Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Online voting and renewing our democracy

It makes sense for Canadian opposition politicians to make democratic renewal an issue. If they were happy with the way the people expressed themselves in the last election just 2.5 years ago we wouldn’t be in the midst of another election now. Furthermore, compared to best practices elsewhere, democracy in Canada is incomplete: one legislative body doesn’t answer to the people and, for over a decade, voters in Canada’s three growing provinces have been significantly underrepresented in the elected House of Commons.
Yet, in its platform “Respecting and Renewing our Democracy,” the Liberal Party is silent on structural reforms that would literally give the people more power; instead, it concentrates on improving voter turnout by making it easier to vote.
“It is time to harness its power to bring electoral participation closer to citizens. A Liberal government will direct Elections Canada to develop an online voting option, starting with a pilot project for individuals serving overseas in the Canadian Armed Forces and the federal public service, and post-secondary students living outside their home ridings. The pilot will support a broader discussion with Canadians about an online voting option for every voter.”
No one wants to look uncharitable and reactionary or opposed to experiments, but some gimmicks are bad ideas in their own right.
People can bank, gamble and bankrupt themselves online, on secure sites. There’s nothing especially innovative about voting online as well. In limited circumstances it might make sense. The broader rationale, however, should be debated.
If physical inconvenience was a deciding factor in voter turn-out, why are the least fit three times more likely to vote than the young?  More important, is it really a step forward to make it almost effortless to vote? Will boiling down the task to nanoseconds on a keyboard make it look more important to those who don’t care now? Finally, is a nanosecond all that a democracy needs from its citizens?
The most discouraging, difficult—and important—task in exercising our franchise is deciding who to vote for – something that is easy to avoid, even during the three hours employers are required to give us in order to vote. Walking or driving to the polling station, however, creates its own sense of urgency and challenges the brain to ponder its civic responsibility and what we hope our politicians will achieve.
Furthermore, going to the polls is a moving social occasion. It forces us to think about what we are there, with others, to do. Sitting at a computer in a sweat-suit playing with a software program from Elections Canada or the CBC’s Vote Compass simply isn’t good enough.

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