Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Until Nonvoters Heard, Low Voter Turnout Likely to Continue

There must be something circulating in the wind. Just this morning I sent the following email to Peter Sircom Bromley, the writer of an article which appeared in Common Ground magazine. I also cc'd the email to CG.

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Dear Mr. Bromley:

I was a volunteer with the BC-STV campaign and read your article in Common Ground ("First Past the Post Mortem") with interest.

The only jarring point for me was at the very beginning. In the second sentence, you wrote:

"Less than half of BC’s eligible voters showed up at the polls, meaning that less than a third of BC’s electorate rejected a proposal that might have made such displays of apathy and imbalance a thing of the past."

Please don't sum up all nonvoting as "apathy."

People who research the issue note that the majority of nonvoters are far from apathetic; this, importantly, includes young people. Nonvoters are as, if not more concerned about the direction of this country as voters are; and many nonvoters are engaged politically in other ways and are volunteers in their communities.

Mainstream media love to perpetuate the myth of the apathetic voter, and the voting public happily and often arrogantly goes along with it. But voter apathy is a myth which misrepresents and is disrespectful of what, for most nonvoters, has been a painful decision. In their (our) view, participation in a system that is not representative of the values of a sizeable majority of the electorate is an endorsement of that system.

Voters are free to disagree with us, but anyone who cares about Canada's increasingly low voter turnouts, must start listening to what nonvoters are saying about WHY they aren't voting, rather than simply labelling us all as apathetic and holding our opinions of no consequence precisely because we don't vote.

Lectures using such techniques to nonvoters appear in editorials of newspapers, including my two local papers, every election season. If low voter turnout is indeed a concern, then the logic of such tactics baffles me. It also serves to preserve the status quo.

Chrystal Ocean
Non-voters Alliance for Democratic & Electoral Reform

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Here was Mr. Bromley's quick and positive response:
You make a very good point. As you suggest, apathy doesn't really describe the mixed feelings and intentions of the voter who faces very limited choices on election day. Not-voting is as much a statement as voting.
Nonvoters cannot afford to be silent if we want those who still vote to stop maligning us and realize that we're as concerned as many of they are about the failure of our democratic institutions.

We must work together, respectfully, if we want the system transformed to be inclusive of us all.