With the next civic election just over a year away, electoral apathy is a major concern.
Voter turnout continues to slide, for any number of reasons. Perhaps people think they can't make a difference. Maybe they reason that their vote won't amount to much. The lack of candidates to vote for, instead of those to vote against, may be another issue.
Is it time that we look to other countries to find answers for the lack of participation? In the United States, one must sign up for the Voter's List in order to be eligible to cast a ballot. That process at least gets people involved earlier, as they must express their interest to participate, although in 2012, less than 60 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots.
Australia's system is much more effective. To quote from the Australian Electoral Commission: "Voting is compulsory for every Australian citizen aged 18 years or older. If you do not vote and do not have a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote, a penalty is imposed."
That penalty is $20, but if the fine is not paid or a reason for their failure to vote is not produced within 21 days, they could be headed for a fine up to $170 plus court costs, and prosecution proceedings may start.
Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924. On its website, it states a number of positive reasons for this, calling it a civic duty, that it teaches the benefits of political participation, and that because of this, the resulting parliament would more accurately reflect the "will of the electorate."
In the 2013 Australian election, turnout was 86.6 per cent. In Canada's last federal election, turnout was 61.4 per cent.
Provincially, just over 50 per cent of British Columbians voted in the May election. In our last civic election, Nanaimo's voter turnout was a paltry 26.9 per cent. The closer we get to home, the smaller the number of active voters.
How can we change that? One suggestion that resurfaces from time to time is the ward system, where the city is divided into areas and each section has its own elected councillor.
Nanaimo hasn't seen that since for decades, but its reintroduction could give people the sense that someone in their neighbourhood can bring their concerns forward, as opposed to looking to somehow contact enough councillors so they can carry the torch forward.
An obvious one is to find good candidates. We have developed a habit of voting against, as opposed to voting for a candidate. Several groups have endeavoured to find new people to step forward, with mixed levels of success.
With the angst and negativity towards elected officials continuing to rise, that also becomes a factor for helping successful individuals decide, faced with leaving their jobs or adding to them. Who needs the hassle, really?
Remembrance Day is November 11, and it's a somber time to reflect on the tremendous sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom in World Wars I and II.
The price that was paid ensured that our democratic rights to be involved in choosing those whom we want to represent us in government are preserved. Our system of government allows a level of openness unseen in non-democratic countries, and because of that, we see things happen that cause us to shake our heads, and sometimes, hang them in shame. It is what it is, warts and all. We still need to get involved. It's our duty.
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