I spent a long day yesterday (from 8 AM to 9 PM) working as part of the polling staff at a polling station for the Ontario provincial election. I watched as hundreds of people, mostly healthy and mostly over 30, came to exercise the enormous privilege of voting in a democratic country. Some were not physically able and came with varying degrees of difficulty to cast their ballots. As each person left, I thanked them for casting their ballot. Most said; “You’re welcome”, a few said; “Thank you” and a very few said; “Thank you for doing what you’re doing”. Some said that it was their duty (correct); some said that it was a privilege (also correct) and one (a black immigrant) said that he was glad to be in a country where such a thing could happen. As I watched this happen over the course of the day, I began to understand the power of this rather mundane exercise. Here are ordinary people determining the makeup and course of the government for the next four years. No war-lords, no family compact, no secret deals with the military to select the ruler, just ordinary people exercising a hard-won right. This is the same right that thousands of people, mostly young people, are dying for, as I write this, in the northern tier of African countries in the on-going “Arab spring”.
What I cannot figure out is why half the eligible population does not even bother to vote. Only 49 % of the voters bothered to come and vote. It is not as if the choices aren’t clear. One side is pursuing an alternate energy policy which is patterned on the German model, perhaps the most advanced in the world. Another side promises to kill this policy if it gets into office. Seems clear enough to me. Yet less than half the eligible voters turn up. I wonder if it is because the young do not yet have enough world experience to understand that the rights they take for granted were fought for, for a great many years. And, as I write this in the fall of 2011, some of those rights are being quietly eroded in the first-world countries like Great Britain,Canada and theUnited States of America. When I read about Dick Cheney saying that Obama should apologize over his condemnation of using torture such as water-boarding, it makes my skin crawl.
As always, there is some security threat used as an excuse to enact draconian legislation to give the police more rights. This time, it is the threat of terrorism. And the people who enact and use that legislation always feel justified at the time. Those rights come, of course, from us. More police rights, fewer individual rights. Don’t want to bother voting? Be prepared for you or your children to have to fight to win back the rights you so blithely take for granted.