As reported in the Guelph Mercury last week, city clerk Lois Gilles returned a report to city council with all the good news/bad news of the recently held municipal election. The good news is that Guelph can hold an election for the price of about $5 a head. The bad news is that only a third of those heads showed up at the ballot box to take advantage of the investment.
In the report, Gilles offers a couple of possible solutions. The first is the rather odious notion of voting online, the second involves putting polling stations in more well-travelled places than local schools and churches (which would make at least one person happy).
On the one hand there's online voting. Ever been hacked? Your computer ever caught a virus? Ever had your identity stolen? All valid reasons to not lay the fate of our democracy on the same technology that determines which American Idol we think should be voted off this week. Apparently it's been tested in a couple of towns in Ontario and British Columbia, and in typical technological fashion, voting in Arnprior, ON had to be extended 24 hours after the servers crashed due to high volume. Nice to know that they used the same servers as Twitter and Tumblr.
Then, on the other hand, there's this whole "shop-and-vote" idea. Come on, we're not getting our taxes done here. Seriously, why must the mall become the epicentre for all human activity? Didn't Dawn of the Dead teach us anything?
But putting that aside, here's why I'm dead set against online voting and "shop-and-vote": If voting's a chore for you, it's because it is a chore. My favourite line from Rob Reiner's The American President is during the press conference at the end when President Shepherd (as played by Michael Douglas) says that "America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad." He says 'America' but I think 'democracy' could be substituted easily enough and the meaning of the line isn't changed. You've got to want to vote, and if you don't want to vote, then the location and method by which you vote isn't going to make much of a difference.
The point is that you want to have a say in the way YOUR government is run. You have to want to make an effort. You may even have to leave your house, or visit someplace you don't normally go to. How much stuff are we bombarded with everyday on the internet that we don't engage with? How many stores at the mall do we walk past, and never go into? That's what voting will become. Another annoyance that get's between you and where you're going, both online and in real life.
And while we're at it, why is it that people in places where going to the polling station can literally get you killed, have higher voter turnouts than we do? Recent coverage of the Sudanese vote for separation showed voters leaving the voting booth dancing. Nobody dances at our polling places, although I do see a lot of smiles and active engagement. Still, those are the people that come out.
I will never understand people that don't engage in the democratic process, a process that requires so little, but means so much. Read the newspaper, watch the news, look over pamphlets, visit websites, talk to your neighbours, friends and family about issues? Guess what? You're 90 per cent of the way there. In most elections, polling places are open for 12 hours a day or more. They're usually located within a short walk or drive in your neighbourhood, mostly in churches and schools. You're not required to fill out some kind of reading comprehension test before you begin, all you need is your i.d. and an idea who you're casting your ballot for. If this were any easier... Well, I guess that's what we're talking about.
The idea of making voting "easier" in the ways discussed above is personally offensive to me. Frankly, if the current system of voting is too inconvenient for you, I'd rather you didn't vote. I'd never advocate taking away someone's right to vote, but I think that if you sit out three elections in a row, you should be forced to make some kind of brief presentation about why you want to vote now, and why you didn't before. I was going to say essay, but I'd open it up to some kind of audio/visual format like performance art or a podcast as well.
Yes, more people should vote, but until it's something people seriously want they're not going to chase it. Whether it comes with a free gift or not.