As I was working at the Best Western polling station yesterday, somebody downtown was reading my Echo column and they decided to send me a comment via e-mail, and no, it wasn't a death threat or somebody telling me I shouldn't be writing a political blog.
Long story short, he begged to differ from my assertion in the column that people who are able to vote, really should vote and that maybe they should no what it's like to have to fight to get the right to vote by writing an essay in order to get the vote back if you miss three elections in a row at any level. I'm not sure I was advocating a "Rock the Vote" style, vote or else campaign that encourages everyone to exercise their franchise even if they aren't really passionate about it, but I secede that it could be read that way.
"[L]ike you I always vote," my e-mail writer wrote, "I don't agree that we need to find ways to make more people vote. No good can come from the uninformed, unintellgent, and/or apathetic casting ballots.
Immediately before I read your column today I overheard the following (abbreviated) exchange between the staff.
Cook: Steve Jobs died.
Bartender: Who is Steve Jobs?
Cook: He was an Apple guy, he saved the music industry. I knew he was going to die because there's two kinds of cancer: the kind that makes you bald but you live, and the kind that makes you skinny but you die. He got skinny, so he died, like Jack Layton.
"Do you really want people like that voting? What are the chances they have a clue what they are voting for?"
I agree, I certainly hope these people didn't vote. But there are a lot of people out there who should vote but don't. They know the issues, they're informed, they're passionate, but for whatever reason, there's a disconnect between that and getting to the polling place.
People who don't vote can be separated into five categories: there are people who are intelligent and engaged, but don't vote as a statement; there are people who are intelligent and engaged but feel that their vote doesn't matter; their are people who are intelligent and somewhat engaged, but perhaps feel not informed enough to vote; there are intelligent people that don't engage; and their unintelligent people who enjoy their ignorance and/or feel that society doesn't get them. People in those first four categories should be voting, that last category should not.
How we might fix that gap, I don't know. But working for the election gives you some pretty interesting insight into the system. Here's what came from my 12 hours manning the polls yesterday:
1) Mail's screwing up the process. There were so many young people that came in to vote, but didn't have proof of address because they don't have bills sent to their house. Or bank statements. Or magazine subscriptions. Or any mail really. Some were referred to a nearby printer, and one girl tried to show an electronic document on her laptop as proof, which sadly couldn't be accepted as proof of address. Which leads into the next point.
2) One of the many students working the Best Western poll remarked that the University spends so much time encouraging people to get out to vote, and not enough time giving them the info they need in order to vote. Like what kind of ID you need, or where you can get that info. While it is up to the individual to take responsibility to find the information they need, your student government should be able to help point you in the right direction.
3) People need to realize that voting isn't like going to McDonalds to get a Big Mac: you can't go to any location and get the same service. There were a couple of people who expected that they'd be able to just go to the polling station of their choice and submit their vote. Sorry, you can't do that. These things are carefully organized for a reason, and that reason is to make sure that you can't just walk into a polling station, say that you'd like to vote at this poll because it's closer to your work or home, when you're really doing a voting tour of Guelph. Which reminds me...
4) Use your advanced polls. A kid cam in rather irate that he wanted to vote at the Best Western because he had a busy day on campus and couldn't leave for an appropriate amount of time to vote at his polling place. What this guy should have realized is that there was advanced voting for 10 days, at several locations around the city, including the University Centre at the University of Guelph. You mean you didn't have two minutes in a week a half to vote just one floor down from where you get your Starbucks?
And yes, voter turnout was down from the last election, below 50 per cent of the total vote down, but I don't think making the process easier is the answer. Like the man said, Democracy is advanced citizenship, you have to want it before you're able to get it. And the point is more people should want it.