The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To vote, or not to vote

A great tide of democracy is sweeping our world. Too bad the spirit of that democracy seems to be bypassing us.

Some students, homeless, and transient voters were turned away at the polls when they were unable to provide identification showing or otherwise confirming a place of residence, and had no one sufficiently established in the area to be able to vouch for them. The legislation introduced in 2007 requires all voters to show one or two pieces of identification which confirm the voter's name and address, or to be vouched for by another voter who is able to show such identification. The identification can be as loose as a utility or credit card bill, but most homeless won't have these, most new students won't have had the chance to establish them as early as mid-October, and those who have recently moved won't have had the chance to update their identification.

The reason for establishing this rule was the (security-related) shock in some sectors that a person could be allowed to vote based on nothing more than their say-so.

Even in the times when enumerators still walked from door to door, the electoral lists could never be entirely accurate. Take away the few odd plants and dogs that seemed to get registered every election, and even then at least five percent and as many as ninety percent of those on the lists will have moved in between. I once worked at a poll where out of over 400 voters, only 17 showed up. It comprised several walk-up apartment blocks with very high percentages of working poor, single mothers, people between other accommodations (such as the newly divorced), and students.

Oh, and the area very heavily favoured the NDP and, even then, Green and other fringe parties, long before favouring the NDP and Green and fringe parties became fashionable. Two elections ago, a poll with similar demographics happened to be the first one reporting in Mississauga: and for the brief moments before other, higher voter turnout polls joined in, the Marxist-Leninist party led in that riding.

The low turnouts are partly the result of voter apathy. Increasingly, however, they also result from a new level of targeted disenfranchisement of those who have not lived in an area longer than five years, and who, thus, are not "one of us".

All the political parties know this very well. Where, in this election, were the policy points which addressed students? Are all the universities to gradually morph into no-fly zones? Seniors vote heavily, seniors are to be placated ... and above all, seniors are very stable. If young people move an average of every four years (not counting summer-winter university moves), seniors scarcely move at all.

Into this mix, add that the more transient the population, the more likely it is to vote almost anything other than Conservative. At the same time, Canada's non-retired, non-rural population is rapidly becoming among the most mobile in the world. The end of August through September is the busiest for moving: August 31 is the heaviest apartment turnover date of the entire year.

How better to magnify the influence of some at the expense of others?

Our nation may shift its priorities to one direction or another, at different times we may favour hard-edged agendas or or more tolerant ones: but do we want a country where those agendas are imposed upon us by way of disenfranchising large sectors of the population?

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