St. John’s city council wants the provincial government to allow citizens to vote in municipal elections via the Internet.
The motive is to increase voter participation by making it easier for people to cast ballots. No getting wet in the rain, no fighting traffic, no waiting in lineups at the polling station.
Let’s see. How to state a case against voting via the Internet without sounding like a Luddite?
Or, even worse, sounding like Coun. Wally Collins, who this week took an early lead in the sweepstakes for the 2014 Most Stupid Comment by a Public Official Award by bringing the missing Malaysian airliner into council’s discussion about Internet voting.
The Internet is merely a tool. Think of it as a sack of hammers. (Granted, that image might again bring to mind several city councillors, but I’m aiming for a different metaphor.)
Hammers are extremely useful, versatile and affordable. Almost everyone can have one.
They’re relatively easy to use, and you can build an infinite variety of things. But using one does not guarantee that, say, your house will be well built. It is only a tool, after all, and the quality of its products relies on other factors, such as your skill.
City council wants the Internet to be a tool to make voting easier of citizens. I’ve got no objection to the tool, but I disagree with the objective. It is lazy thinking to assume that making voting easier is automatically good for democracy.
It is tempting to cite a few famous quotations to back up this assertion, such as, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” or whatnot.
Instead, let’s use city council’s own actions to prove the point that easy, lazy voting might not be beneficial for democracy, and might instead create soft, lazy citizens who can’t be bothered to put time, thought or physical effort into their own governance.
A healthy democracy requires strong, active citizens who do more than just vote, and I’m not talking about the Greek model, or people who sign online petitions and consider their duty done.
Far too much emphasis is placed on voter turnout. It is merely one measure — and a weak one at that — of the state of democracy.
Other aspects of politics are equally important, among them freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, open courts, access to information — that accursed phrase just keeps coming up — and so on.
For instance, the ease with which so many Canadians accept censorship and the curtailment of freedom of speech as “necessary” is extremely troubling at best and shameful at worst.
St. John’s city council plans to hold public meetings about parks and open spaces. Residents will have an opportunity to state their opinions.
The media will not be allowed to report what takes place at the meetings.
Members of the media will be allowed to attend as members of the public, but not as reporters, a city hall spokeswoman said, so people will feel comfortable speaking openly in a “safe forum.”
What, are St. John’s reporters armed and dangerous?
If city council members were sincerely concerned about residents’ participation in municipal politics, they would immediately reverse this insipid, dangerous, unjustified and indefensible decision to keep the media out.
This is not only about freedom of the press. It is also about people’s right to information. Residents have a right to know what happens at those meetings.
Most people will rely on the media to supply them with that information. By keeping the media out, council is essentially telling tens of thousands of people, “If you want that information, you have to attend the meetings.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at
The Telegram. He can be reached