I won’t lie. I held the news at bay till Wednesday morning. That was the earliest I was ready to receive election results. I can’t say hearing a 4th term for the BC Liberal party didn’t made my heart sink just a bit but I wasn’t really surprised. Whatever the polls said. I grew up in the west and know it to be both politically wild and ridiculous. So while the government didn’t shift what I noticed after 4 years was some of my progressive left leaning politicat friends had.
“It’s the non-voters!” a flood of accusation streamed down my Facebook feed. Wednesday morning they were public enemy number one. I even read “Unfriend me if you didn’t vote.” Was it age and disillusion or were people just moving past shock and into anger with a healthy dose of denial. Whatever it was, righteous indignation was on tall order for the digital lynch mob that was my post-election feed.
First off I’m not going to defend non-voters. I don’t want to and I can’t. But be it rebel or sheep, I do not believe they are the plague of an impotent electoral system. Also I’m not going to delve into Australia or Singapore or Luxemborg or any of the other 23 countries that have compulsory voting. Instead I would rather ask the question. In a democracy does making voting a mandatory behavior, adding to a small but by nature compelling list of civic duties, a sound method to a free and open society? Is that society a truly democratic one?
We have jury duty; we have taxes. You are required by law to participate in these. There is no opting in or out for either? Voting as it stands now, for the worse some would say, is not a civic duty but civic right like marriage or free speech. One can opt into those but are not forced to. There is no personal penalty for not doing so.
Take a moment, note how do you feel when I mention your duties (taxes, jury duty) as opposed to your rights (marriage, free speech)? One can’t help but admit some things are held in higher esteem than others. Coercion has away of taking the shine off things.
Then there is the semantics of the matter, and now this might be where pragmatist and ideologues separate. For myself I find guidance in the definition of democracy, which holds a key point about civic participation. “Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly OR through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.”
A lot of people forget about the DIRECTLY part. Democracy does not just start or end with the ballot box. Voting implies consent and some people’s beliefs might not bring them to that magic yes man moment but they do participate in social governance. They might be at your daycare, blockade, farmers market and any number of places where civil and society come together. They simply might not be at the ballot box every 4 years.
Whether one can say no action is action is kind of a circular argument but one that does incite the question, does too much faith in just voting lead to an apathetic society?