I don’t vote. Check that, I actually have voted a number of times. What I should have wrote was that as a rule I don’t vote often. In fact, before last year I can’t recall the last time I actually voted. Maybe it was back in 2003 when voting was still somewhat new and the excitement of participating in our country’s political life (even at the most infinitesimal level) was still fresh.
So why do I so often shirk my “civic duty”? Why do I give up that right that “so many fought and died for”? Am I lazy? Apathetic?
I feel that I’m none of the above, nor do I have even a smidgen of guilt for politely declining my right. The fact is that not voting is completely rational.
Mainly comes down to a numbers game. Consider this: you live in a constituency where your preferred candidate is running a distant third with the vote split 35%, 35%, and 30% for Candidate A, Candidate B, and your choice Candidate C, respectively. This is an incredibly unlikely scenario but I’ll put it out there as a best case anyway.
Now no matter what anyone tells you what your vote is worth the fact is that within your riding there will be between 35,000 and 50,000 voters, meaning that in the best case scenario (the best case scenario being the lower number of people votes) you own one-third of 1/1,000 of a percent of the total vote. Convince 300 of your closest friends (only in your constituency remember! we have a first-past-the-post system here!) to vote your way and you’ll get a whole percentage swing! Congratulations your candidate still loses!
The smart thing to do would be to bite the bullet, accept that your candidate has no hope and throw your support behind whichever front-runner you find less reprehensible. The trouble is that what if the platforms of both those candidates don’t appeal to you? This isn’t apathy, this is alienation. Suddenly your vote isn’t so positive. You are voting against something rather than for a platform – and the unfortunate thing is that this is perfectly reasonable. A lot of people have done it before. I’ve done it before. I’m not so sure whether I want to do it again.
Here is the conundrum: I do not want to give a plausible mandate to a candidate, party or platform that I do not feel is in the best interests of my constituency, city, region, province or country (not necessarily in that order). Yet that is exactly what the victor on Thursday will claim to have, a mandate to carry out their platform by virtue of the so-called “will of the people”. But what “will” will that be when thousands, maybe even millions follow the valid logic I presented above?
It is important to note that my obstinacy does not stem from a rigid political philosophy or a (great) distrust of politicians. For the first point, I do not possess a coherent political philosophy; I’m not so certain that I could be defined as a conservative, liberal, marxist, capitalist, anarchist, fascist, socialist, or libertarian. I may be closer to one political philosophy than another, but no party can count on my undying support.
Nor do I have so cynical a view as to suggest that all politicians are soul-less opportunists seeking to enrich themselves with power and their friends with hefty government contracts and tax breaks. Certainly more than a few are, though I doubt politicians as a rule possess a character any more base than the average person you run into on the street. I believe that for the most part they mean what they say. Are Stephen Harper, Tim Hudak and Dalton McGuinty offering tax breaks for business and placing the burden on middle and lower income families because they hate the poor and want to reward their rich buddies on Bay Street? No. They genuinely believe in a Milton Friedman-style supply-side economics system. I happen to disagree with them, but that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t believe that Harper, Hudak and McGuinty are crooks masquerading as public servants – I just think they’re wrong-headed, so I don’t want to vote for their parties even though, given the way other parties have fared in pre-election polls in my riding, that would be tantamount to throwing my vote away.
Of course, this brings up an important issue: the inherent vanity in voting. Why should we feel so confident in believing we know what’s best for our constituency, city, province, country? To be fair, this isn’t an issue for many as they will proudly tell you they are voting solely based on their own self-interest, however, I suspect most are at least somewhat utilitarian in their voting and think beyond their doorstep. Still, even the most civic-minded voter, who reads through each party’s platform with an open mind desperately seeking some measure of clarity to decide who is most suitable to act on our behalf can come to an erroneous conclusion. If we ignore the spending commitments and revenue projections we can get some sense of what an individual candidate or party values most, but does that get us any closer to determining who deserves our vote? Can transgenerational problems like municipal transit and homelessness really be resolved on one page of a 48 page platform? Of course not – politicians need to simplify their message in order to be electable.
And this is the fundamental problem of democracy: big issues need to be dumbed-down or sensationalized for an inattentive electorate. Given the low turnout at most elections, mobilizing the electorate becomes key to a party’s victory, something that is achieved either through bribery (“how about a $300 rebate on your hydro bill?”) or playing to popular prejudices. Across the board, candidates seek to reach the lowest-common denominator rather than transcend politics and seek the truth about the fundamental problems that affect us. Politics becomes a sub-sub-category of philosophy, something that is entirely reactive, hence its baseness (both apparent and real). There is simply no room for Plato’s Philosopher King in the Ontario Legislature (nor would Plato expect there to be!). As a result, democracy retains its position as “the worst form of government except all others that have been tried”.
The only way to react is to either remove yourself from it, seek out change, or compromise and support the least polarizing candidate.
Since it’s too late to even try to bring about change my choice for Thursday is to either stay home or vote for the center.