I voted yesterday.
It was the provincial election. I registered weeks ago, changing my address online, in preparation for this day. I was even going to advance vote last week, but I didn’t get a chance to make it to the polling station before I headed away from my town for the weekend. So I decided to do it on the day itself. I mean, the polling stations are open for 12 hours, and voting takes ten minutes.
Voting is the easiest thing to do in Canada. When I took Nate on Saturday to advance vote, he was in and out in under 2 minutes. I was done in 8, and only because I stood and deliberated over candidates. You can register right there at the polling station if you need to. They accept a wide range of things as ID. You can even have someone vouch for you.
You get a sticker for voting. A little round thing that says “I voted!”
They must have a lot of leftover stickers after each election.
Voter turnout was 48%. BC elected a Liberal majority.
For those of you who don’t know much about Canadian parties, the BC Liberals are actually way more conservative than the federal liberal party. Voting Liberal in BC is basically the same as voting Conservative.
When I turned 18, I was excited about voting. I ran voter registration drives, I worked hard to get people to the polls, I constantly reminded friends to vote. To get out and participate in democracy.
Often, after election day friends would say they “forgot” to vote if I asked them if they’d made it to the polling station. They’d spent the day on the beach instead. Or whatever.
Voting wasn’t easy in the States during the 2004 election. I spent over 2 hours at the polling station, waiting for them to say yes, I could actually vote, yes, this was the right station for me. They spent a long time on hold with the authorities, whoever they are. This wasn’t uncommon. There were a lot of problems for those of us who registered Democrat.
When I moved back to Canada I was pleasantly surprised with how easy voting was. “Wow,” I thought. “This is great. I bet Canadians are far more invested in democracy. Voting here is so easy.”
I was always a person who took joy in the political process. Things suck and many politicians are liars and often it’s hard to feel like you’re making any real difference. Regardless, I took joy in participating in democracy. In voting, in being an activist, in speaking out, in dissent. In making my voice heard.
I felt like this since 1993, when mom and dad took me to Ottawa to cheer Kim Campbell, their friend from law school and my god-mother, on as she ran for Prime Minister. I still have my pink “Kim” baseball cap somewhere. I felt like this when I accepted my award from the ACLU for being an activist in high school. I felt like this when I marched in peace demonstrations, when I spoke out, spoke up about what mattered to me. I felt like this every time I did anything that was participation in a democratic society.
Key word: felt.
Yesterday as I walked out of the polling booth I didn’t feel suffused by the same lighthearted joy that usually took me over after I voted, or after the results of an election went the way I hoped. I felt despondency and despair; I felt hollow. The joy was gone. All I felt was that I’d done my democratic duty, and I could go home and sleep now — because who cared? What did it matter anyway?
I was a rarity to feel joy in democracy. I knew that. And I think knowing that killed my joy.
I didn’t even need to check the results as they came in, or voter turnout, to feel this way. When I did finally check them, they didn’t help, save a small fist-pump at seeing that the Powell River riding finally went NDP. The results only cemented the despair, the despondency. So did the inevitable arguments about “vote splitting”. Not only did I already feel shitty about something that used to bring me joy, but now I got to listen to people who are supposedly on the same ideological, political page as me, call me a waste of space and everything that’s wrong with the world because I dared to vote with my conscience, with my heart, with my principles. Because I stood there in the polling station, not wanting to select either of the two options I’d settled on: one would be me voting against my heart, and the other would subject me to arguments with my fiancé and other people I care about as they tell me I made the wrong choice.
Because I voted Green.
When in my riding it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. If all the people who voted Green in the Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding had voted NDP instead, the Liberals would still have taken the riding. With over 1400 votes!
I understand where the argument comes from. NDP and Green parties are really similar. I have voted NDP before — generally in ridings where the race is more neck in neck between NDP and the more conservative party. I will vote NDP again if I live in a riding where, again, the race is neck in neck. In Nate’s riding the difference was a few hundred votes; if I’d been living there I would have voted NDP.
