It’s Election Day in Ontario and many remain as confused as ever as to the choice they must make. Too many have said that they’re not heading to the ballot box this year because elections themselves no longer provide the outcomes people hope for. There’s a lot of truth to this, and should be acknowledged.
The problem is that, while elections increasingly frustrate us, there is as yet no clear alternative to someone heading into a private area, marking their choice, and then living with the result. There are numerous ideas of how to rank ballots or prioritize them, but there is still no substitute for the act of a private citizen voting.
Sometimes votes aren’t about choices at all, but a choice. There are those occasions when we vote for the system we believe in as opposed to any particular candidate. We are all smart enough to know just how much pain and struggle entire sections of our population had to go through just to gain the right to mark a ballot, especially women. Our vote today is in affirmation of that struggle and their eventual triumph, whether or not our candidate choice is clear. What would they think of our temptation to abandon our short trek to the polling station after their centuries-long sojourn to win that right? At the very least, do it for them.
And let’s do it in recognition of just how far we have come. Yes, our present version of democracy, and the elections that come with it, are showing signs of dysfunction and ineffectiveness, but that was the way our democracy was in the first place, before it was refined, enhanced, empowered, and emancipated. Initially it was only the white privileged males, blessed with property, who could make their choice. Those days are gone and even the most marginalized or poor, even homeless, individuals have a right to choose their representatives. It doesn’t mean that they will, but history has not given them that choice.
We have come a long way and we have fallen back somewhat, but the gains are still there and provide the only channel through which we can fight through to a better day. Every meaningful and costly journey meanders through difficult terrain and now is not the time to call it quits after so much has been discovered and achieved. Each preceding generation struggled to straighten out that path; let’s not abandon their daring and their accomplishments.
We are talking about the fight to vote here and not just the right. Too much has been sacrificed, so many have been lost in the struggle to get us to this point only for us to pack it in because we are having trouble locating the meaning in our present political order. We would never turn back after Vimy, or Passchendaele, Dieppe or Helmand province because we know just how much was sacrificed to just give us the right to march down the street and put pencil to paper.
This isn’t just about a political system that is floundering, but about those who do the electing, and the confession that citizens, too, have contributed to our malady through their own divisive bias, hyper-partisan blindness, or just an outright “I don’t give a damn” attitude. We are not only democracy’s warriors; we can also be its weakest point. Should we give up, the entire system comes crashing down, and the generations who fought to build it lower their eyes in disillusionment as it becomes clear to them that we have not appreciated their collective sacrifice.
We are in danger of forgetting that voting isn’t just important to democracy but isdemocracy itself. We might believe that citizens no longer matter in the political process, but our lack of voting locates the blame for that on us, not our leaders. We must always fight, must always believe in our collective ability to alter our course, and we will validate that conviction by performing the most simple, yet profound act – filling out a ballot. Fail to do that and we will surely confirm that none of it matters.
The office of citizen is the most powerful in the land and its chief defender and advocate is the vote. It is what decides if we fail or succeed. It remains the citizen’s ultimate protection and the politician’s final validation and fear. Take it away and neither one matters. It is all decided by who shows up. See you at the polls.