Yesterday’s federal NDP leadership convention was little less than a gong-show. The accusations are still flying over what caused the delays and disruptions to the online voting process. Whether it was an outside attack on the online system or whether the system was simply overwhelmed, the result is a loss of credibility on the party as a whole and questions will be forever asked rightly or wrongly wondering about the validity of Mulcair’s win. Quite a high price for a party to pay in the mad and premature rush to move to online voting systems.
The excuses that people make for not voting are endless as are the theories on how to get people engaged. I covered that in a posting here years ago. Personally, I think the reason that the vast majority of people don’t vote is that we are simply in a spoiled first world society that does not want to distract itself with paying attention to politics much less participate in them. The apathy is simply a form of intellectual sloth that only hard times will change.
Declining turnouts are a concern no matter what the reasoning is. Some folks have taken to trying to address the most lazy of excuses in not voting through making casting a ballot even easier than it already is. Online and telephone voting mean that a person does not even need to leave their house in order to vote. Vote casting periods can be extended as well so a person need not even set aside a certain day to spend a minute to vote. So how is that working?
The federal NDP members had weeks to vote in the first ballot. Barely 50% of MEMBERS bothered to take the literal minute it would take to cast their vote. We are not even talking the general electorate here folks, we are speaking of members of a party.
Closer to home, the small social media based Alberta Party held a leadership race last year. If twitter alone were an indicator, the Alberta Party would be a contender for the Premier’s office as their membership is indeed very active in social media despite being invisible on the ground. With such an internet engaged membership base one would think that this party would have a great turnout through phone and internet voting. Again barely 1/2 of the members took the minute required to select a candidate.
The Wildrose Party did mail in ballots and got a much higher turnout in their leadership race than the aforementioned two parties. The Progressive Conservatives did better as well with balloting stations set up around the province. Why do more people actually bother to vote when it actually is more trouble to vote that way? It takes more time and effort to seal an envelope and find a mailbox and even more to set aside a narrow period to take yourself to a dedicated polling station than it would to log in online and vote. Despite that, the more troublesome methods of voting are pulling better turnouts than the easier means.
I think part of it is that people used the ease of voting as a selling point when pushing memberships. People who claimed it was too tough to get around to voting found it hard to use that excuse when a dedicated partisan was trying to sell them a membership and pointing out that the person could vote online or by phone. These people bought the membership to get a salesperson off their back and in reality they simply did not care. When the window of weeks opened up with they could take a minute to vote they simply did not bother despite GOTV efforts.
There is a video out there poking some fun at the well meaning by naive Alberta Party goal of targeting people who typically don’t vote. It is pretty blunt but pretty much hits the nail on the head.
The bottom line is that a growing number of people simply don’t give a crap and don’t want to bother themselves with voting no matter how easy it may be.
I am not saying for a second that we should simply give up on addressing this growing disengagement. This is a very real problem in the evolution of our society and taking democracy for granted is never a good thing.
What I am saying though is that the difficulty of getting out to vote is not the problem. If people care, they will vote. Perhaps new online systems will indeed one day be superior to the old ballot box method. I can see many advantages in it with the efficiencies it could bring. The technology is not here yet though and if one thinks it will help improve voter engagement they are simply mistaken.
Get out in election campaigns and try to get people engaged. That is a worthy effort no matter what your political stripe is. If the person you are working on claims it is too tough to vote though, I strongly suggest that you quit wasting time with them and move on to somebody else. Those people will not vote if you show up on their doorstep and put the pen and ballot in their hands. They simply don’t care.