Sunday, July 5, 2009

Venting About Voting

We receive daily reminders of the price some people choose to pay for democracy. Images coming out of Tehran showed thousands of Iranians risking their lives protesting an election stolen by a thuggish theocracy. In Afghanistan, Canadian men and women die fighting for democracy.

We Canadians say we support democracy. We cheer the courageous Iranian demonstrators and we mourn our own troop losses. But do we actively support democracy? The numbers say we don’t. In our last federal election, only 58.8% of eligible voters cast ballots. Forty-one percent of eligible Albertans voted in 2008’s provincial election. In Edmonton’s last municipal election, 27% of eligible voters turned out.

Why is the turnout to exercise our fundamental democratic right so low? Non-voters give various rationales; from voter cynicism to our busy lifestyles or because the dog ate our homework.

But all is not lost. The “Sherlock Holmes” types at Elections Canada have solved the Case of the Lousy Voter Turnouts. A series of surveys conducted by Elections Canada found that 58 % of respondents said that they would use the Internet to register, and 54% would use it to vote.

Yes, on-line voting is the answer. Heck, we already use the Internet to vote for Canadian Idol and Canada’s Top Model and all the other exercises in cultural democracy. Why not take all the fuss and bother out of voting for our political representatives?

That is precisely why on-line voting is a really, really bad idea. A healthy democracy demands full citizen engagement. When we choose not to vote, we turn our backs on democracy. We spurn the memories of the men and women killed or injured in two World Wars and other conflicts where those soldiers stood to protect democracy.

Our rights come with matching responsibilities. I have a right to drive a car, provided I meet the requirements and do not abuse the privilege. If I abuse my right to drive, it can be suspended or permanently revoked.

Why not take the same approach to voting? Fail to exercise your right to vote in three consecutive elections, and lose your right to vote for three years. Go six years without voting, and lose your vote permanently.

Does that sound harsh? I don’t think so, and neither would the family of Neda Soltan, the young woman shot in the streets of Tehran protesting for democratic freedom. Would it sound harsh to the families of Canadian soldiers who died bringing the democratic way of life to Afghanistan? I think not.

The specious rationales for Internet voting are no more than self-indulgent arguments for entitlement without effort. Internet voting is a shameful suggestion unworthy of proud citizens in a democratic society.

When it comes to our right– and obligation– to vote, we should use it or we should lose it. You snooze; you lose.