Opinion Column

Voting should be more than checking boxes

 Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

How do we get people out to vote?

It’s a question that is asked, without fail, after every election. It doesn’t matter if turnout is 10 per cent or 99 per cent – people will always ask how to get more voters to the polls.

My answer to that question is simple: we don’t.

It might be unpopular, but personally, I think we’re approaching the issue of voter turn out entirely the wrong way. The question posed shouldn’t be how to get people to vote, but how to get them engaged and involved in the decisions that affect them and their community.

Here’s a dose of reality: voting on its own isn’t anything special. The act itself is something anyone, and any animal with opposable thumbs, can do. Soldiers did not go off to war and sacrifice themselves so we could colour in circles or punch buttons next to candidates’ names. It is the power, purpose and reasoning behind the act that makes it so critical and something worth fighting for. Yet, we aren’t focused on that when we ask how to get people out to vote.

We’re missing the mark.

On Tuesday, I saw countless Facebook posts, tweets and suggestions on how to get people out to vote, from gimmicks and ploys like tax incentives, free ice cream and concerts to online and even mandatory voting. I couldn’t help but shake my head. Maybe they might draw more people to polling stations but that doesn’t mean they’re taking voting seriously. Sure, we can force people to vote, but we can’t force them to make an informed decision or to care about the issues.

I don’t honestly understand why people in general want to see those who don’t care, who aren’t motivated to do their due diligence, to go out and vote in an election. Their ballots will never reflect what they truly believe in or what they want to see happen into the community. Instead of telling them to “get out and vote,” we should want them to care enough to have reason to do so.

Telling people to get out and vote isn’t involving them in the decision-making process. It isn’t making them care, or changing their mind about not voting. Clichés like “you can’t complain if you don’t vote” are only met with indifference, and those who complain are normally the ones engaged enough to know what’s going on and vote, making the phrase a moot point.

If we want to improve voter turn out, we need to foster engagement that facilitates the desire for people to have their say on the issues.

That kind of engagement needs to start long before ballots are cast. Social media, public input opportunities and real, face-to-face conversations - and not just at election time - are part of that.

While voters have responsibility to be informed, voter turnout doesn’t solely rest on voters, but the candidates as well.

Let’s remember that candidates are effectively seeking to be hired by the public. Those looking for a job don’t sit around waiting for prospective employers to come to them to ask them questions or for their CV – they seek the employer out.

I’m not pointing fingers at candidates in Lacombe and Blackfalds, but in my own municipality whole neighbourhoods were forgotten by those who ran. Not one candidate showed up in my neighbourhood and left a pamphlet, no one went out of their way to engage those on my street, and yet other neighbourhoods (of higher socioeconomic status) were visited by half of those running. I understand that no candidate will be able to hit every home, but I figured at least one of 30-some would at least make an appearance within several blocks, but social media and good ol’fashion conversation confirmed otherwise this year. It looked like they cherry-picked what neighbourhoods to visit. The result was few voters at my polling station throughout the day.

It’s hard for anyone to feel like their voice will be heard when no one is around to listen. It’s hard to trust that those elected will listen to those they represent when they didn’t prior to the election, and thus an endless cycle of apathy is created.

Getting people out to vote isn’t the solution. It’s interacting and engaging citizens – all citizens – is. 

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