians choose not to exercise their hard-won franchise.
Oh, they have lots of excuses and rationalizations for avoiding their civic duty, but that’s all they are, excuses. Some claim it’s too hard to vote, takes too much time, makes no difference since all politicians are the same, and others whine on giving excuses in a similar vein.
But there is no good excuse, short of illness, that can justify what looks a lot like apathy—a lack of any sense of duty or obligation to our democracy. Our elections provide many voting stations in convenient places and are preceded by a multi-day advance poll. There is no need for on-line voting or any further dumbing down of the process. It’s as easy to vote as it is to go to a movie and takes considerable less time. Plus it’s the right thing to do.
Perhaps we need to emphasize more our duties and obligations when we inform young citizens about their rights and privileges. And this, I believe, should start before high school.
After that, it’s up to the individual to decide if he or she wants to have a say, or just wants to go along for the ride. That’s also their right. And if some people choose the latter, then tough on them, and they’ll have to live with the consequences of their inaction. At least, that’s the way I see it.