Disclaimer: Opinions in this article are the authors sole opinion, and do not in anyway portray the opinions of Her Campus Western.
Before reading this article please understand that this is an individual opinion and by no means are any of the suggestions made in the article are being acted on/implemented into the federal or municipal electoral systems. Thank you.
If you’re like me, then the first time you voted in an election was probably the most humiliating experience of your life. My first election was the 2016 provincial election, and it went something like this.
My family follows politics well, and so they did their best to educate me on the candidates and their platforms. After feeling like I was well educated, I made my informed decision.
I went to the polls with my mum and she helped me with all my forms and identification. I took my voting paper behind the cardboard box, opened it and froze. Before me were the names of all the parties and my city’s corresponding representatives. Nowhere did the paper say the names of the actual individuals running for premier.
Panicked, I looked at my mum for help. “Who are these people? Where are the candidates you told me about?” Had I been given the wrong paper? Was I at the wrong election? The ladies volunteering at the polling station chuckled slightly as if my confusion and utter stupidity were adorable. My mum whispered to me that she couldn’t help me. I stood there looking dramatically dumbfounded. Eventually, she told me which party each of the candidates we discussed was representing. The volunteers continued to chuckle as I left the building in absolute shame.
Now, why is someone who cannot connect people with their parties and corresponding representatives even allowed to take part in such an important provincial—and soon national—decision? Simply because I’m eighteen.
Defining the criteria to vote on age assumes that everybody matures as they age and that eighteen is the zenith of our maturity. Do you know another system that works like this? Jobs. The legal age at which we can start working in Ontario is fourteen. Do you remember what it was like applying for your first job? If you were fourteen, fifteen or even sixteen, you probably had a tough time finding employment. Let’s be real: no one wants to hire you at that age. If you’re lucky, you may have gotten a couple of hours at a local fast food joint.
It also assumes that everyone eighteen and up is fit to vote. That there are no other circumstances in an individual’s life that might prevent them from being able to make an informed and reliable decisions. Examples of this might be education level, mental abilities, level of political informativeness, social status and influence, etc.
Are there any solutions to this issue? Some realistically simple solutions might be to limit the criteria for eligible voters. That is, individuals become ineligible to vote if they do not meet a certain education criterion, if they have a mental illness, if they are of status that may cause a bias decision. This seems like a straightforward plan that would cause little action on the government’s part. However, this causes inclusivity issues that may cause a lot of resistance and ultimate backlash from those feeling they are suitable to vote.
Another possible solution is an eligibility test that would determine whether or not an individual is fit to vote. This would result in a lot of initial work for government officials, though after the initial rush of testing all citizens, it would settle to just those entering the age criteria and those who had previously not passed. However, universal tests are difficult to determine; especially one that would cover education, mental ability, social status and hold an accurate range from 18 to 80.
The most realistic solution, I propose, is to let individuals identify if they are suitable to vote. That is, once one is of age, they will have the option to opt-out. People, such as myself, are not afraid to admit that we do not have a fist in this fight. Some people simply do not have the capacity to understand the workings of the political world. And reasonably so, too. Where would this information be learned to begin with? Parents often do not educate their children on the circumstances, feeling they do not want to impose their own views upon them. Thus, they leave it up to the schools. However, teachers do not educate us, either, in fear of the same thing. So, unless by some morbid interest you took political science in high school, you most likely have no idea what is going on in the world of politics.
This is where one may run into an issue during the self-educating process. It often results in what we can refer to as surface education. Essentially this means summing up a party’s political platforms in a few bullet points. Think of all the information swarming the internet just before the recent vote. In order to educate yourself, people would make a shortlist of each party’s platform in three to four bullet points. This seems like a relatively good idea, right? Sure, but only if you happen to already have the previous background knowledge to understand the points. One such point you may recognize is a party’s stance on the Paris Accord. Understanding the Paris Accord takes much more effort than simply looking up what it is. And what you’ll find is that each summation bullet point turns out to be complex. Therefore, surface learning is not the equivalent of understanding politics and the people in it. This complexity to understanding platforms is often overlooked, particularly in young people, and we look for one simple point which we understand and find a party that supports it. Perhaps you vote Liberal because they are widely known for supporting the LGBTQ community. Or Conservatives because you’re against raising taxes. Or Green Party because you support saving the environment. Basing your decision on a single concept that a party may claim is no more of an informed decision than would be putting on a blindfold and pinning a tail on a donkey. Just as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge a party on a single basis. You need to understand the whole story. Which is, admittedly, not easy.
Now I understand that there may be some backlash to an opt-out system, as a great amount of the information we receive in university on the matter is “JUST VOTE!” What’s worse, is some might think that choosing to opt-out is the same as simply not voting. This is not the case. Do not misconstrue. Not voting for the sake of not voting is an enormous issue that we still face. However, opting out of voting is admitting in a very official manner that, for whatever reason, you are unfit to vote. Think about all the statistics you’ve heard about how many people did not vote. Believe it or not, there may be other reasons that a person may choose not to vote; it is not always a political statement. Now imagine that the majority of those non-voters admitted that they felt unfit to partake in the vote. They then become ineligible and the rate of non-voters drops exponentially.
Young people especially seem to jump on the bandwagon of harassing others to vote. “Just vote!” “Use your voice.” But has anyone stopped to think for just one second: does my voice have something to say? If the answer to this question is no, then voting for the sake of voting becomes just as dangerous as not voting. Yes, everybody knows that not voting is an issue we are still facing. But another issue that seems to be avoided is who is eligible to vote and what makes them eligible. Perhaps next election, everyone can consider their eligibility and, therefore, better educate themselves and more carefully consider their choice.
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