The Voting Thrill

October 3rd, 2013 by CIVIX

Fourteen and a half million ballots were cast in the 2011 federal election. Turnout was slightly higher than the 2008 election (a record low of 58.8 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots), but that isn’t saying much. For whatever reason (and there are many: apathy, ignorance, inconvenience, protest) almost half of Canadians didn’t stop by their local polling station to tick a box and participate in one of the most direct actions our democracy offers us.

Even though more of us voted in 2011, one statistic has remained steady over the past decade. As a block, young people vote less often than older people. In fact, the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, until around age 75. Presumably, as people age, we settle down a bit more, learn more about the political system, and perhaps get ideas about how we can make politics work to our advantage.

Politicians usually don’t have to fret much about the concerns and priorities of the youngest adults among us, because usually, at this century’s 18- to 24-year-old voter turnout rate, the youth vote is not the deciding factor in elections. But those running for office shouldn’t get too comfortable, because political climates change and youth can mobilize quickly. Look at how the student strike and youth protests led to the defeat of Premier Jean Charest during the 2012 Quebec provincial election!

Even though the turnout rate is lower, around 40 per cent of young people still vote. Why? Many older people hold voting in high regard, sometimes because they came from countries with corrupt or non-existing elections, and therefore appreciate now what they couldn’t have before. That feeling is hard to understand or appreciate without first-hand experience.

Voting can be tough. When elections are called, we must prepare for the barrage of phone calls, emails, and door-to-door visits from political candidates and teams of volunteers. Signs are everywhere. News reports on visions and values, debates, and scandals seem never-ending. On election day we must find the time to line up at whatever church, community centre, or school is serving as the polling station. It can be exhausting!

And I love it. Voting is a thrill. I can’t help silently watching those in line with me. A sense of pride wells within me. I am grateful that we are getting through this so peacefully (there are many unfortunate millions around the world who face terrible violence and conflict at the polls).

When it’s my turn, I show my ID to receive my ballot, and nervously make my way to the curtained booth to anonymously tick the boxes for whomever I choose. I usually take a moment to myself to think about how great this is: one person, one vote. (But not too long of a moment – those lines do get long!) Then I fold my ballot, stuff it into the ballot box and briefly enjoy a sense of duty fulfillment. I highly recommend it.

Gilleen Witkowski

Gilleen has a Master’s degree in political science, specializing in international relations, from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. She works in communications, doing media relations and campaign organizing in the health and human rights non-profit sector.

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