While voting is one of the primary and essential rights in a working democracy, in the overall scheme it is one of the least influential. It is kind of like oiling a machine. Oiling is not high profile, but if you don’t do it regularly, the machine breaks down. It will even run for a while with insufficient oil, but in the end you pay the price and along the way the machine’s efficiency is compromised.
So while voting is essential, it often doesn’t feel like it is, leading to voter apathy. In the past 15 years voter turnout has dropped roughly 15%. Up until about 2000 it stood (federally) at around 70% – 75%, dropping occasionally into the high 60s. For the past few elections it has hovered around 60%, occasionally dipping into the high 50s.
In a world where technology has promoted instant gratification on so many levels, where you can tweet your vote and comments in to TV shows, where you can play on screen games at movie theatres, where your opinion can be registered and often responded to instantly on blogs and social media, voting fails to keep up.
In my area the political party that has won the area by a large margin for decades is not the one I would vote for. I know that my vote will be futile and, once the election is over, inconsequential. I know that I can have little effect on the outcome with just my vote. But I vote anyways, partly to demonstrate that there is an opposition, partly because to exercise one’s right is, in my opinion, very important. To become complacent is dangerous.
Furthermore, one often feels that the policies of those in power, even the parties you’d like to support, are beyond your grasp, controlled by forces like corporations, unions and lobby groups. This can add to the feeling of futility. In the current Ontario election many people feel that none of the parties are worth voting for.
But voting is not the only property of freedom and democracy. While my single vote may only be a drop in the proverbial bucket, I have other options. I can support my choice of candidate by working for their campaign. I can express my opinions in a variety of ways and try to persuade other people. I can lobby for a particular issue. They are the other facets of democracy, and they are the ones that can have the most impact on the process. Voting is not the be-all-and-end-all of democracy. It’s the easy part. Because it’s easy it can be taken for granted and neglected.
And if you feel that participating in democracy is not worthwhile for you, or is too much trouble, then don’t be surprised if the power is controlled by those people who do feel it is worth the trouble.