Republican Duties

In response to my recent post about Australia requiring you to vote, Paul wrote the following:

if i live under a system where i’m free to choose who i wish to vote for, i should also be free to choose to not vote entirely.

let’s bring more fascism to the world. that way The Party could tell us who we voted for without us even needing to go to the poles.

So, with thoughts of our American neighbours, I’d like to hold forth a little bit about this.

In a non-electoral political system, citizens are actively discouraged from taking interest in the politics of the state. Seeding interest would by force seed opposition, which is not in the best interests of a dictatorial system (regardless of the form of non-electoral system, it can be simplified down to being dictatorial). By contrast, an electoral system depends on argument and opposition for its success. It’s a system built on compromises, on checks and measures, on discussion.

However, because the electoral system is based on the input of the citizenry, I would argue with Paul that the chance to vote is not only the right of a citizen, but also a responsibility. While I think there’s something a little scary of the vote-by-party-preference system in Australia (wherein if you don’t know who to vote for, you can hand your vote over to a party, who will then cast it for you in their publicly-stated order of preference), I think forcing people to vote re-inforces the idea that voting is a responsibility. Of course, if you’re forced to vote, I think you should be able to vote for ‘none of the above’. This is similar in many ways to simply not voting, but I think it is a more forceful statement. It is an overt, direct political act, whereas simply not voting can be attributed to laziness, and is a passive political act. I myself used to wear a button that read ‘no matter who you vote for, the government wins’. I was never an anarchist, and since of age, I’ve always voted, but I liked the reminder.

In the current (December) Harper’s magazine, there are several articles talking about empire, in light of recent US political events. Comparisons have been drawn with the end of the Roman Republic (and empire), whose senate was quick to abdicate their responsibilities to the republic by granting extreme powers to the caesar in times of crisis. Of course, congress has failed the American republic by failing to debate much of the recent politcal acts, and granting extensive leeway to the president. If congress’ existence is to check the power of the president, to debate the varied wills of the people in light of the desires of the Oval Office (and please, question this assumption of mine — I’m no student of American Politics, but I’ve always read it along these lines), then they have simply failed in their duties. And how? Well, essentially, by forgoing their opportunity to vote on the matter. They, in advance, have given President Bush the power to go to war with a perceived enemy.

Clearly, the level of influence of an indivual citizen’s vote is far less than that of an individual MP’s (back in Canada now) vote. However, in Canada, your vote will decide which MP gets to have that vote. Which really, is pretty spectacular. It can be a hard decision too: I’ve been torn between voting for an MP who I don’t particularly like because I like the party and voting for an MP who I like, but whose party I don’t. Of course, I generally vote by party, because most parliamentary votes run by party, but you do have the option of voting for either.

So I’ve perhaps lost the thread here somewhat, and rambled on a little long, which tends to happen when I write in breaks waiting for things to compile, but here’s the summary: We live in an electoral system that depends on the participation of its citizens to work. Therefore,voting is not just a right of all of us, but a responisibility (unless you’re actively working to change our political system to something other than an electoral one).

12 Replies to “Republican Duties”

  1. There are the obvious debating points with this topic about the freedom not to vote, but does that mean that you have freedom not to pay taxes, go on jury, etc…
    But I have a more fundemental reason for why I think that forced voting is wrong. It masks problems with the system. You have a number of people that simply won’t vote out of apathy, but an even larger number don’t do it because they don’t feel that they can make a difference. The US is a good example of this, where the two parties have come to look so much the same in the past few decades that people don’t see the point.
    This is important, and these feelings are brought out dramatically because of the ability not to vote. It is things like this that make people realize that the system is having problems and that there must be action taken to make people feel like they can influence policy.
    Low Voter Turnout should be seen as a red flag in realizing that the population is not happy with the status quo.

  2. There are the obvious debating points with this topic about the freedom not to vote, but does that mean that you have freedom not to pay taxes, go on jury, etc…
    But I have a more fundemental reason for why I think that forced voting is wrong. It masks problems with the system. You have a number of people that simply won’t vote out of apathy, but an even larger number don’t do it because they don’t feel that they can make a difference. The US is a good example of this, where the two parties have come to look so much the same in the past few decades that people don’t see the point.
    This is important, and these feelings are brought out dramatically because of the ability not to vote. It is things like this that make people realize that the system is having problems and that there must be action taken to make people feel like they can influence policy.
    Low Voter Turnout should be seen as a red flag in realizing that the population is not happy with the status quo.

