Get Out The Vote!

Posted 2011.04.06 16.58 in Pointless Blather by Stephanie

It seems like every election there’s at least some talk in the media about voter apathy. Some percentage or cross-section of the populace are disaffected, disinterested, disillusioned, or dis-whatever. Most-recently I read that it’s the youth that they fear aren’t going to get interested enough to get out and vote.

I can’t speak for the youth today, but I can say that when I was going-on 18, I couldn’t wait to vote. I was very eager for the opportunity to cast my ballot and have my voice heard, I saw it not as a right but as a responsibility or duty that every citizen was expected to fulfill.

In fact, my own experience is that apathy and age are directly proportionate – or maybe I’m thinking of cynicism… But I digress.

What I’m actually writing about today is how to get more people to vote, plain and simple. As I see it, there are a few specific problems with our current system, which contribute to lower-than-desired voter turnout. If we address and correct those problems, then more people will vote. Let’s look at the problems one by one, below the fold.


1) Our current electoral system is an archaic pain in the ass. Honestly? Go stand behind a cardboard box, mark an X on a piece of paper, and put that in a different cardboard box? And you have to do it in person, on a single specific day, within a specific time-period, and most of those specific hours are during the normal work-day? If we weren’t already doing this and someone came up with it as a suggestion, they’d be laughed out of the room, and possibly subjected to a drug test.

The internet has been around for ages, it’s been mainstream for a decade, and the government considers it ‘good enough’ to be used as a medium for filing our tax returns. Heck in some cases it’s either the only option, or at least it’s the strongly preferred option (HST / GST, I’m looking at you.) So if it’s good enough for us to report our sales / revenue / income, why isn’t it good enough to check a box on a website or app?

I know a bunch of people will get all up in arms about wah! wah! security! and wah! wah! identification and wah! wah! scams! but you know what? There is not a single objection that we can’t deal with through existing technology. What’s missing here is the will, not the way.

And anyways, I’m not proposing that internet-voting be the only option — merely that it be an option. I fully understand that a lot of people won’t be comfortable with it, or won’t understand it, or whatever. And that’s fine. In 50 years they’ll all be gone and our grand-children or great-grand-children will learn about paper ballots in history class and they’ll snicker and laugh that it took us 2,000 years to think of a better way.

And if you haven’t figured out how internet voting will increase voter turnout, or you want me to spell it out, here’s the deal.

Right now, you have to go to your appointed polling station, if you drive you have to find a place to park, if you don’t drive you have to walk / take public transit / etc. either way it takes time. Then if there’s a line, you have to stand around waiting. And there’s almost always a line. Why? It takes forever. First they have to look your name up on a piece of paper. Then they usually ask for ID. Then they cross your name off. Then they give you a ballot, which they have to fold in a certain way. Then you go stand behind the cardboard and make your mark. Then you fold it up again. Then you go to another table and the ballot, properly folded, has to go into a box. Sometimes they let you put it in the box but sometimes they take it and put it in there themselves. After all that, you can finally leave.

I believe that employers are supposed to allow you up to 2 hours of leave for voting. Maybe they aren’t, but 2 hours is a long time. And if you’re a busy person with a full schedule, even 30 minutes, even 15 minutes, can be a pain in the ass. Think about a working single mother who’s on the go nonstop from 7am when the kids get up till 8pm when they go back to bed. Think about someone who’s self-employed and working hard to make ends meet; you can’t just drop everything to go and stand in line at the polling station, especially if some customer crisis comes up.

However, if internet voting was an option, you could do it anywhere, when you had a few spare minutes. At home, at the office, on your smartphone, whatever. All those people who right now do not vote because it’s an inconvenient pain in the ass, will have no excuse to not vote when it’s fast and easy and they can do it from home or anywhere else.

2) What’s the point / what difference do I make? This is a harder one to crack. There are lots of convincing arguments that explain why every vote matters. They’re long and boring and you have to think about stuff though, so it’s difficult to get people pay attention when you try and convince them. There needs to be some very simple, easy to understand way to get people to want to vote.

I say get them to want to vote, because see point #1 – voting is a pain in the ass, and if you don’t want to do it then there’s no incentive to do it. So my super-simple solution, to make people want to go vote?

Give ’em a cookie.

Well maybe not an actual cookie – maybe a coffee. Maybe a coupon from Tim Hortons. Or something. No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with politics or elections or anything else. But hey, if you took time out of your busy schedule to come participate in our outdated old voting system, the least we can do is give you a cookie for your troubles.

Wah! wah! cost?  Meh. Elections already cost the country a lot of money. Throwing in a free cookie, coffee, or doughnut for each voter isn’t going to break the bank, not by a long shot. Besides, you only get your cookie if you come and vote in person. Internet voters don’t get a cookie, because they got the convenience.

Ok, it’s not as well-thought-out as my first point, but my first point is really good so I figure I’ve earned some slack here on #2.

3) Do I vote For my guy, or Against their guy? This is something that a lot of people still don’t really grasp, and the confusion or misunderstandings it leads to can also leave people disinclined to vote.

You can not vote against a candidate. You may think that voting for B sends a strong message against A, but it doesn’t. All it does is say that you support B. Full stop. There is no indication, positive or negative about your feelings for A.

Our current system does not address this and in fact reinforces the misbelief that you can vote ‘against’ one candidate or party.

Another facet of the same misperception is one where you might find yourself voting for B because you want to make sure A doesn’t get in, except really you want to vote for C. Just like you can’t vote against someone, you also can’t express that you want to vote for C but your second choice would be B.

Once again, our current system does not have the capacity to handle this situation. Our system was designed for only two options, not the four, five, or more that appear on our ballots these days.

There are a number of solutions to these problems and frankly I don’t have a preference here. It could be done by ranking (1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice). Or it could be done by numbers – i.e. if there’s four candidates in your riding, you get four votes, which you can cast in any combination (four votes to your candidate, or two votes to your first choice, two to your second choice, etc.)

I don’t have a preference as to which solution we use, but I feel adamant that we must implement a solution. Our current system is broken in this regard and it needs to be fixed.

The main cries against election reform on this level are along the lines of wah! wah! complicated! and wah! wah! the-current-system-works-in-our-favour!  The complicated part is only half correct. It is slightly more ‘complicated’ to have to mark multiple boxes on a paper ballot, and it’s slightly more work to count up those votes. I can see there being a need for more instructions and even some assistance at the polling stations, for people who find themselves really truly challenged by the multiple choices.

On the other hand, it’s a piece of cake to set this sort of thing up on a website or app. Whether you use a sliding scale, or just code some rules into a website so as to make it impossible to ‘do it wrong’ then there is no problem. See that point # 1 again.

As for the current system favouring some groups or working against others, my answer is that this isn’t really a matter of fairness. Fairness is irrelevant. The fact is our country has multiple parties and any given riding could have a half dozen candidates. A system designed for an either-or situation is simply inadequate for the way things are today.

I believe any short-term ‘confusion’ over a ‘complicated’ ballot will be more than offset by the improvement to our democratic system, when people can see clearly on the ballot that they are able to show support of their first, second, third choices / spread their support among more than one party or candidate / however it gets implemented. Once again, bringing more people out to vote.

So those are my three suggestions on how to increase voter participation. Those aren’t the only three, but they’re enough for today.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve the voting system, I’d love to hear them!

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