If you were at the local all-candidates forum at the Prince Charles Secondary School recently you heard Michelle Mungall urge everyone within hearing to get out and vote on May 14. No more important plea has been made, or will be made, during this election campaign.
At 51 per cent of those eligible, the voter turnout in B.C.’s last general election in 2009 was respectable only in comparison with those in some other elections in Canada and elsewhere in the democratic world. In terms of democracy’s future, indeed, of its survival, the B.C. figure was disheartening.
Why are so many voters among the missing at election time? A number of reasons have been given by no-showers or political pundits.
The most common, probably, is, “My vote won’t count so why should I bother?” That reflects mistaken reasoning at best. Many ridings have been lost in past elections by less than half a dozen votes. Six no-shows, voting the right way, could have produced a different result.
Another frequent excuse is, “All politicians or crooks so why should I vote for any of them?” My guess is that this is just an excuse in most cases. I hope so, because the great majority of election candidates run because they want to do something that benefits their ridings and their province or country and are prepared to give up much time and, in some cases, part of their incomes for that cause. I have known many politicians personally, and 99 per cent of them met that standard of honesty and commitment.
Finally, there is what in one way is the least excusable “reason” for not exercising one’s franchise: “I haven’t kept up with what the candidates/parties are saying so I don’t feel I know how to vote.” This, of course, is nothing less than a confession of laziness or, worse, of indifference or ignorance. It can be remedied by a little research into easily available statements of the contending parties’ and candidates’ platforms.
Whatever the explanation of low voter turnout, its implications are truly alarming. As Winston Churchill said, democracy may be a poor system of government but it is better than all the others. And one of those others is a sham democracy where only the most committed citizens vote.
That is a frightening prospect because of the danger that the most committed will be promoters of one-issue causes that are harmful to the well-being of society at large, and that may lead to vaguely disguised dictatorship.
Yes, all of this sounds alarmist. Yes, I am saying nothing new. But I believe that it cannot be said too often as long as so many of those eligible boycott the polls.
Voting is an individual responsibility. An election result is, at heart, a statement of the collective will of all the individuals who participated by exercising their right and privilege and, in a fundamental way, their duty to cast ballots.
The old saying that if you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the results is as valid today as it ever was. To it another needs to be added: If you don’t vote you are taking one small but perilous step towards losing the privilege of voting freely.
Peter Hepher is a retired journalist living in Creston.