Thank you to Simon Fodden for inviting me to contribute to Slaw. I am delighted to be here!
One of yesterday’s headlines caught my eye: passing legislation to make voting mandatory in Canada. This debate is certainly not new, as each election and the somewhat disappointing turn out seems to bring similar questions to the forefront; however, any law addressing this matter has yet to be passed, as opposed to a number of countries that have already adopted such legislation.
As with any law, not voting would have consequences, i.e. penalties (a fine of some sort). Such a law could likely increase voter turn out and this, for a number of reasons – people want to respect the law, they want to avoid paying fines, etc.; but would it really make people care more about politics and democracy?
There is little doubt that in the long term, civic education is crucial to getting people to understand the importance of the role they play in Canadian democracy; however, what about in the short term? As with many things nowadays, it seems that social media has played a key role in this, among the age group that is most often criticized for its lack of enthusiasm when it comes to voting: the youth aged 18 to 25.
Rick Mercer, host of the Rick Mercer Report, has recently enflamed youth across the country with his rant on voting (you can see the video here). In reaction to this video, vote mobs – youth rallies encouraging their peers to vote – have taken place and continue to be planned at numerous university campuses across the country. Videos of these vote mobs are posted on Youtube and discussed in local and national newspapers. Several Facebook groups supporting the organization of vote mobs have sprung up. Twitter is also all aflutter with messages encouraging friends and strangers alike to vote on May 2nd. It will certainly be interesting to see whether this translates into an increased voting participation.
While the law is one method of creating obligations and incentives, there may also exist other methods to inspire people into doing something that should or needs to get done. Maybe there are other ways of getting people to vote than a law whereby fines would be meted out for failure to making your voice heard.