Photo by Eric Wagner.
Do the other parties really represent you? Are you, for instance, so opposed to the public funding of religious schools that you are frustrated that the mainstream opponents to Tory’s funding plan still back the discriminatory system of providing public funding for Catholic-run schools? Then perhaps the Green Party is for you. The party has promised to consolidate the current dual system, defunding the Catholic education system and building a single, publicly funded secular system open to all. They’re gradually building their credibility and will likely take up to 6% of the vote this coming election. If you want to help build up a proper alternative to the mainstream three, perhaps these guys deserve your attention.
Do you feel that the Tories’ plan for public funding for religious run schools doesn’t go far enough? Do you believe that you have the right to educate your children as you see fit, and the best thing that the government can do is get out of your way — and, incidentally, refund you the money you pay into the public education system through your taxes? Then perhaps the Family Coalition Party and their proposed school voucher program is for you.
Do you feel that there isn’t enough of a difference between the mainstream parties, that they are all comprised of politicians who break their promises and who don’t treat the electorate with respect? Are you convinced that your vote doesn’t amount for much anymore? Well, here’s my advice: vote for someone else.
Over at Stageleft, the commentators there have derided the recent advertisements of Elections Ontario exhorting people to “don’t let someone else speak for you: VOTE”. And while the graphics themselves are easy to ridicule (that mouth does look rather vampiric — a commentary on bloodsucking politicians, perhaps?), I feel that their own assessment, that people who hate the current alternatives should NOT vote, cuts off their nose to spite their face.
As tempting as it is to not vote, the fact remains that staying away from the ballot box is allowing others to speak for you. You might say that you find the system disastrously flawed, that to your core you do not support it, but that’s not what the politicians or even average voters hear. Under our current electoral system, silence equals consent. Politicians are given power over the people based only on the votes cast. By staying out of the election, you are giving permission for those who win the vote to govern us, because you have not done anything to try and stop the winners from winning.
Indeed, by grabbing all of your marbles and going home, you are playing right into the politicians’ hands as the amount of votes they need in order to win power drops with every voter that walks away from the process. Unless your refusal to vote is coupled with actual acts of civil disobedience, such as a refusal to pay taxes, it is an empty act that enables the politicians to ignore the will of the people. And, so far, I have not seen those people who so hate the system so much that they refuse to vote, have the gonads to take their act beyond the symbolic, making them, in my view, little more than curmudgeons who are perpetuating the very system they hate.
But there is a way that you can signal your refusal to consent. And that is to show up and vote for someone else. Vote for the so-called “fringe” politicians who best represents your views. Do you feel that the environment isn’t being considered enough? Then vote Green. Are you strongly for the rights of the unborn? Then vote Family Coalition. Do you just want the government to butt out of your wallet and your bedroom and your uterus? Vote Libertarian. Are you an Ayn Rand Objectivist? Vote Freedom Party. Do none of these parties represent your views? Then consider voting for an independent candidate who does.
In the last federal election, fully 36% of eligible voters decided not to vote. In the last provincial election, that number was 43%. Does that mean that over a third to two-fifths of the electorate shrugged their shoulders and consented to the results of the election? Hardly. But under our current system it is far too easy to characterize those who don’t vote as lazy layabouts. Imagine for a moment what would happen if the 36% of the electorate who don’t vote rose up and voted for someone else? The mainstream parties wouldn’t know what hit them. It would be a political earthquake very high on the Richter scale. The politicians would be forced to acknowledge that they are not representing all of the people as they deserve to be represented. There could be a mad rush to alter policies to address the concerns of those who turned off. You want a revolution? Here’s a free, easy and legal way to bring one about.
And even if you can’t find a fringe party or independent candidate to represent you, you have the option of declining your ballot. Simply show up at your voting station, announce yourself, take the ballot and then hand it back to the election officers unmarked.
Don’t rip it, please, or make a scene. The people you’re facing aren’t politicians; they’re average citizens like yourself offering their time at very low pay to engage in something they believe in. They don’t deserve to be the focus of your ire.
When you hand back your ballot unmarked, announcing to everybody in the room that you are declining your ballot, the returning officer will have no choice but to accept the unmarked ballot, put it in the ballot box, and mark you down as having voted. Your ballot would be counted as a spoiled ballot, but you would be counted. Alternately, if you want to do more than that, then just go behind the screen and make your marks in such a way that clearly shows you are voting for none of the above. As a deputy returning officer, I have had the pleasure of logging votes for “all politicians suck” and “a crudely drawn representation of a middle finger.”
That’s legal, and that gets counted, even though it doesn’t affect the actual results at the end of the night. But if the 36% of people who don’t vote spoke up in this manner, it would become a number that would be noticed, not just by you but by those thousands of voters who have to cast their ballot for the mainstream parties while holding their nose. You would tell them in no uncertain terms that there are alternatives, that there are people pursuing those alternatives. You would tell them there is a legal means of starting a revolution. If you are disaffected, the best thing you can do for others who are disaffected is to signal to them that they are not alone. It would fly in the face of the notion of silence equalling consent. You wouldn’t be silent, and you sure as hell wouldn’t be consenting.
Don’t let the mainstream politicians off the hook. You have the power to make their lives a lot more difficult.
On October 10, make some noise.