I honestly believe that voting is important. I believe that it's the one way that every enfranchised person can affect how the policies are made that affect our lives. I believe that we owe it to ourselves and to the people we love who cannot vote to inform ourselves and cast a ballot.
I believe strongly that we should make it easy to cast that ballot. That every enfranchised person should know where and when they can do so, that polls should be accessible, that it is our job to make sure everyone knows where and how to vote, and that, having made sure they know where and how, we should leave them alone to cast whatever ballot they choose, even if they vote wrong.
I live in an apartment in a house with two sets of neighbours. The Guys Downstairs have lived there for 11 and 6 years, respectively. They're probably on the voter's list for our riding. The Kids Upstairs moved in after I did. I am not on the list for our riding, so I'm pretty sure they're not either. So I left the following note on the front door today:
Our polling station is [[Church up the street]], and it's open until 9:00 p.m.
If you're not on the list, you can still vote! Just take a piece of government ID & some ID with your address (like your driver's license, or passport + a phone bill)!
Your local politics nerd,
I tweeted a bunch of stuff about how to find your polling station, what ID you need, accessibility and stuff. I don't believe in haranguing people to vote, but I do believe in making sure they know everything they need to know.
As I was leaving to go to the polls, Neighbour Ron said "Hi," to me, and, of course wanted to chat. (Neighbour Ron is my friendly somewhat sexist, racist-when-drunk drywaller next door, who loves his nephew and his mom and sister). He introduced me to his sister and nephew, who told me about dinosaurs. The nephew is at the age at which many boys talk almost exclusively about dinosaurs.
"Okay, see you later, I'm off to vote," I said. (I really was! The only reason I was leaving home late was so that I could go to my polling station at around 10:00, which, in my experience, is a not-very-busy time).
"Who are you voting for?" he asked, genially.
"Ummm ... I don't like to talk about that," I said, "I think neighbours probably get on better when they don't talk about politics, religion, or vegetarianism." This is an oversimplification of what I really think, which is that when you don't know someone well enough to know how they vote or church, and you certainly don't know them well enough to know whether they can discuss these matters in good faith, and you have to try to get along with them, it's probably best to avoid contentious subjects.
"Oh," he said, "Well we don't vote, so we're always interested in how other people do."
" ... " I said. Literally. I just looked at them. "You don't vote? Well!"
"Yeah, we never get those cards, so we can't vote. So are you voting for Rob Ford?"*
I paused some more.
"Well, he's not on the ballot today, so no. That election will be in October. You know, if you wanted to vote today, or in October, you totally could! Your polling station is up the road at the church, and you don't need a card! You just take a couple of pieces of ID, like a driver's license and a bill with your name and address on it, or your passport and a paystub, and you show them your ID and they fill out a form and then you can vote."
Then, of course, they wanted to know who I thought they should vote for. So I said, "I really shouldn't tell you who to vote for, because you and I may want really different things! But I do know how you can vote!"
You see, I'm reflexively pro-civic-duty. Except, as all of this was coming out of my mouth, I was thinking, "GEEZ, ZING! THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT ELECTION THIS IS. THEY CANNOT POSSIBLY CAST AN INFORMED BALLOT! PROBABLY THEY SHOULDN'T VOTE."
This, my friends, is where the flame of civic duty meets the damp chill of a disengaged, uninformed potential voter. Is it more ethical and better for society if I encourage my poorly informed (and, frankly, stupid) neighbours to vote? Today? I feel like there's little to no way they'll make any sort of informed decision (leaving aside entirely whether it's a decision with which I would agree, personally. I know my grandmom Votes Wrong, but I am glad she had the opportunity to do so at her Seniors' Residence).
So I don't say "Go vote!" Because there are people like my genial next door neighbours in the city, and while I think they should absolutely have the right to vote, and I think they should have the information they need in order to vote, and I would never, ever prevent them from voting, I'm not really sure I can, in good conscience, say that they should vote, today, either.
*NOTE for people outside Toronto who haven't heard about our local politics: Today, the entire province is voting to elect a provincial government. The candidate in each riding who secures the most votes will represent that riding in that riding's seat in the provincial legislature at Queen's Park. The leader of the party that secures the most seats in the legislature will become the Government of Ontario, and the leader of that party will be come the Premier of Ontario. In October, residents of Toronto will vote in municipal elections for a mayor and for who will represent their wards on City Council. It's a bit confusing having elections for multiple levels of government embedded inside each other, and also it means that there's been an unusually high demand for campaign staffers and volunteers in Toronto, lately.