Don’t like any of the candidates? You may still have an option!
by Jon Dykstra (first appeared in the March 2002 issue of Reformed Perspective)
Russ Vroege was all ready to vote, but had no one to vote for. He was pro-life; all the candidates were pro-abortion. Yes, there were other issues in the election, and many of them were important issues, but Russ didn’t want to vote for a candidate who supported the murder of the unborn, no matter how nice his other position might be. To top it all off, Russ was going to be away on business the day of the election. He didn’t even know where he could vote ahead of time. You’d probably understand if Russ felt a bit apathetic and didn’t vote at all.
But this story doesn’t end with Russ giving up on his democratic responsibility. A quick phone call allowed him to find out where his advance poll was. There was a line-up at the poll but Russ can be a patient guy, so he waited. Once he got to the front he was told he wasn’t on the voter’s list so he had to fill in some paperwork and provide some identification. After this paperwork was done he went back to the same line-up and waited again. His patience was rewarded with yet more paperwork, this time to explain why he was using the advance poll. Finally, with all his paperwork complete, Russ was handed a ballot and pointed toward the voting booth.
“Is there some way I can officially decline to vote?” he asked.
After all that trouble Russ didn’t vote for any of the candidates – he declined his ballot and left the building.
What is it?
In most provinces, when voters are dissatisfied with their slate of candidates, they have few options. They can either not vote or they can spoil their ballot in protest. The problem is, many lazy people also don’t vote, so voter dissatisfaction can be mistaken for laziness. Spoiled ballots too, are a very confusing way of sending a message. Ballots are often spoiled by mistake, so no one will be able to tell if a voter spoiled their ballot on purpose or not.
But in Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba, voters have another option – they can officially decline their ballots. This means going down to the polling station and then asking to decline your ballot (in Manitoba you can do it secretly, by writing the word “Declined” anywhere on the front of the ballot). These declined ballots are then counted up in a separate category* and that number is published. In Alberta, for example, Russ was one of 303 people to officially decline their ballot in the last provincial election. These 303 people weren’t lazy or stupid. No, they actually took the time to go down to their polling station and to inquire into how they could decline. They expressed their dissatisfaction in a clear unmistakable manner.
Few do it
Very few people know about this option, so very few take advantage of it. In the last three Alberta elections combined only 790 people have declined their ballots. In 1990, more than 20,000 voters declined their ballots in Ontario, but that was still only half a percent of all votes cast. In Manitoba, only a quarter of one percent of all voters declined their ballots in the last election. As small as these numbers are, they could quickly grow if more voters find out about this option.
This is particularly true among Christian voters as it becomes harder and harder to find politicians worth voting for. For example, did you have any pro-life candidates in your riding last election? If so, you were among the lucky few. Most of us were faced with choosing one of the many pro-abortion types. As a citizen living in a democratic country it is your right and your responsibility to vote, but how do you choose between different murderous politicians? (You could, of course, run yourself, and those that are able should seriously consider this option. This would give others in your riding the chance to finally have someone to vote for.) Do you choose the least evil of these evil types? Or do you simply not vote at all?
Apathy is a natural reaction in the face of choices like this, but voters in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario have another choice. We can decline.
When people find out about this option they seem to have one of two reactions. They either think it is a great idea and are amazed they’ve never heard of it before, or they wonder why anyone would go through the bother of declining. Well, there are at least four reasons why it is worth bothering with.
- It sends a clear message to the candidates who ran, condemning them. Voters who decline their ballot desperately want to vote for a candidate, but still don’t. This lets the candidates who have run know that they are so bad, some people view voting for none of the above as a better option than voting for them. That’s certainly a message I would enjoy sending to most politicians.
- It sends a message to people who would consider running. Though there are still many Christians and pro-lifers, very few of them are willing to run for political office. They might be encouraged to do so, if it became apparent just how unsatisfied we are with evil, murderous candidates. Declining lets potential politicians know that there are people out there who aren’t being represented, but who are eager for representation.
- It fulfils your democratic responsibility. It can be a bit of bother to go through the hassle of declining your ballot, but it is a bother that occurs only once every four or five years. Living in a democratic country is a blessing we should not overlook. The least we can do is get off our butt and go express our opinion at the ballot box.
- It can spur some very serious, and very edifying conversations. When I declined my ballot I did so in front of a line-up of ten people. That gave me an opportunity to explain why I was doing what I was doing. “Life matters more than money,” I said, “ and none of these candidates care about the unborn’s life so I just can’t vote for them.” My next-door neighbor, who is Catholic, happened to be the poll clerk, so this spurred a conversation later. And during the election campaign, when people were discussing who to vote for, my plan to decline my ballot gave me a great way to steer the conversation towards the very important topic of abortion.
Declining your ballot is a last option, but it is still a good one. Unfortunately this option is only available in three of Canada’s provinces. Liberal MP Charles Caccia recently introduced legislation to make it possible to decline in federal elections, but his bill, Bill C-319, didn’t get enough support and failed. If would like to have this option federally or provincially, you’ll have to let your elected representatives know. This is the sort of issue that politicians aren’t likely to have strong feelings about, so it is very possible they will listen to your wishes.
* Other provinces will allow you to decline your ballot, but they count these declined ballots as spoiled ballots, or don’t count them at all.