Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday June 3, 1999
Hold Your Nose if You Must – But Go Vote
Why bother? It has been a campaign of soundbites. Weeks of doubletalk, namecalling, diversion and trivia. Instead of rising above the din of negative rhetoric, the party leaders more often seemed to be competing in a game of How Low Can You Go. Candidates of all stripes, locally and provincially, were scarcely better as they ducked all candidate meetings in favour of shallow photo opportunities. Thanks to bad organization, voters today can expect lineups and delays. We’ve been lied to, and treated like fools. Who can blame frustrated, weary voters for wondering: Why bother?
Of course, the answer is: We have to. It matters. Avoiding the polling station isn’t an option. Much as we feel assaulted and corrupted by opportunistic and cynical politicians, by too many glib pollsters, by media pitchmen and special interests, one unalterable truth remains: Voting is probably the most important thing we’ll do today.
Consider the words of John Kenneth Galbraith: “When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against themselves. It’s a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.” The act of casting our ballot is the best way we have of taking back the democratic process; of seizing it from the spin doctors and power brokers more attuned to ideology and self-interest than to public service.
“Who will govern the governors?” Thomas Jefferson asked, then answered: “There is only one force in the nation that can be depended upon to keep the government pure and the governors honest, and that is the people themselves. They alone, if well informed, are capable of preventing the corruption of power, and of restoring the nation to its rightful course if it should go astray. They alone are the safest depository of the ultimate powers of government.” By voting today, we invoke a contract with the people we elect. We empower them to represent us fairly and constructively. By not voting, we defer and opt out of our collective responsibility. Some, thoroughly disenchanted and disenfranchised by the political process, will argue not voting is a form of political action unto itself. But it’s not. It is nothing. Declining the ballot, as proposed by an author on today’s Forum page, may be marginally better in that it requires concrete action and expresses, to a point, the “none of the above” philosophy many have adopted. But in our view, declining the ballot still amounts to opting out. The stakes are too high for that.
This is our chance to express ourselves on the record of the incumbents. We can endorse or renounce on any basis we choose. We can base our decision on the relative adequacy of a local MPP, or we can hold our nose and vote for the least objectionable alternative. If nothing else, we can consider our ballot the permit that justifies and validates future complaints and criticism of the party in government.
H.G. Wells describes the election as “Democracy’s ceremonial, its feast, its great function …” Diminished and reduced as this campaign has been, that characterization still holds true. And if all else fails, and you just can’t summon a positive reason for that trek to the polling station, a constructive negative will do. Consider the words of American critic and pundit George Jean Nathan, who years ago wrote: “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” Amen to that. (Source: Hamilton Spectator Editorial)