Why your ballot will be doubly important in Monday’s vote
Author: Martin Regg Cohn
Date Written: Oct 18, 2019 at 5:00 PM
Date Saved: 10/20/19, 10:29 AM
If you are still trying to decide which party to support in Monday’s election, take a bow for doing your democratic duty.
But if you are still undecided about whether to vote at all — or if you have already decided against casting a ballot — take a minute to think about how you are undoing democracy by doing nothing on voting day.
Canada’s democracy complacency is a perennial affliction, with only an occasional cure. Every few elections, voters are vexed enough to cast their ballots in a “change election” that rattles our political landscape.
The good news about our last federal election: After a steady democratic drought, Canadians turned out in larger numbers, perhaps motivated to “throw the bums out” or legalize cannabis.
The bad news about this campaign: No active ingredient, whether in marijuana or incumbency hostility, has turned people on in a big way — which could inhibit voter turnout yet again on election day.
Too often in our democracy, the best antidote to apathy is antipathy — anger, fear, desperation. But you can’t rely on resentment to run a country, or win the next campaign, because it is ultimately self-defeating.
Bitterness doesn’t just deepen the divide. It is also a notoriously unreliable way to deepen attachments to our democratic system.
Just ask our neighbours to the south, who are still trying to undo what they did in the vote that made Donald Trump their president. To be sure, Trump successfully rallied his base to supposedly “drain the swamp,” which he only made deeper and murkier.
But the bigger failure was that so many anti-Trump Americans didn’t bother voting for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. They didn’t think their votes counted, or that the election mattered, and in the aftermath Trump won by a razor-thin margin that no one predicted.
We seem more polarized than ever — not just in the U.S. but in the U.K. and around the world, most recently in Israel’s deadlocked election. Paradoxically, it’s not just the vast differences between opposing sides, but the narrow margins of victory that separate the two camps.
It is precisely that equation — the high stakes and the close vote counts — that makes every individual vote doubly important today, in Canada as around the world.
Most public opinion polls show a dead heat between the two leading parties, Liberal and Conservative, with a strong possibility of a minority parliament. But those survey results also tell a different story of unpredictability in every way.
First, voters are more mercurial than ever, deciding at the last moment or refusing to confide in pollsters in a representative sample the way they once did. Second, transposing national polling trends onto the map of 338 ridings — where the election will be won or lost — is more art than science, making it difficult to foretell the makeup of a minority parliament.
All the more reason to recognize that you cannot minimize the impact of an individual vote. Even in so-called “safe seats” that seem predestined to favour the incumbent MP, every ballot contributes to the national popular vote tallies that are very much taken into consideration, historically, by a governor general in deciding which party (or combination of parties) has a mandate to govern.
Don’t be swayed by pollsters or politicians who claim to know the unknowable —or that they are predestined to become prime minister.
Decide for yourself who to vote for but whatever your decision, do not persuade yourself that your vote doesn’t matter. Nothing is more corrosive than cynicism at a time when so many citizens around the world crave the certainty and stability of our democracy.
Think of the citizens of Hong Kong who are protesting in the streets for a semblance of democratic rule that Canadians take for granted. Consider the people in the Middle East who dreamed of an Arab Spring, only to see it fade away. I lived in both places for a decade, covering the human rights movements where people risked bullets for ballots, and were prepared to die for democracy, then as now.
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Ever since I returned home, it has broken my heart to hear people here claim that their votes don’t count (you won’t know until they are tallied up); that there are no good politicians to choose from (then you must choose the least worst, of course); or that our electoral system is imperfect (then do the democratic thing and persuade your fellow Canadians to change it, rather than boycott it).
On election day, we Canadians should count our blessings — and make our ballots count. For a vote is a terrible thing to waste.