And I am of the opinion that in those few ridings where the race is so tight, maybe for a few years the Green Party shouldn’t run candidates there. Solidify the party via other ridings; gain strength that way. Work with the NDP for now. There are not many ridings where things are so tight. It wouldn’t be a massive sacrifice, and in the long run it may strengthen the party more. Hell, it might even lead to an NDP majority and a Green minority, which would be fucking awesome.
But I am tired of hearing from people who voted NDP that it is all my fault that the Liberals won a majority. Because I voted Green in a riding where it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. I am tired of hearing about the “problem of vote splitting” and I’m tired of seeing it being laid at the feet of the voters.
I voted with my conscience. That is my right as a citizen of a democratic society.
If you want to get angry about this election, if you want to get angry about the majority that was elected, go ahead. But don’t focus your anger at the people who feel the same, who didn’t want a Liberal majority any more than you did. Why not get angry about the low voter turnout? Over half the province didn’t vote yesterday or during advance voting. Over HALF the eligible voter population. Don’t you think some of the responsibility rests at their feet?
Or how about the people who voted but didn’t bother to educate themselves before casting their ballots? Don’t think that’s a straw man. They exist. I’ve met them. (And tried to educate them, obviously — but if I’ve met a few, there are surely more out there.) People who think the BC Liberals are the same as the Federal Liberals (they’re not). People who think the Liberals are still the Official Opposition to the Conservative majority (they’re not; the NDP is now).
It’s ridiculously common that people either refuse to educate themselves about different platforms before they go and cast their ballots (“I’ll select Liberal, because I’m assuming the Liberals up here are the same as US Liberals!”) or that educating themselves is so daunting they refuse to vote in the first place.
Don’t even get me started on “But none of the candidates are aligned with my values!” If that’s the case, you still have an option that’s participatory: you show up at the polling station and you refuse your ballot. When they hand it to you, you hand it right back. You say you’re refusing your ballot because none of the candidates are worth voting for, or whatever. All you have to say is you’re refusing your ballot.
That is what you do if you feel that you can’t vote for anyone in your riding. Do you know why you do this? Because they have to record refused ballots separately from all other ballots. If you spoil your ballot as an act of protest, it just gets lumped in with all the other spoiled ballots, intentional or otherwise. Refused ballots are counted separately.
And if more people actually took the time to register to vote and then go refuse their ballot instead of avoiding the polling stations or spoiling their ballots in protest, then the PTB might actually, I don’t know, sit up and take notice that the populace isn’t happy.
You know what doesn’t tell them that? Low voter turnout. Low voter turnout tells them that people are happy with the current power structures, with the current policies. And things continue the way they’re going.
Instead, people refuse to participate in democracy. I don’t mean just getting out and voting, though that is the very least you can do. I mean educating yourself before you vote. If you’re reading this I assume you have the internet. It’s a good starting place to learn about the different parties, the platforms, the issues. It’s also a good place to learn about effective protest of voting, as I outlined in the paragraphs above.
If you already are politically minded and you know about the issues and the platforms…you can participate by educating other people. By dissenting, speaking out against the government when they do things you disagree with. These are things you can do as a citizen of a democratic country.
Our forebears fought hard to be allowed to have a voice in government. They fought against dictatorships, they fought against sexism, they fought against racism.
Now, just a few short decades after aboriginal people in Canada are allowed to vote (yeah, try and figure that one out — their country in the first place, but they weren’t allowed to have any say in it for the longest time. Hooray for colonialism!), we have some of the lowest voter turnouts in history. We have an apathetic populace that would rather spit on the memory of people who fought and died for our right to cast our ballots, to make our voices heard, than get out of the house or work and get to the polling station to spend three minutes checking a box on a piece of paper and putting it in a box full of other votes.
No wonder I no longer feel any joy in the political process. The apathy of my fellow countryfolk is an anchor chained to my neck, dragging me down and drowning me.
So, my fellow British Columbians, how about a toast? I raise my glass, full of a bitter Socratic draught.
Here’s to democracy.