Moving mountains

By Theresa Wells

The recent federal by-election was a deeply disappointing experience for me. Not the outcome, mind you, as while I openly expressed my support of one party and candidate the fact that he did not win was not reason enough to generate disappointment for me. But the one thing that did create that pervasive sense of failure? The abysmal turnout of eligible voters.

Only 15% of eligible voters showed up to mark a ‘X’ on Election Day or in the advance polls. Now, some will say by-election turnout is always lighter, or that the timing around a holiday and statutory day off was poor as many were away on a 4-day weekend. But the reality is that we have another problem, and it might not be voter apathy, the cause we often cite as the reason for citizens not voting.

I think perhaps it is just because we are plain lazy, and the internet has made us this way.

We are, at least most of us of certain age groups, the “one click demographic”. If you can’t Google it, click it or complete it online we are unlikely to do it. We do everything online from ordering clothing and eyeglasses to completing surveys to banking, and yet one thing remains elusive online, and it is perhaps the most important thing we could be doing in the online realm – voting.

If this most recent election showed me anything it is that this region may well be the ideal place to do a trial run of online voting. I recognize there are pitfalls and issues to be addressed, but that is true of every new idea or new strategy. We have many intelligent minds in this country and I am certain we could turn their attention on how to create a democratic system of voting online that ensured against any of the issues we worry about when we consider online voting – and I truly think we need to do it soon, because this low voter turnout thing is almost certainly going to get worse, not better.

Why do I believe that? My daughter is now three years away from voting. While she is passionately political and engaged she is also very much a “digital native”. In her world if you can’t do it online then it may not be worth doing at all. Businesses that don’t have a website are not quite legitimate in her view. She does everything online, and while she may be one of the few who would take the extra steps of driving to the polling station, presenting her ID and marking her ‘X’ I can pretty much guarantee many in her cohort are not – which means we are facing a large number of new voters who very well may never vote.

We like to blame voter apathy, or that there is a sense that no matter who you vote for it won’t change anything – but I dispute that as people complete surveys on the most ridiculous things on a daily basis for no other reason than it is easy, accessible and fast. If we were able to do the same thing with voting, creating an atmosphere where one can vote online in mere minutes with a click of your mouse, we at least have the opportunity to drive up voting numbers and perhaps even the chance to develop more engagement with our younger citizens as they would hopefully be more inclined to learn about those names in front of them and over which their cursor is hovering.

I know the status quo is not good enough when it comes to voting in this region. It appears the voter turnout in this by-election may have been the worst in Canadian history (at least according to reports I have read) and this is something in which we should take no pride. It should be the catalyst for us to begin to consider how we change this situation and what strategies we can enact to make voting what it should be: easy and accessible to all citizens.

Sometimes we need to acknowledge the reality instead of searching for deep reasons. Sometimes we need to accept that the reason may be as simple as pure laziness and instead of decrying it and seeing it as an indictment of us as people we instead find the means to meet it head on.

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, as the saying goes, sometimes Mohammed must go to the mountain. The 85% of people who didn’t vote in the last by-election have no intention of coming to the mountain, it seems. Maybe it is time for the immoveable mountain that is electoral system to budge, just a little, and come to the people. Together I believe we can move mountains – and in this case making voting as easy as buying shoes is just one mouse click away.

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