It is election season in Canada and the US. The US sometimes seems to be in perpetual election season. In Canada we are in the midst of a federal election campaign and that means election workers and volunteers are hard at work managing the logistics of the various campaigns. It also means daily media coverage of the campaigns and pronouncements by party leaders. Elections aren’t only won by platforms and policies. They are won on election day by the candidates who can get their supporters out to vote.
The last five federal elections in Canada have witnessed voter turn out rates around 60%. In each of those elections almost 40% of eligible voters have decided not to vote. Some people forget to vote, others can’t make up their mind so they don’t vote. Some people feel that voting makes no difference so they don’t bother and still others don’t pay any attention to the election, the campaigns, policies or candidates and so they don’t vote. All of these are excuses and an abdication of one our responsibilities as citizens in a democracy.
Younger people might say, ‘the parties have nothing to offer me, all of their policies are targeted at families and seniors.’ That is true. Why? Parties target parents and seniors because they are more likely to vote. Offering up a platform full of youth-friendly baubles isn’t helpful to getting elected if those policies don’t entice people who vote to vote for that party. Likewise other demographics of people who don’t generally vote. If you don’t vote, you are of no interest to the parties competing to form government.
For the people who feel that voting makes no difference, you need to know that if all of the people who didn’t vote last time were to vote for the Green Party, Libertarians, or Marxist-Leninists, that party would win the election. Voting does make a difference, especially as fewer people vote. Elections aren’t won by thousands of votes in our system. They are won by one vote. All the winner needs is one vote more than the next closest candidate. It doesn’t matter if there are three votes or 100 000 votes cast in a particular electoral district, all it takes is one vote. Many races come down to fewer than 100 votes difference. Your vote counts. Voting makes a difference when voters take the time to think about their options and pick the best option available.
This is where I trot out the line – ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.’ No party or platform is perfect. It is unlikely you will find one that you agree with 100%. So find the one you agree with 60% or that you feel is most closely aligned with your values. It doesn’t matter if it is a mainline party or a fringe party. Vote for the party or the individual you feel is the best choice to represent you. After all, that is what this voting thing is supposed to be all about. It is about choosing one of our fellow citizens to represent our interests and our community. Politicians are generally good people with a desire to make a difference in their community. If you don’t feel that the candidates on offer would represent you and your needs, you can put your name on the ballot. That is the great thing about a democracy – pretty well anyone can get on a ballot of some sort.
We all know that voter turn out rates are down in most democracies where voting is not mandatory like in Australia. Does this mean we need mandatory voting? I’m not sure that masses of people who don’t care is the way to go, at least not without more voter education to ensure people understand the process and the importance of voting.
I do my own voter education around here. I love elections. Fortunately we don’t have cable so we don’t get beaten over the head with political advertising during campaigns. The thing I love about campaigns is knocking on people’s doors. I enjoy handing out information and engaging with people. In most cases it is a quick hello, introduction of me and my candidate, hand over the literature and ask if my candidate can count on their support on election day. Sometimes it is a conversation about issues of the day, maybe something local and maybe something national, but always something that matters to them. On election day I go to those houses with voters who have indicated support for my candidate and encourage them to get out and vote. It makes me happy when I see them at the polling station after I have knocked on their door. This is how elections are won and lost. Every vote counts and if a campaign can’t get their supporters out to vote, they don’t win.
As parents one of our roles is to teach our kids about civil society. Show them through our actions and teach them through our conversations about the world around them. We help them to make sense of their place in the world and enable them to see how they can make a difference. We live in a world with finite resources and that necessitates setting priorities. We deal with setting priorities for how we spend our time and how we use our family resources. We can also teach our kids about setting priorities through electing representatives who share our priorities.
For the past eight years I have been taking my kids with me when I knock on doors. It started with a ten month old in a backpack on my back and suddenly people were more willing to open their doors and talk to me because I was now a person and not perceived as a political hack. To be sure, I was in fact both. Over time the backpack became a wagon and one kid became two. Now my oldest two walk with me or run ahead. They ring doorbells and hand out literature. Sometimes they also talk to people at the door and sometimes they are shy. Always we talk while we walk from door-to-door. We talk about politics and elections. We talk about political parties and issues that are important to people. We talk about people’s homes and signs we see along the way. We talk about gardens and dogs and issues that are important to us.
What started out as a way to give my wife time to sleep and give me time with our toddler, has morphed into daddy-daughter time that my kids enjoy. I usually just take one at a time and they compete for who gets to go next. As soon as they find out an election is on, they ask if they can come canvassing with me.
This is how I can pass on my values and teach my kids about their city, province and country depending on the election. This is how voters are made.Click To Tweet
Take the opportunity presented by the current elections and call up the campaign office of a candidate you like, ask about knocking on doors for the candidate. You’ll get on the job training from other volunteers. Take a kid, encourage people to vote and make your own future voters along the way.