I voted yesterday at the advance poll. It took 22 minutes which isn’t bad I suppose; some had to wait much longer. But really, a half hour is about how long it took for my supper to be served at a nice restaurant last night. Of course, there, I could have a glass of wine while I waited. Now there’s a thought!
For some people voting is a duty while others see it as a choice. And I suppose they are both partly right. Personally I see it as a privilege, one I’m never anxious to forego.
In fact I’ve been voting – if you count ballots cast for my representative on student council – since I was 12. In all that time I’ve only missed voting once. It was a municipal election in Yellowknife in 1986. My life was in turmoil and while I knew I was going to be out of town on Election Day, I lost track of when the advance poll was being held. You had few opportunities to make up your vote in those days and I missed it.
But, on the other hand, it is likely that I once voted when I wasn’t supposed to. It was in the 70s when I was at University. The rules were simple: you could vote in the province you were attending school in if you hadn’t voted in another province in the previous six months. As it happened, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had elections about 5 months apart. And I’m afraid I voted in both of them. If it is any consolation, neither of the people I voted for came close to being elected.
That, in fact, is a general pattern for me. While I may have backed a few winners at school, once I was out in the world, I tended to vote for parties and people who were more on the fringe – usually the left-wing fringe. I did vote for a winner while I was in Toronto for grad school – the neighbourhood I was living in was solidly NDP and then again in the territorial election in Frobisher bay in 1984. But then I generally backed the loser until all the progressives banded together in Calgary to elect Joe Clark over his reform opponent. Then, 2002, I moved to Ottawa and since then have generally always voted for the winning left or centre left candidate.
Voting is a nonsensical act in some ways. We all know that a single vote seldom makes a difference (there are occasional exceptions but they are special by their nature). But if a large number of people decide their vote doesn’t count, that collective/individual decision radically transforms the outcome.
I’d love to have a system in place where every vote counts. Proportional representation comes the closest to that. Even if your particular candidate doesn’t win, you can be assured that the party you support will be adequately represented in the legislature. In a lot of ways a PR system of voting for representatives is more democratic than referendums. There, you constantly get swept up in fairly simple minded arguments for overly simple propositions. They lack the nuance of actual debate and like the first past the post system you are almost as likely to vote for the losing side and see your vote essentially meaningless.
Maybe by the next time I vote, I’ll have a better option. But if I don’t, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done.
And that’s slightly more than ten minutes.