It will be a sad day when we have to pay people to vote

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
October 9, 2018 - 5:28am Updated: October 9, 2018 - 6:35pm

KAMLOOPS — SPECULATION CONTINUES that the turnout for this civic election will be somewhere between lousy and dismal.

Kamloops council candidate Gerald Watson thinks turnout could be improved if voters received a $20 credit against city utilities or recreation services. “A small financial incentive,” as he calls it.

It will be a sad day when we have to start paying people to exercise their democratic privilege of voting.

Besides, there’s no guarantee people who voted in return for a $20 credit would be informed voters. At worst, it could seriously mess with the results. But at least Watson is trying to be creative.

At the opposite end of the scale is mandatory voting, which is used in some jurisdictions. In Australia, for example, you get a $20 fine if you don’t vote, as opposed to Watson’s $20 gift. I find the very concept of forced voting to be undemocratic.

One argument in favour of it is that it supposedly increases overall political awareness. I suppose Watson’s idea could do the same thing, to a lesser extent.

There’s no question that democracy is in tough shape all around the world. Freedom of speech is on the decline as well. Just a few years ago, we were full of hope and optimism about democracy but today right-wing nationalism and isolationism is on the rise.

So it’s more important than ever that we recognize our duty to protect democracy by participating in it.

We need to ask ourselves why we’re in this pickle — why do we have to even be talking about mail-in and online balloting, incentivized voting and mandatory voting? When democracy is in good shape, we’re engaged in the process and enthusiastic about joining other citizens at the polling stations.

The fact that we aren’t engaged means we’re either taking our democracy for granted or we just aren’t interested. Manufacturing artificial ways to get us to the polls won’t change that.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.