More Canadians vote than don’t vote — but just barely. For the last two decades, the rate of voter participation in Canada has hovered between 58 and 68 per cent, and the last time more than 70 per cent of eligible Canadians voted in a standard federal election was in 1988.
“The sense of civic duty that in the past has informed people’s willingness to vote, a sense of obligation to the entire political community — that is not there as much anymore,” Western University political science professor Paul Nesbitt-Larking told HuffPost Canada.
If you’re someone who’s engaged with politics, it can be frustrating to observe what looks like so much apathy. But Nesbitt-Larking said there are lots of reasons that keep people from the ballot box besides simply not caring.
For starters, people are often frustrated with the political process. “They feel de-motivated through looking at the political process and not really seeing anything that they like, seeing things that they don’t like,” Nesbitt-Larking explained. “Sometimes, a sense of complacency can drive not voting.
“It’s really interesting, the number of ways in which people don’t show up.”
But voting is a hard-won right, and one that can make a significant difference. This is especially significant among millennials, who will make up the largest voting bloc during this election. According to a 2018 Abacus Data report, more Canadian millennials are eligible to vote than baby boomers. The youth vote increased by 18 per cent, from 38 to 57 per cent, among young people from 2011 to 2015. But before that, youth voter rates were notably low.
Here’s some food for thought on some of the most common reasons people choose not to vote.
If you have a busy schedule or are out of town on the day of the election, you have lots of different options. You can vote at any Elections Canada office before next Tuesday, Oct. 15. You also have the option of voting in advance polls in your riding from Oct. 11 to 14.
Or, you can vote by mail. Enter your postal code on Elections Canada’s website to see the options in your area.
Maybe it feels fruitless to vote for the party you support when your neighbourhood always goes for a party on the other side of the political spectrum. But, there are a few reasons your individual vote can actually make a difference, explained Caro Loutfi, executive director of Apathy is Boring, a Montreal-based non-partisan group that aims to get young people interested in politics.
For one thing, when enough people decide they’re going to put their one measly vote to use, even predictable ridings sometimes flip. But even if they don’t, at least you know you’ve done your part to try to make that happen.
“Whether you vote or not, the outcomes will have an impact on your life,” Loutfi said. “So you can choose to either take part in that decision, or you can step back and let the change impact you.”
And if you do start showing up — especially if you’re part of a group that doesn’t often show up to elections, such as young voters — people will start noticing.
“Politicians, parties, the media — they’re paying attention to who’s voting,” Loutfi said. “This isn’t a quick fix, but over time it can change the way that politicians and parties engage with you. If we start participating more, they’re going to start pandering to our vote more.”
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If none of the candidates represent your values or meet your standards, you can make a stronger statement than staying home by spoiling your ballot.
You can spoil your ballot by not marking it at all, marking multiple candidates, or defacing it by writing a message. Elections Canada always counts spoiled ballots, Nesbitt-Larking said.
“Whether you’re voting for a party or spoiling a ballot, it’s still being tracked that you’re showing up,” Loutfi said. “That can have long-term impacts in terms of how young people are perceived in our electoral process.”
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There are a lot of different approaches to voting, and no one is ever excited to vote for a party if they’re not a fan of that party’s leader. But focusing only on the leader might obscure your view of your local representatives, the candidates who are actually on the ballot.
In other words, you’re not actually voting for who you want to be prime minister ― you’re voting for your next MP.
Apathy is Boring will often “encourage people to think about the way our electoral process works,” Loutfi said. “The intention around it is that you’re voting for your local representative, and that person is supposed to represent you in the house of commons.”
If you research the candidates, you might learn that one candidate has great plans for your riding, or doesn’t agree with the leader on certain issues. You can attend your riding’s debates, or read about your representative and your riding’s candidates on their websites.
Read this explainer about how voting works, and how you can figure out which party your views most align with. You can also find out more about the candidates in your riding by plugging your postal code into the Elections Canada website.
There are a lot of reasons people might not feel particularly excited by their choice of candidates, Loutfi said. “A lot of people that represent us in our house of commons aren’t actually truly reflective of the population that makes up this country.”
If you’re someone who doesn’t feel represented by the candidates in your riding, now is a good time to tell them.
“Candidates are really paying attention to constituents, because they really want to cultivate your vote,” she explained. “If you want to share your dissatisfaction with them, I think they’re more likely to pay attention now than any other time in the election cycle.”
She suggests writing letters or emails to explain your concerns.
“I want to encourage people to have those conversations, and not disengage,” she said. “Instead of being frustrated and walking away, be frustrated and bring that frustration with you on election day.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested voters unsatisfied with the options in their riding could decline their ballots. Declining ballots is only an officially tracked process in provincial elections in Ontario and the Prairies.