Monday, May 2, 2011

The privilege and honor of voting

   I voted today in Canada's election. For me it is a privilege. Many people in the world are dying at present for the opportunity to do so. They live in countries where free elections are not possible, and thus they are willing to sacrifice themselves so that their children may enjoy that privilege. In other countries, even where relatively free elections are held regularly, there should be, according to one commentator, two columns that might be published immediately after the election, one listing the total votes for each candidate, and the other recording the number of deaths during the election.
   It is also an honor for me to vote and thus influence in a very small way who will form the next government of Canada. I have lost track of how many times I have voted in Canada. I missed some elections while I was living overseas, but I have never consciously neglected the opportunity to vote. I admit that I have even voted in the Netherlands, while living there as a graduate student, since I have dual citizenship.
    Sadly, there are many people in Canada who do not vote regularly. They cannot be bothered to do so. This election in Canada, however, promises to be different. Since 1935 only 40-50% of the total population has voted in any election. The latter group includes many people who are too young to vote or are not citizens. Even if one compares the total of people who actually vote to the number of registered voters, then only about two thirds do vote. This percentage has been steadily declining in the last few elections, especially among those who are under 25.
   This election, however, promises to be very different by reversing these trends. If advance polls are any indication, we can expect the largest number of votes ever cast in the history of Canada. Two million people voted in the advance polls this time, an increase of almost 35% from previous advance polls. The Liberals had the largest number of "no shows" during the last election in 2008. Whether they will regain these voters this time is in doubt, at least according to published polls. The only poll that really matters, however, is today, and we probably won't know those results until the wee hours of tomorrow.
   There are also indications that young people will vote in unprecedented numbers this time. There have been "vote mobs" of young people, mostly students, throughout the country during the campaign. Young people are turned on by this election as never before. This may result in the New Democratic Party getting the largest number of seats ever in parliament, since many young people tend to vote that way.
   The NDP is the surprise of this election. This is largely due to Jack Layton, who has come across as the most personable leader of the major parties. This campaign started as extremely boring, but that changed after the TV debates a few weeks ago. Layton shone in both the English- and French-language debates. The NDP is also the recipient of a protest vote: kick out the incumbents! This protest was evident in the municipal elections late last year in Toronto and Calgary. Again, what the result will be we will not know until early tomorrow morning, but there is even a possibility that Layton can become the next prime minister of Canada, whether by his party gaining a majority (unlikely, but not impossible) or as the leader of the largest party in a minority government (more likely).
   I am glad that I voted today. I did so in spite of a sore back. But the pain was worth it, because I had the privilege and honor of voting in Canada's election. If you are a Canadian, and you haven't voted yet, please do so before the polls close this evening. Remember, in other countries people are dying to do so.

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