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EDITORIAL: Spoiler alert

Alison Coffin.
NDP Leader Alison Coffin. — Telegram file photo

It’s a bad idea.

Monday in Corner Brook, NDP Leader Alison Coffin was asked by NTV News about what potential NDP voters in districts without NDP candidates should do with their votes.

(The NDP has candidates running in just 14 districts in the current provincial election.)

Her answer? That those voters could spoil their ballots.

Well, maybe not.

Spoiling ballots is certainly one way a voter can register their displeasure with the electoral process.

But the question is, what kind of message could anyone take from frustrated NDP supporters spoiling their ballots?

That the candidates in the district were unsuitable?

That the voter who spoils a ballot is angry that the NDP had failed to get its ducks in a row and find candidates for a spring election that the Liberals had telegraphed was coming?

That the overall system itself is flawed?

What, exactly, is the message supposed to be?

When you’re protesting something, you have to be clear enough about your goals that people actually know what you’re protesting about — otherwise, it’s fundamentally meaningless.

How about the idea that, instead of spoiling your ballot, you choose to just sit on your hands and refuse to vote instead, therefore driving turnout numbers even lower than they already are — is that a good option to get the attention of politicians?

Well, no to that as well, because low voter turnout doesn’t lead to a chastened government that recognizes its overall support is weak and is humbled by that fact.

Paradoxically, low voter turnout means that the votes of the core supporters of a party count for more; low turnouts actually favour established parties.

When you’re protesting something, you have to be clear enough about your goals that people actually know what you’re protesting about — otherwise, it’s fundamentally meaningless.

It’s perhaps a good example of why governing parties — like Dwight Ball’s Liberals — promise democratic reform to restore interest and involvement in the electoral system, and then invariably dawdle when it actually comes to doing anything. (Four years after promising reform, the Ball government set up a committee weeks before the election to look into changes, all the while knowing that committee wouldn’t even really have a chance to meet anytime soon.)

When you’re on top, it’s hard to see the system as doing anything except working brilliantly — for you and your own party, anyway.

Opposition parties see the need for change; governing parties prefer the status quo.

So, to get back to the suggestion that, in the absence of NDP candidates, voters should spoil their votes or stay home?

It’s a waste of time — and, more than anything else, a gift to the governing Liberals.

And Lord knows that, with the power to choose the date of the election, the ability to make expensive good-news announcements on the taxpayers’ dime, and the ability to travel for free to promote their agenda in the months leading up to the election, the Liberals have gifts enough already in this campaign.

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