This past Saturday was the last day to vote in the Nova Scotian municipal elections. By now, cities, towns, and districts will have their news mayors and councilors. I want to make it very clear that I do think that municipal politics are important. But I also think we need to stop guilting people for exercising their right to not vote.
Okay, please hear me out. I am very active in politics and have been since I was a teenager. I’ve voted in several municipal and federal elections, sometimes choosing to spoil my ballot. It is a privilege to be able to choose to not engage with politics. However, voting is not the only way to engage in politics. In fact, it might be one of the least meaningful ways to do so. As I have grown up, I have found the push to vote from various channels increasingly frustrating. I find that most folks who push others to vote, cite the following reasons: it’s your civic duty/democracy, every vote matters, and it seems lazy not to! Here’s why I think those reasons are unfair and dismissive:
1) Democracy/Civic Duty
I’d say this is the number one reason that people use to push others to vote. People fought for our right to vote, people of colour, and women (especially Black and Indigenous women) were denied the right to vote. Keeping this in mind, you should have the freedom to choose to not vote. Looking at the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the common narrative is to “choose the lesser of two evils”. I’m not sure about you but being forced to choose between two alleged rapist war criminals to run one of the most powerful countries in the world doesn’t really sound very democratic to me. The wise Geralt of Rivera from Netflix’s The Witcher says: “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it makes no difference. If I’m to choose between one evil and another, I’d rather not choose at all”. Why should you be forced to vote for someone that goes against everything you stand for? Of course, there are other parties you can vote for but people who choose to do that are often met with sentiments like: “a vote for a third party/write-in is a vote for the enemy!”. Those ideas are the antithesis of a democracy. I don’t think it’s fair to fault people for refusing to participate in the very system they want to dismantle.
2) Every Vote Matters
Sure, statistically, every vote cast “counts”. Sometimes electoral races can come down to the nitty-gritty and a mere handful of votes can make the decision. That is, if you’re even able to vote in the first place. Blatant instances of voter suppression have existed since electoral races came into existence, and with time they have not slowed down. Racial gerrymandering (the deliberate redrawing of district lines to serve specific interests), voter intimidation (despite it being illegal, mayoral candidate of Halifax Matt Whitman showed up to the polls in full Whitman 2020 gear. That’s the guy who is obsessed with the genocidal Edward Cornwallis), and technology issues are all instances of voter suppression that still happen. Less than a month ago, students at Mount Allison university in New Brunswick were turned away at the polls, even though it was their right to vote. If you are homeless, it is not easy to vote. You need specific identification that proves your identity that you simply might not have or you need someone to vouch for you that can prove their identity. In some states, folks with a criminal record or currently serving prison time may not be permitted to vote. Black people (especially Black women) in the United States historically show up and show out to every midterm and presidential election, yet they are still being killed in the streets by police officers who are time and time again acquitted for murder. When people say that “every vote counts”, I can’t help but think that it really translates to “only specific people’s votes count”.
3) It Seems Lazy Not To!
Really? After everything I’ve written about the obstacles to vote and the ethics of voting, do you think people who exercise their right to abstain from voting are lazy and disengaged? Although there are commendable efforts to make polling stations more accessible, there is clearly still work to be done.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that it is a privilege to have the option to not be engaged in politics and there are other ways to do this besides voting. You can donate to organizations, help with supply runs for water and land defenders, march and protest, educate your family and friends on important social and political issues, be an ally for oppressed groups, and so much more. There is power outside of just the ballot box.