The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Hi, my name is Chelsey and I’m a passionate voter. I am also considering declining my ballot this federal election.

My first vote

I remember the first time I voted like it was yesterday.

I wore fancy black pumps and my favourite blouse. I wanted to feel like a real adult. I vividly remember being more excited to vote than to get any of the other privileges that come with turning 18, including drinking.

My mom and I had spent the week leading up to the 2012 provincial election furiously reading up on the different party platforms. We wrote what we liked about each party and decided to vote for the candidate with the most on that list.

We walked to our polling station and my high heels had made my feet ache. While standing in line I shifted back and forth to relieve the pressure from my propped-up arches. Still, I didn’t regret wearing the shoes. I was an adult, dammit and adults wear high heels and cast their informed vote.

The party with the most on my list didn’t get elected, not even close.

But I was high on democracy, baby. Nothing could bring me down. I had exercised my right and felt inspired by all the good platforms — all the good leaders — I had seen when choosing who to vote for. Yes. I was a little bit naive.

Mutter ParliamentThis summer I visited Canada's federal parliament building in Ottawa, it was my first time seeing this in person and I was completely awe struck. Photo by Chelsey Mutter.

Hopelessness in the face of polarization

My democratic hopefulness has had highs and lows, but it has remained there for every election since that very first one. That brings us to today, just a day before the federal election. Where my hopefulness was slightly subdued in the face off between Notely and Kenney, it has now been extinguished by the race between Trudeau and Scheer.

This desperation doesn’t stem from the party’s platforms themselves but rather the people steering the ships. In the leaders debate, I witnessed the supposed leaders of my country viciously sling personal insults at one another and dispassionately discuss policy. I did not see these major party leaders convey what they would dofor Canadians or how they would achieve these goals.

I still love politics, it’s my minor in university and I adore learning about the intricacies of the system and what can be done through politics. The polarization of parties, the lack of credible candidates and the iron fist of party lines in the House, however, has beaten down my political high.

Our current Prime Minister was found guilty of violating the Conflict of Interest Act by the ethics commissioner for the SNC-Lavalin scandal as well as being photographed in brown face. His main competitor, Andrew Scheer, petitioned against same sex marriage in Parliament in 2005 — he is also openly pro-life and has contniuosly voted against abortion rights.

Both men swear these missteps won’t affect their policy. Trudeau points to his record on immigration to lessen the blow of his transgressions and Scheer swears he won’t re-open abortion or same-sex marriage law.

The more I type, the more a fury has taken hold in my chest. How dare my only majority leadership options be between a man with a present day ethical scandal and racist past who swears it won’t affect his policy and a man with a sexist and homophomic past who swears it won’t affect his policy? This feels unfair, yet here we are.

What to do?

The 2015 federal election has been described as an Instagram election. Political scientists have said that young voters had a sense of europhira. Finally, here was a young leader, Trudeau, who represented them. I saw that, I experienced that, I was swept up by that.

This time around though, I feel disheartened and hopeless. But I refuse to let the atrociousness of my options stop me from voting and exercising my right.

So what are my options? Do I vote Green or NDP in a political system in which they are guaranteed not to form government? Both parties have policies that I support. As a politically minded female, I would be lying if I didn’t admit having another female prime minister would feel like a huge win to me. 

But our first past the post system means that, even though we have multiple parties, the power is typically held by one of two parties. In each riding, Canadians vote for who they want to represent them, but being that its first past the post, a majority is not needed to win the riding.

Or, do I make another list, swallow my dissatisfaction with both options and choose the party with the most good things?

The term scratch vote might sound familiar. It essentially means that you feel no party or candidate is a right fit. Canada doesn’t have this.

In Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba provincial voters have the ability to decline their vote, which is a sort of subdued scratch vote. All these votes are counted and while the reasons may be different for every person, officials know that a person felt so passionate about their reason not to vote that they physically came in to decline their ballot, to hand it back to the officials unmarked.

We’re not so lucky on the federal level. There’s nothing stopping you from declining your vote but it’s lumped in with all other rejected ballots. No one would ever know if you made a mistake on your ballot or if you purposefully declined your vote.

It doesn’t seem like a huge distinction, but to me it’s the difference between having my voice heard and having my voice silenced. I don’t feel like I can be well represented by either two major parties and I want to decline my vote.

If I were to do so in a federal election though, my vote wouldn’t count for anything. Is it worth it to continue exercising my right and refusing to vote for a party I don’t support?

Truthfully, I can’t decide.