Don't Decline Your Ballot; Use it!

So I voted in the advance poll today. Slogged through near freezing temperatures and a steady rain, but I did my duty. And was surprised to find myself third in line with an hour to go before the poll closed for the day.

I asked the poll clerks about turnout, and they said it was surprisingly high; with a line-up of voters, apparently, for the first two and a half hours after the doors opened.

I know it’s just one polling station in a mid-sized city in southwestern Ontario, but make of this what you will.

Advance polls should be continuing where you are tomorrow and Monday.

This will be my last political post until after the election is over. Tomorrow, I go through my training to be a poll clerk, and I swear an oath to conduct myself in a non partisan manner.

Not that this post is particularly partisan. I would like to speak to the 40% of eligible voters who chose not to vote in the previous election.

By all accounts, voting day 2004 was a nice day to go strolling down to the polling booth, and yet a record number of Canadians stayed home.

Given the anger and the cynicism that I hear every day at Tim Horton’s, I can’t think that most of those 40% feel satisfied enough with the nation around them to say “I don’t care who runs this country; I’ll be happy with whoever gets in”. I can understand the frustration that leads one to look at the mainstream parties and throw up their hands. What I don’t understand is why so many of these individuals think that simply walking away is an effective protest.

But by not voting, you are actually saying that you are happy with how things are going. Elections Canada only declares the winner based on who gets the most votes of the votes that are cast. Because you are not voting for the other guys, the mainstream parties aren’t particularly bothered by the fact that you’re not voting at all. By taking your vote out of contention, you are one less vote that each party has to muster to counter you.

In this country, it is possible to decline your ballot. You show up at your polling station, give your name and address, accept your ballot and then hand it back to the Elections Canada official saying, “thank you, but I don’t intend to vote.” By regulation, these individuals have to treat your ballot differently. They note that you have “voted”, and they set your ballot aside. It’s counted in a separate category — different from a spoiled ballot — but, beyond that, it’s influence on the election is negligable. (Note: this statement is slightly inaccurate. A better explanation of what happens when you decline your ballot can be found here)

By declining your ballot, you become, at best, a historical footnote. The election still gets decided based on the ballots that aren’t declined or spoiled.

So tell me: you who hate how the political scene has gone; do you want your voice to be heard or not? If so, the best way to send a message to the mainstream parties that you are dissatisfied with their performance is to actually vote for someone else. The protest vote actually has potential to make waves in Ottawa if enough Canadians decide to do it. Remember, 40% of eligible electors didn’t vote in the last election. Imagine the shock waves in Ottawa if just half that number turned up this time around and voted Green, Libertarian, Freedom Party, Marijuana Party, Christian Heritage, or for one of those wacky independent guys.

If possible, try to tailor your vote to smaller parties which match your frame of mind. Worried about the environment? Vote Green. Want the government out of your pocket? Vote Libertarian or Freedom Party. Think parliament is a moral abyss? Vote Christian Heritage. Any party that receives more than 3% of the vote will receive $1.75 per vote in tax dollars — if you want to avoid that, then consider voting for one of your riding’s wacky independents. But whoever you decide to vote for, please vote. It’s the one weapon in your hand, and you can do the most damage if you don’t throw it away. Whole seats could be turned over to MPs who are neither Liberal, Conservative, NDP or Bloc if enough Canadians protested in this fashion. In a minority situation, the parliament could be rendered even more unmanageable, and there’s not a single political leader who could look up from this mess and smile.

Sure, it’s a recipie for parliamentary gridlock, but you’ve already said that this parliament is dysfunctional, its members a bunch of corrupt liars and arrogant elitists doing damage to this country and your livelihood. Under these circumstances, isn’t the proper response is to try and play with these politicians’ minds and render parliament unworkable?

Maybe, just maybe, if the 40% of Canadians so disgusted by this process spoke up and said “a plague on all your houses”, the mainstream parties might be forced to rethink their approach. No longer can they be content with ignoring the cynical voter.

If you believe that the mainstream parties have failed you, then it is time for you to send those parties a message they can’t ignore.

On January 23, vote for someone else.

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