Does my vote really count?

With the one lone exception of having voted for Larry Campbell (in early voting, no less!) in the last-but-one municipal election, I’ve never voted for a winner. The first time I had the chance to vote was in the Ontario provincial election that brought Mike Harris to power – I voted NDP. The first BC election I was eligible to vote in, I voted Green party. It’s possible that one or two candidates for AMS student council at UBC were actually voted in, but I remember being generally disapointed there too. I did vote Yes for the Olympics, but I also voted in favour of the STV initiative, and that didn’t pass. Last federal election, and this one coming, I voted and will vote NDP. While the NDP definitely won’t form government, with Svend running in my riding, there’s at least a decent chance that the MP I vote for will get into office, although it’s by no means a sure thing. In fact, in many ways, my votes overall have been, at first glance, meaningless. They haven’t changed the outcome to what I want to see. When vote tallies have been close (such as in our last provincial election, where I believe the difference was something like 12 votes), I voted, but clearly still wasn’t enough to stem the tide. So why do I bother?

There’s a fantastic eassay in Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace’s lastest, about the time he spent on the McCain republican nomination campaign back in 2000. Apart from humourously dissecting life on the campaign trail, he summarizes why it is so important to vote, even if it does seem pointless to you. And his most basic argument is thus: By not voting, you are implicitly voting not only for the current system, but for the incumbent. American politics, but Canadian politics too, favours the incumbent. Return-rates for incumbents are shockingly high. It’s also in the best interest of incumbent politicians to NOT have high voter turn out. This is partly because the people who are less likely to vote are generally “marginalized” by politics – either because of their views, or their class, or their race, etc. Were they (you!) to vote, they (you!) are less likely to vote for the status quo, simply because the status quo is what is marginalizing them (you!).

There’s a lot of talk about “getting out the youth vote”. Young voters aren’t. No one pays attention to our policies, and therefore we don’t pay attention to them. There’s this weird idea that politicians need to change in order to get youth to vote. But there’s a real problem with this: politicians want things to stay just as they are, once elected. There’s no reason to get the youth vote out. But here’s the thing: if you (we!) start to vote, we suddenly become a demographic that’s worth courting. You know the whole “be the change you wish to see in the world”? Sometimes that means compromising to reach your goals. I know several people who don’t vote because they don’t feel they can support the system. Well, I wonder, how do you expect the system to change, if you don’t elect people willing to push for that change? By not voting, you are voting. But you’re not voting for what you want. In many ways, you’re voting for someone directly opposed to your means. But let’s say you support the middle of the road, but still don’t vote. I’ve just finished telling you that not voting is the same as voting for the middle of the road, so why should you bother? Because the status quo changes. By not voting Liberal, you could be letting the conservatives or the NDP win. Who will then have it their best interests to not engage you to vote against them next time. There’s really no reason to vote. My grandfather, told me that there’s no such thing as an apolitical act. I was young and didn’t like our political system, and wasn’t going to vote. I knew who was going to win anyway, so what was the point? He said that by not voting, I was voting with the majority. And, as a rebellious teenager, I did not want to be part of the majority. I still don’t.

So get out and vote, because even if you stay home on Monday, you’re still voting – just not necessarily who you think you’re (not) voting for.