Monday, September 26, 2022

Half of Us Don’t Vote in Municipal Elections

Federal, provincial, or municipal, with every election comes the inevitable discussions of those who vote, and those who don’t. Often such conversations devolve into heated debates in which someone is bound to say something along the lines of ‘if you don’t vote, don’t complain’, often to the cheers of others. But the reality is, when it comes to municipal elections, a solid half of us simply do not exercise our right to vote.

In the last municipal election in 2018, though the electronic voting system experienced issues impacting a number of municipalities, which resulted in an extension of the voting period in Meaford by a full day, voter participation by residents of this municipality totalled 43.8 percent, down from the 50 percent participation experienced in the two previous municipal elections in 2014 and 2010.

Though some blame the electronic voting method and the subsequent issues experienced by voters as the reason for the disappointing participation of just 43.8 percent of eligible voters in the municipality in 2018, and that very well might have been a factor, but the reality is that history has shown us that half of eligible voters in this municipality don’t bother to cast a ballot in municipal elections.

Over the past week, I received a letter to the editor that both encourages folks to vote, while also lightly shaming those who do not. I also found myself in a conversation with a friend over the weekend about municipal elections and why we see such a low turnout, yet there seems to be much interest in municipal politics and governance, given the very loud voices we hear on various issues.

As I suggested to my friend, the reality, from my perspective at least, is that even when we are seeing what appears to be strong and vocal opposition to a proposal, or when we hear what seems to be the voices of many decrying a decision of council, all of those voices are often a very small minority of residents, a small percentage of eligible voters. The reality (though painful for some) is that the often silent majority simply do not care. It makes no difference to them who fills the seats around the council table, it matters not what development proposals are causing others to carry placards to the council chamber; they are simply living their lives, and they care not about the noise being made by others.

On many levels I respect that silent majority, as they feel no need to engage, or to push back against those most vocal, they simply forge ahead and live their lives. I would imagine that there is a certain level of blissful sanity to be found in simply not allowing the issues of the day to break through your personal bubble.

What we must remember though is that the silent majority are voters too, and although only half of them might cast ballots in a municipal election, only half of those most vocal cast ballots themselves, and therein lies the answer to a question I hear often – why doesn’t council do what we want?

The fact is that although the most vocal among us often leap to an assumption that everyone must agree with them, only half of those vocal residents are likely to vote, just as only half of the silent majority are likely to vote, but that silent majority has a much larger base, and so our municipal council tends to be far less radical than the vocal minority might desire.

Personally, I don’t think anyone should be shamed for not voting, just as I don’t feel that anyone deserves a medal for marking some Xs and dropping a ballot in a box every four years. There are many ways to participate and engage in local governance, and the ballot box is just one of those ways.

Is it important to democracy that as many eligible voters as possible participate in elections? Certainly, but we should also consider that if people aren’t participating, they are simply exercising their ability to decide for themselves whether they want to engage in the process.

Can you complain if you don’t vote? Of course you can, and you should if you feel the need to do so, but a word of advice: don’t just complain, offer solutions. Far too often I hear folks bemoaning one issue or another, yet they offer no solutions, no new ideas, just ‘you are doing it all wrong’ with no guidance as to how things should be done. If all you do is complain while offering nothing constructive as far as potential solutions or alternative approaches, then you will quickly find yourself ignored.

From my perspective, complaining about an issue without offering solutions or new ideas is far more aggravating than the 50 percent of us who simply don’t vote.

The 2022 municipal election is inching closer, and we are certain to hear folks comment that it doesn’t matter if they vote, we end up with the same poor governance anyway. I strongly disagree, but I certainly can understand the sentiment.

We all have our own ways of engaging in society. Some of us are extremely engaged and aggressive in our expression of opinions, while others quietly observe from the sidelines and express their voice at the ballot box, while a significant number of us block out as much outside noise as possible and simply live our lives. No matter who you choose to engage or to not engage in the municipal governance process, I respect you, so feel free to complain, just please have some constructive solutions to share along with those complaints.

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