Low voter turnout harms democracy

The narrative of the recent Ontario election verges into the realm of the literary. An archetypal heroine, Kathleen Wynne overcame all the odds. As an openly gay woman, she won the premiership over a straight man. She led a party immersed in controversy to a landslide victory. 

Yet, in spite of all the twists and turns, there was one aspect of the election that was horribly predictable — low turnout among registered voters. It seems invariably true that in any Ontario election, a large swath of the population choose not to cast their ballots. This time around, approximately half of potential voters declined to exercise their democratic right.

Some might argue that we shouldn’t lament low turnout; they claim election absentees don’t respect the process. According to this line of reasoning, any attempt to increase the voting rate is misguided. Most people probably don’t find the self-important, preaching overtones of this argument terribly attractive. However, those who aren’t civically minded can’t imagine the fanaticism of politicos like myself. For us, the election isn’t so much a civil institution as a religious one. It is a shrine to democracy — an altar to freedom.

But in the twenty-first century, we need to reanalyze this creed. The world moves more quickly than ever before. For those already struggling to balance work engagements with family commitments, the hassles of voting are material and real.  Non-voters aren’t anti-democratic or morally unworthy. Irreverent as it might seem, most of them are probably just busy.

In this light, the problem isn’t the apathy of Ontarians, but the inconvenience of the voting system.  Our elections infrastructure is wholly out of touch with modernity. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, we shouldn’t have to settle for paper ballots and a manual vote count. Almost no one has the time, and no one has the patience.

Low turnout negatively affects us all. In the Westminster system, majority governments wield tremendous power, and yet, they can seize this supremacy with less than half the vote of less than half the population. At best, this is questionable — at worst, undemocratic.

It’s time for holier-than-thou democrats to drop the dogma. In the modern era, voting shouldn’t be a trial of faith. Rather, it should be as painless as possible. We need to build an elections apparatus that allow us to cast ballots via phone and Internet. We’ll all miss the quaint charm of friendly polling clerks welcoming us to the ballot box — but when it comes to democracy, the practical needs to trump the picturesque.

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