Friday, August 31, 2012

On the non-voting epidemic

"A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote in a national election."
Bill Vaughan

Even though I'm Canadian, it's hard to avoid being touched by U.S. politics because the airwaves here in the Great White North are saturated with coverage. Similarly, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and all other forms of online electron-flinging have literally been taken over with back-and-forth debate.

It's all lovely. Really. Sure, the discussion, such as it is, is more often than not vitriolic, nasty, and ill-informed. But that's democracy, warts and all. The alternative - dictators killing their political opponents and destroying the cities and lives of the citizens they're supposed to protect - is infinitely worse.

Yet for all the torrent of invective flooding everyone's Facebook timeline these days, I'm struck by one statistic: 57% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the most recent U.S. presidential election. So for all the online argument going on, it stuns me that 43% of you will simply stay home.

Not to pick on the U.S., as low voter turnout is a curse in every modern democratic nation. But when contrasted with the degree of universal involvement in campaign-related debate - the never-ending Romney jabs, Obama slams, Ryan warnings, dog-on-the-car-roof jokes, you name it - it seems particularly galling that so many among us are perfectly happy to rage at the screen and at each other for months on end, yet won't put down the remote on election day to cast a ballot.

I'm not even sure I see eye-to-eye with Mr. Vaughan. Would today's average American (or Canadian) really cross the ocean to fight for democracy? Based on how most regular folks ignore the heroic service and sacrifice of our military men and women - and their families - I doubt that, too. The irony that so many of them died, and continue to die, to preserve a right to vote that so many of us simply toss away isn't lost on me, and it remains one of the saddest commentaries on how society has yet again lost its way.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Update: Gary Doyle (Twitter, Facebook) hosts a top-rated radio show on 570News in Kitchener, Ontario, about an hour east of my home in London. He also reads this blog (everyone wave!) He read this entry a few minutes after it went live this morning. A quick email to me and before I knew it, we had scheduled an on-air chat for just after 10 a.m. Just like that. Social media meets conventional media. The conversation was everything a conversation with Gary Doyle has always been: erudite, thoughtful, eye-opening. I learned a lot this morning. Hope you did, too.


lissa said...

Carmi, I'm finding this a problem in the current Quebec election as well. People torn because they aren't happy (for whatever reason) with the current administration, and not willing to vote PQ or an untried, unknown quantity like CAQ...and they have decided to either spoil their ballot (a belligerent foot-stomping democratic version of the temper tantrum) or not vote at all.

I have tried to urge those who are in that group to have their say. Never do I feel more powerful than when I cast my vote, whether it's a municipal, provincial, or federal election. It is a right and an obligation I do not take lightly.

But there are still those who feel they can stay home and let someone else make their decisions - for the misguided justification that they just don't have an answer to the question "who would best lead this (country, province, city)?"

To those people, I say, you may want to stay home because you don't want to give your vote to any of the candidates, but you can also keep your ire, frustration, and complaints about the results and fallout to yourself, because you will also have forfeited your right to be upset with the outcome.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I agree!! The jabs of both sides are so low and childlike... I am so disappointed w/the current admin., and yes, I knew he could not fulfill it all and he even said it... I am having doubts about Nov. and may not (in the first time in my life) NOT vote... I don't like either side..So, do I pick the lesser of two evils?? why?why even bother... they're both disappointing...So, I guess, a faster death vs. a slower one??

CorvusCorax12 said...

I'm with lissa...i whine and complain all the time, but will take the time to vote. I'm also disenfranchise with the system and most of our politicians but i do feel like i still have a little say when i vote.

laurak/ForestWalkArt :) said...

oh I VOTE!!

it really bothers me when i hear people complain...and if i should ask who they're voting for...their answer is neither! what?! every person...whether 'political minded' or not...should at LEAST make a decision when it comes to voting for the LEADER of their country!

i also think they HAVE TO put a LIMIT on campaign spending. it's gotten SO out of hand. AND they need to focus MOIRE on themselves...and stop slamming their opponent!
it's all such a turn-off!!

rennratt said...

I find the ill-informed, raging hatred quite disturbing. I generally scroll past most of the posts on FB, as they are rarely accurate.

I was raised by parents who dragged me to the polls every time they voted. The rule in our house was "If you don't vote, DON'T WHINE". I try to live by that rule myself.

Tabor said...

Voter apathy. Something I remember writing about in 6th grade. Seems the times have not changed. I have voted in every single presidential election and in most of the others. I consider it my reward for listening to all the crap!

Unknown said...

You know, I have been saying this for decades and I wish they took me up on it. 'Why can't be more like the Canadians and less like Americans' - Of course, that would require that we have national health insurance and an educational system we can be proud of, but that is the story for another blog entry.

In the USA we have lost our zest to vote and effectuate change because the prevailing mantra has been "Government is bad" and the false equivalency of "Both parties are the same" - As you so clearly stated in your column, your airwaves are being polluted by ours, and if you were bombarded with this nonsense every time you turn on the radio or the TV, you too, may think that voting is a waste of time.

We are trying desperately to change this mindset and hopefully get a law on the books like what Canada has. We would love to see truth in the news too.

That would help greatly with voting and being aware of all the laws making their way in the states to suppress voters.

Sorry this was long. If you care to discuss, feel free to drop me a note

Love the clarity of Canadians when it comes to the United States. I actually, envy it.