A recent article in the National Post (24 may, 2014, A17) titled “Some people shouldn’t vote” by David Moscrop (University of British Columbia (Sorry, I could not find an online link to this article) raises the question of whether we should only vote in governmental elections if we are “qualified” to do so. The counterpoint is that unless we are so qualified, perhaps we should not vote at all. I will skate around the “political” aspects of this issue and look at the choice of “to vote or not to vote” from an uncertainty and risk decision making perspective.
The proposition that we should not vote unless equipped to do so in some informed way is a controversial position. Certainly in Canada there is a vocal body of opinion that laments that participation results in federal, provincial and civic elections is at disturbingly low rates and even appears to be deteriorating further. Coupled with this lament is the argument that we should enforce in law the necessity to vote. Moscrop would argue that this is counter productive. People don’t vote for many reasons (from disinterest – to – difficulty in doing so – to – can’t decide who to vote for – to – can’t in good conscious stand the choices presented; etc.)
In the main, I appreciate Moscrop’s perspectives and in several instances have refrained from voting in civic elections because of the incomprehensibility of the significance between choices to outright distaste for any of them. Please remember, I am in the demographic which is diligent in voting in governmental elections. Furthermore, I am a well educated individual, so if I can’t fathom the choices then it is not from a lack of capability or interest. And, if i really do detest the choices, how do I make this point known? o when I don’t vote, it is a big deal. Will I opt out in the future? Yes, I fully expect to do so.
On the matter of whether I should be compelled to vote, I have the following concerns:
- If I don’t like the choices offered, how does my “forced” participation help here? It doesn’t, no potential signal is communicated that there is anything wrong with the choices on the table in the first case.
- If I vote and I don’t understand and comprehend what it is I am choosing, how does this help? It doesn’t. Whoever I choose, will take this as mistaken endorsement for their position. This is a lie, pure and simple.
- If I am forced to vote, this makes me think and feel like I am in some tyrant’s land where they get their sense of legitimacy from using the “gun” (force of law) to get me to vote for them. This to me is corrupt and obscene.
For me the irony in all this lamenting is that non-voting is a vote. Not a flattering one to be sure. But if people do not vote it is a message(s) that I wonder if people do’t want to acknowledge. And to argue that we should open up the polls to more people (e.g., younger) and use the law to ensure higher participation does nothing in my mind to address that the underlying issues are unexamined and accepted.
As I noted above I want to link this question of whether I should vote or not (or even whether I am qualified to do so) is one that I want to link to uncertainty and risk in decision making.
Let us set up a decision circumstance that mirrors an election:
- You are going to consider buying a car.
- You have several choices of makes and models (candidates) all vying for your purchase dollar “vote”.
- You come to the conclusion for various reasons, that none of the choices are really in balance all that attractive.
- What should you do?
Really, the sensible choice is to not buy any car at all.
How does uncertainty and risk (U&r) enter into the equation? At least three general ways:
- To not buy any vehicle means you are assuming the U&r of your current mode(s) of transportation. If your current vehicle is an older one, you will face increasing likelihood of increased repairs and even unexpected breakdowns. In the election scenario, you are opting for whatever you get in the way of a governing setting (very likely the status quo).
- To choose a vehicle that you are not “quite” happy with means you will be constantly reminded how you chose something that is dissatisfying to you. You knowingly take on the risks of dissatisfaction. In elections, I have certaintly been faced with this circumstance, so if I vote, it is with a pinched nose and a selection of the least offensive choice. The U&r is in the circumstance where my dislikes in the choice in the first place come to fruition.
- Say, you are happy to vote for a candidate, but they subsequently disappoint you regarding their participation regarding new or proposed amendments to legislation. Congratulations, you have just been exposed almost entirely to a form of uncertainty (not a risk as it is a surprise).
Part of the issue with current forms of voting in Canada at leaf is there is is no effective way of indicating that you don’t want any of the choices presented to ever transpire. There is no “veto” like vote selection. Except in in elections, “not” choosing to go forward with a choice (or set of choices) is considered a “valid” option by those who consider the act of voting sacrosanct.
Any choice we make entails we take on the associated U&r. Purchase a vehicle, we find out along the way whether we made a good choice. Vote/not vote in an election, we get exactly the same exposure. I may rue some of the choices I make, but they were mine to make. In my mind this applies to voting as well. Speaking personally now, I sometimes wish that on the ballot there was a box that said: “None of the above”. This is an option I can choose in almost all other aspects of my life.