Voting Reform’s Easy. You’re Just Lazy.

March 17, 2011

As the newly self-appointed electoral reform voice here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, my first task is to do the exact opposite of what advocacy advocates would advise doing. I am going to attack and deride the very people whose opinion I plan to sway. I fully expect the powers that be over at RaBIT and Fair Vote Canada to be in contact with me soon asking my assistance in helping plan strategy and pen informational publications.

You see, to my mind the biggest obstacle to having a serious debate about the need to change the way we elect our governments is the prevailing disinterest in the subject on the part of the general public. Lulled into a disquieted slumber by those who abhor change or who benefit greatly from the status quo, too many voters wave off any discussion about voting reform as just more politics. Politics, politics, politics.

It’s this apathetic indifference that supporters of our current, first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system exploit. Their main argument in favour of how we do things now revolves around stability. Our system tends to elect majority governments despite rarely an absolute majority actually voting for the winning party and with majority governments comes 4 years or so of one-party, stable governing. Go back to sleep, public. We’ll wake you again in 4 years or so.

Without stable majority governments, the argument goes, we exist on the brink of chaos. Look at Italy! And disregard all the other European countries that have moved on to various forms of real proportional representation. Or look at our own situation in Canada for the past 7 years. Gridlock rife with more partisan bickering than actual governance. Never mind that it’s really the lure of an oh-so-close majority situation that drives the Harper Government. (Huh. My spell check just changed ‘Canadian’ Government to ‘Harper’ Government. Strange). That counter-intuitively undemocratic 40% popular vote bar that would elect them over 50% of the seats and 100% control of the government.

Screw democracy. We need stability.

So much is made of minority governments leading to an increased number of unnecessary elections. How, without the constancy of majority governments, we’ll be dragged incessantly to the polls, against our collective wills, like the Chinese Communist Long March of 1934/5, through snow (bad), the heat of summer (bad), the Christmas season (really, really bad). Spring’s OK but can we go later when the weather’s better but not too good because the bright sunshine and blue skies absolutely drains me of my will to vote.

Since when have elections become such an onerous burden to bear? What exactly is it about them that makes the public feel so put upon? Is it because we have to actually pay attention to what’s going on, to what our politicians are saying? We don’t. Nobody forces us to participate. Rarely does political coverage preempt Canadian Idol or Celebrity Apprentice. We can all go about our regular routines, paying absolutely no attention to that stranger at our door, offering more junk mail and wanting to know what we think about the long form census.

To walk amongst the tall reeds of cliché for a moment, because that’s what one does with clichés, walk amongst the tall reeds, carrying stones in your coat pocket, people are dying out there for the right of self-determination that comes with free and fair elections. Not figuratively dying. Literally dying. And we get our noses out of joint if we have to go vote more than every other year? OMG, if a federal election gets called in the spring that means Ontarians will be going to the polls 3 times in one year by the time the scheduled provincial election is done in October! The horror! The horror!

Why do you always end up making me yell at you, people? I just wanted to talk about electoral reform, is all. There is a better way to elect our representatives at every level of government.

Our current method is not only not working, it is robbing us of true democracy where a minority of voters regularly elects a majority government that represents far less than half of us. No wonder so many of us are jaded with politics, apathetic and figure our votes don’t matter. More often than not, they don’t. So why bother? Why bother even following along?

So the system itself makes us sick of it.

None of it, however, is set in stone. Nowhere is it written that we have to vote like we do, conduct elections like we do. Plenty of countries and jurisdictions have moved on to other, fairer ways of electing their representatives and the sky hasn’t fallen or the earth stopped revolving around the sun. Our very leaders who ask us to cast ballots for them in a fundamentally anti-democratic fashion in all likelihood assumed the top job of their respective parties through alternative voting or ranked ballots. There is a disconnect there that should disturb us all.

But those already in power are not going to step up and start the discussion about electoral reform. Reform that would very possibly divest them of the absolutism that they have grown to expect and demand. We have to get the ball rolling. We have to get excited again (or maybe for the first time) about politics and the opportunity to make real, positive change.