  3. I’m not sure that low voter turnout is perceived as a flag though. It seems to be me to be attributed to general generational apathy, not a sign that people are unhappy with the status quo. It seems a sign that people don’t feel connected to the political process at all, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. Most people I know who don’t vote, just don’t care. I’m not sure they can even explain why they don’t care, as the couple of times I’ve pressed for more, I get a “I dunno, I just don’t” type of answer.
    I wonder if the apathy is really that for the average middle-class North American, regardless of who is power, their life won’t change that much. They may pay a little more or a little less in taxes. They may experience some changes in dealing with public offices. But what else? The average will always remain the average.

  4. I’m not sure that low voter turnout is perceived as a flag though. It seems to be me to be attributed to general generational apathy, not a sign that people are unhappy with the status quo. It seems a sign that people don’t feel connected to the political process at all, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. Most people I know who don’t vote, just don’t care. I’m not sure they can even explain why they don’t care, as the couple of times I’ve pressed for more, I get a “I dunno, I just don’t” type of answer.
    I wonder if the apathy is really that for the average middle-class North American, regardless of who is power, their life won’t change that much. They may pay a little more or a little less in taxes. They may experience some changes in dealing with public offices. But what else? The average will always remain the average.

  5. This is why we need the “None of the Above” Option. My father’s been campaigning for it for quite some time now, and I’m increasingly in favour of it, for all of the reasons cited here. He elaborates on the scheme to go as far as to say that if “None of the Above” wins more votes than the candidates who are running, they must then step out of electoral politics for a certain period of time until they can become a reasonable option for the public.

    While I think that would likely generate total chaos in the short term, in the long term I think it could actually be a really useful system.

  6. This is why we need the “None of the Above” Option. My father’s been campaigning for it for quite some time now, and I’m increasingly in favour of it, for all of the reasons cited here. He elaborates on the scheme to go as far as to say that if “None of the Above” wins more votes than the candidates who are running, they must then step out of electoral politics for a certain period of time until they can become a reasonable option for the public.

    While I think that would likely generate total chaos in the short term, in the long term I think it could actually be a really useful system.

  7. But the lack of participation is a concern to many people as they try to find ways of getting people to vote. You can see numerous ideas coming up now that talk about change to the electoral process to get more people out.

  8. But the lack of participation is a concern to many people as they try to find ways of getting people to vote. You can see numerous ideas coming up now that talk about change to the electoral process to get more people out.

  9. Surely you should be able to opt out as in conscientious objection to the military? I’m an anarchist and would refuse to vote the same way (though unrelated to anarchism) I would refuse to join in public prayer.

  10. Surely you should be able to opt out as in conscientious objection to the military? I’m an anarchist and would refuse to vote the same way (though unrelated to anarchism) I would refuse to join in public prayer.

  11. Anarchism: Well, if it were up to me, I’d allow for conscientious objectors, but I couldn’t tell you whether or not Australia does under their existing system.
    Seeing the problem: I wonder if those working to address the lack of voter turnout are more or less working outside of this same system. Apart from Mr. Robinson, I can’t recall any provincial or federal politician talking about addressing the issues of why voter turnout is so low. Many, many politicians talk about getting a better turnout, but no one seems to want to talk about the systematic problems that have led to such low turnout. They all seem to think better advertising, or some rock concerts will do the trick.

  12. Anarchism: Well, if it were up to me, I’d allow for conscientious objectors, but I couldn’t tell you whether or not Australia does under their existing system.
    Seeing the problem: I wonder if those working to address the lack of voter turnout are more or less working outside of this same system. Apart from Mr. Robinson, I can’t recall any provincial or federal politician talking about addressing the issues of why voter turnout is so low. Many, many politicians talk about getting a better turnout, but no one seems to want to talk about the systematic problems that have led to such low turnout. They all seem to think better advertising, or some rock concerts will do the trick.

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