To vote; a formal expression of opinion or choice --- either positive or negative --- made by an individual or body of individuals. The means by which such expression is made, as a ballot, ticket, and so forth. These are the definitions given to us by our beloved dictionary, but why is voting important?
In the colonies that would later become Canada, the right to vote was a privilege appropriated for a limited segment of the population. Eligibility was based on property ownership. To qualify, an individual had to own property or assets of a certain criteria, or pay an established amount in taxes or rent. Women were excluded by and large, and so were some religious and ethnic groups. With one of the strangest provincial elections set to finalize in a few days, we thought we would shed a little light on what some call a civic duty, and a right many Canadians were not always entitled to.
“When you vote in an election, you’re never voting alone. The moment you step into a polling station, you are walking in the footsteps of thousands of people who fought for their right to vote” - Matthew McRae, Executive Director of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation
It was not until 1940 that women in Quebec were given their right to vote in provincial elections, and 1960 that First Nations were allowed to vote without giving up their treaty rights. To paraphrase Dr. Matthew McRae of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation --- the moment you step into a polling station to vote, you are not alone. You are walking in the footsteps of thousands of people who fought for that right. With the narrative encapsulating the Canadian right to vote being that of a centuries-long struggle, why do so many of us fail to vote when election time comes around?
Of the 3.2 million registered voters in BC’s last election (2017), a mere 61% actually ended up voting, meaning that over 1.2 million Canadians voices went unheard. Moreover, of the more than 27 million eligible Canadians in last year’s federal election, 77% reported to have voted. In reality, only 66% actually ended up voting, meaning 11% felt they had to lie about it.
A single vote may not directly elect our next Prime Minister or implement the immediate changes we want --- but if your vote joins others in your voting district or province, one vote can undoubtedly make a difference. It is understandable why many may believe otherwise, but close elections do happen. Last years’ Federal election saw some municipalities win or lose by as little as 72 votes, and in 2000, the United States Presidential election was won by a mere 0.009%. Had 600 more pro-democrats gone to the polls in Florida that November, there may have been an entirely different president from 2000–2008, and America’s history post Y2K may have told a very different tale.
The importance of voting becomes magnified at local levels. Most of the things that impact your daily life happen locally and are influenced by local politics. Inadequate voter turnout at local levels mean that decisive neighbourhood issues are determined by a limited number of voters. Of the 23% of Canadians who admitted to not voting, 35% said they were uninterested in politics, 22% said they were too busy, and 5% identified issues related to our electoral process as their reason for not voting.
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you” - Pericles
An Athenian Statesman and General once said --- “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”. If the fact that many in the past fought for your right to vote is insufficient in motivating you to get out there and cast your ballot, maybe the reality that whoever is elected impacts us on local levels will. For those of our readers ineligible to vote because of age restrictions or because they have yet to acquire their citizenship --- stay informed, get out and talk to people and maintain an open mind. Volunteer if you have to, anything to stay involved.
Whoever it is you are supporting this Saturday, remember that your vote counts, and do not let lack of interest in politics, or being too busy be an excuse for not participating.
Get out and vote!