We have to stop being idle and pointing at others for the reason we aren’t engaged. It’s a cop out and a drag, man. Wake up, sleepyheads. Let’s take our politics back.

rousingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


The Enthusiasm Gap

November 4, 2010

What exactly would it take to get what is essentially the other half of eligible voters out to cast a ballot?

I ask because in the past 10 days or so, we here in Toronto have participated in and born witness to a couple notable elections, let us call them. Hotly contested affairs with nasty slinging of mud and fundamental questions about the kind of government we want. Yet, only in and around 50% of those eligible to vote came out to do so.

Big increases from previous elections, you’ll say. A record number in post-amalgamated Toronto, nearly 53%, up about 14% from 2006. On Tuesday, just over 41% turned out, the highest for U.S. midterms since 1982.

Where was everybody else? If these two elections could not stir a massive majority of the population up and out of their La-Z-Boys or away from the gaming consoles, what will? In the States, there were candidates openly questioning Constitutional amendments. Here, it was a pitched battle between two diametrically opposed visions of the kind of city we want to live in. Nosing up on high drama, I might offer, and still, nearly 48% of those who could vote in Toronto chose not to. Almost 3 out of 5 Americans opted out of exercising their democratic right.

I lace up my empathy shoes and perform a tolerance tango in an attempt to understand what exactly de-motivates people from voting but come up empty. I’m so busy. I had to get the kids to cello practice. I work 3 jobs. Who has the time? My vote doesn’t really matter. Politicians, they’re all the same.

None of it washes. The political burdens of being a member of a 21st-century free society are far from heavy. Not much is asked of us. Showing up for even a couple hours if need be every other year or every 4th year is not really all that onerous. Hell, I’m not even asking for voters to be all that informed although it would help.

I pay taxes! How much more do you want from me?

That’s a commercial exchange, really. Money paid for services rendered. As our mayor-elect says, it’s all about respect (or not) for taxpayers. Voting is what a citizen does.

I took in Inside Job last night, a documentary about the financial meltdown that brought us to the current Great Recession. One of the take away messages I got from it was that our democracy has been hijacked by special interests, in this case the financial services industry. Money and influence in the form of political contributions and lobbyists constantly guts the will of the people, transforming government into nothing more than a tool of the wealthy and business.

Big surprise. So it is as it always has been. What’s one vote from one little person going to do to change that?

Probably nothing. But sitting at home when the opportunity arises for you to express an opinion will do nothing to alter anything either. Arguably, disengagement from the process only serves to encourage political lawlessness and disregard for well-being of the commonwealth. If you don’t care enough to bother to vote, why would those intent on bending democracy to do their bidding worry about the repercussions of their actions? Non-voters actively collaborate in the corruption of the system.

Those who chose not to vote (or forget or simply can’t be bothered) are as much enemies of the body-politic as those seeking to undermine it for their own gain. Societal parasites leaving the heavy lifting of democracy to their friends, family and neighbours who do find the time and inclination to cast a ballot. It’s nothing more than a big fuck you to everyone else trying to make this thing run right. Deciding not to vote doesn’t constitute a statement or political stance. It just signals to everyone that you simply don’t care enough to be slightly inconvenienced. It’s a mockery to all those coming before us who fought for the very right to do what you are now neglecting to do and to those throughout the world still struggling and dying for that right that you shrug off.

People shouldn’t need to be chided for not voting. No law should be necessary making it compulsory to vote. Nor should blame be laid at the feet our politicians or system for not engaging voters enough to get them to do what they should reflexively do as citizens. Voting is not merely a right. It is a responsibility. By shirking that responsibility, non-voters work in cahoots with the predators operating and scheming to undercut the democratic principles that differentiate us from the despotic regimes that deny the most basic of human rights.

If the only voting you take part in is that of Canadian Idol, there should be an exchange program to send you over for a spell in Iran or China or Myanmar (or any other place where voting really doesn’t matter) and bring us people who know what it’s like to exist without an opportunity to have a say in how the government works.

sanctimoniously submitted by Cityslikr