Democracy · Halifax · Politics

In defense of non-voters

Less than a third of us voted in the 2016 HRM Muncipal election.

There are still a few people out there who are so dedicated to the act of voting that it wouldn’t matter time of year, day of the week, what the weather was like, what their plans were… they would cast that vote no matter what.  It wouldn’t even matter if they didn’t even like any of the candidates offering… they would cast that vote no matter what.

I am grateful for those people.  They keep the machine running and are the thin line between order and anarchy.  They are the people who, above all else, believe in the system and cast a vote for democracy, not necessarily good governance.

People who do vote because they still believe in democracy hold an incredible amount of power in the system.  They get to determine who will be the leaders and decision-makers in their communities.  Some argue it is better if only the informed and the educated vote; those who squander their basic right to vote “get what is coming to them” so to speak.  This keeps decision-making in the hands of the elite.

But when that group of people only makes up about 30% of your population, there is a serious problem.  I might even #BEBOLD enough to say that it points to a larger civic crisis.

Think about it… 70% of the people out there couldn’t be bothered to vote for the people who are going to make decisions about things like transit, business by-laws, urban planning… but also things like where and how you are allowed to build a life for yourself in your communities.  These are also the people who will be in charge of leadership and emergency organizing in the face of climatologist and environmental disasters if they should indeed happen.  These are the people who are going to decide how to spend their discretionary funds on community projects, and who will vote on things like how police should respond to public protest… 70% of people think government and governance is irrelevant to their own lives.

We vote to hire someone to vote for us on these matters.  We want the person at the table saying yay or nay to align with what we want and need for our own personal lives.

A lot of people scratch their heads about low voter turn-out.  They come up with every excuse for it and try to rationalize what is seemingly an irrational behaviour.  Why wouldn’t people want to cast their vote so that life can be governed by people with values and struggles aligned to their own?  It must be because of things that are circumstantial to the election itself… not a crisis of democracy.

Low voter turnout is a big problem for democracy, because it makes the government seems illegitimate.  If 70% of the population are so disenfranchised that they think their vote doesn’t matter, or that politics is just not for them, or that politicians are all in it for themselves, and would never be on their side… well how can we claim legitimacy of the system as a whole?

So why do people think that way?  Well, maybe its because governments want more of their money, in the form of taxes, and offer the most minimal of services in exchange for those taxes.  Maybe its because governments are run in such a top-down way that there are systemic barriers to accessing it and making it work for people. Maybe its because we always have to fight with governments to be heard, and they never listen when we try to tell them how and why they are failing us. Maybe it’s because we can’t see ourselves represented in government.  Maybe its because governments hold referendums and plebiscites, they pretend to consult with us, but as soon as the first big corporation comes along and says, We don’t care what the people want, this is what we want… votes cast are overturned and public consultation reports archived away as if they never happened.

I don’t blame people for not voting… sometimes I think it is pretty useless myself.

That being said, I hope that every Councillor elected to this new council will always be asking themselves… why do so many people think this government is not for them?  That only 30-40% of my constituents will come out to vote for me?  What can I do to get more of my district engaged, and feel a part of the political process?

Because you can’t blame people who do not believe in the system for not voting… You can only work harder to show them and prove to them why they should believe in the system.