The call to vote: It’s a perennial feature of the news cycle as we gear up for an election. Writers at the Times Colonist and other news outlets have delivered reasoned and impassioned manifestos on why it’s important to vote.
In fact, the Times Colonist’s Monitor section recently highlighted all the ways in which B.C. is making it easier for people to vote, whether it be through advance voting, voting via mail or using an app for your cellphone to find your nearest voting booth.
As much as I applaud the efforts to make it easier for every citizen to vote, however, I have to wonder: Has voting ever really been that difficult? Or are the problems that cause our low voter turnout not so easily solved?
With a multitude of alternative voting methods and voting hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on e-day, it would be hard to keep someone who really wanted to vote from voting. I’m not sure that an iPhone app is the make-or-break factor.
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It’s not difficult to see why we spend so much time and ink encouraging people to vote: Last provincial election, almost half of us who could, didn’t. About 1.5 million people didn’t exercise their right to democratically elect their leader.
And it’s not who you’d think, either. We’re used to throwing around the stereotype of the lazy or uneducated young person eschewing voting out of callowness, but we’ve seen enough in the last year to know that that’s not the case.
A recent piece by Cameron Fenton, national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, points out that Canada’s youth are extremely politically engaged, just not in a way that political parties have been able to capitalize on. Condescending, prescriptive attempts to appeal to the elusive “youth vote” aren’t effective, because they’re bald attempts to manipulate momentum, rather than legitimate responses to people’s concerns.
Just look at the way the Quebec election in the midst of the 2012 student protests played out.
Fenton observes that British Columbians of our generation — the same young people who have been watching their Québécois peers literally fight for affordable education, who have BAs and no careers, and who care about ethical environmental sustainability in a way that was unheard-of last generation — are paying close attention this election.
In fact, I’d argue that young people are far more likely to know what Premier Christy Clark knows: that this is an important election.
Several weeks ago, I ribbed Clark for saying that British Columbians are facing “the most important election in modern history.”
But assuming that she meant what she said and wasn’t merely engaging in politically motivated hyperbole, it’s not impossible to see where’s she’s coming from.
This election will determine the direction that B.C. takes on homelessness, the teaching crisis and degradation of our salmon populations, to name a few key issues. To make things even more interesting, our two leading parties have vastly different policies and histories when it comes to the two most important issues facing British Columbians: The economy and the environment.
Clark’s right about one thing: We’re facing a stark choice.
This one’s going to be a game-changer. Even the people who have grown frustrated with the exhausting, ingrained systems of self-promotion in B.C. politics can recognize that this election matters. (You always know things are going to get interesting when the attack ads come out, at any rate.)
So will more than half of British Columbians go to the polls on Tuesday?
My prediction is no.
But if young people are engaged and political (our services have been cut, our debt has increased, and we’re committing sociology left and right — you’d better believe we’re political), then who isn’t voting?
The answer, I think, is all of us. Non-voters aren’t restricted to any one demographic. Feelings of alienation and frustration with our electoral system run deep across all of B.C.; how else do you explain these numbers? When almost half of our population isn’t voting, something’s very wrong, and it’s not a problem that will be solved through this latest struggle of power between the B.C. Liberals and the New Democratic Party.
Voting is only the first step, and we shouldn’t let this issue fade into memory once the election has passed.
In the meantime, I’ll see you at the polls.