Get out and vote … or not

Brian Jones
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With municipal elections less than three weeks away, some people will pressure you to get out and vote.

Their tactics are predictable: it is your duty; voting is a privilege; it is irresponsible to not vote; people died for your right to cast a ballot; and such.

Ignore them or obey them, as you wish. It is your right. After all, this is a free country, despite rising evidence to the contrary. (When we become Canada Inc., we’ll know we’ve lost.)

About your duty to vote … there is no such thing.

Inherent in the concept of freedom is the ability to choose. You can choose to vote or choose to not vote, and nobody has any business criticizing you either way.

Before anyone accuses me of endorsing apathy, I’ll state for the record that I have voted in every municipal, provincial, territorial and federal election for which I was eligible since 1977.

(Strangely enough, I’m better at picking winners at the racetrack than in the voting booth, but then, horse racing is a more honest pursuit than politics.)

There are probably some citizens who haven’t voted since 1977. They won’t hear any criticism from me. If I met them, I’d ask why they don’t vote, which is a different thing altogether.


Losing legitimacy

The most misguided and erroneous statement about non-voters is, “If you don’t vote, you don’t have any right to complain.”

Actually, no. Just because someone chooses not to exercise one right (voting) doesn’t mean they forfeit another right (freedom of speech).

A citizen’s right to criticize the government and/or its policies is absolute, and does not depend on whether or not that person voted.

Adhering to the you-can’t-

complain-if-you-don’t-vote credo entails a preposterous notion: only those who vote can legitimately criticize the government.

But what if you voted for the winning party, which formed the government? Then you really can’t complain, because you helped vote them in.

Consistent logic leads to the inescapable conclusion that only those who voted for a losing candidate can legitimately criticize the government. (Federally, this would constitute a sizable majority these days. Democracy can be so paradoxical.)

Non-voters are often accused of being apathetic. Their apathy is cited as a cause of this or that malaise in the political system. “If only more people would vote, then (fill in the blank).”

It is presumptuous to think we know why someone doesn’t vote. It might be because of apathy. But there are plenty of other possibilities.

Maybe the candidates are unworthy. Perhaps a person is opposed, in principle, to voting for the lesser of two evils. Maybe someone is lodging a personal protest against an unfair or unresponsive political system by refusing to cast a ballot. (My favourite political button of all time: “No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.”)

Non-voters are not the problem. Those of us who faithfully go to vote every time a polling station opens are really the ones to blame for past and current messes in the affairs of state.

Democracy’s dilemma is that voters exhibit a herd mentality. (Don’t confuse this with mob rule. It’s different.)

There is plenty of evidence of voters’ herd mentality in action, and the destructive consequences it has on politics and society. Look at Newfoundland (and Labrador) electoral history: governments have been Liberal, then Tory, then Liberal, then Tory, each time for a decade or more. No wonder provincial governments grow more arrogant with each year in office.

Voters must become less predictable. They must break their habit of vastly favouring incumbents. They must be willing to elect independents and long shots.

Only then can voters legitimately criticize non-voters.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. Vote for or against him at

Organizations: Canada, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mark
    September 06, 2013 - 11:26

    Sheila will no doubt welcome your harsh comments. Most readers recognize you as a nasty bit of work - a mouthpiece for big business and their bought and paid for government lackies. Being criticized by wild rose says something positive about your character. Many people will look at the poll results and conclude that this is exactly what Brian Jones is talking about - our tendency to re-elect incumbents through mental inertia. We tend to ignore early warning signs of arrogance and abuse. Taxpayers in St. John's have watched their taxes rise dramatically with O'Keefe's full blessing. We have watched him send tax dollars out of the country, spend money on pipe dreams like annexing Mount Pearl, and waste it on an ugly black fence across the waterfront. With all the private sector investment in real estate in this city, and with the windfall of taxes from rapidly appreciating property values, our annual tax bill should be going down - not up! All this prosperity is killing people on fixed, low or even median incomes as city taxes make it more difficult to stay in their own homes. If O'Keefe is re-elected, how long do you think it will take for your taxes to take another big jolt upward?

  • Joe
    September 06, 2013 - 07:22

    In St. John's the election is all but over next week. Just check the size of the mail in returns. That's why if the media are really trying to promote young and new entrants, they should be reviewing their policy of allowing the incumbents to hog the air waves with "news stories".

  • Wild Rose
    September 06, 2013 - 07:13

    Oleary is going to loose. She's just an other lefty hack. O'Keefe is the man of the hour. Go home Shelia!

    • Eli
      September 06, 2013 - 15:06

      You'd like that wouldn't you Wild Rose. You're the municipal equivalent of Mt. Pearl's two jewels Kent and Lane. O'Keefe is another retired teacher who wouldn't know fiscal restraint if it was served with his breakfast.