Election Day in Ontario
Today we go to the polls and vote for members of the Ontario legislature. This year we also have a referendum to vote on which is unusual in our political system.
For my American friends we have three main parties running: the Progressive
Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats. In the US the PC's are most like the left wing of the Republican Party. Their name says it all, traditionally progressive in social programs and conservative fiscally. The Liberals are most like progressive Democrats and the New Democrats are a mild socialist party like the most left wing of the Democrats. All in all Canada is a shift to the left on the spectrum of politcal views.
There are other parties as well that do not run in all ridings. The Green Party is much like the New Democrats but very concerned for the environmental issues.
There are also a couple of communists parties, The Communist Party of Canada, which hasn't elected a member since Tim Buck was a member of the Federal legislature in the early 1940's) and the Marxist Leninist Party. There are some others, I think, and possibly a couple of Independents. For now, we have in effect a three party system.
The reason I mention the parties is that the referendum we get to vote on if passed might see Ontario become a more multi-party system. The system proposed is a MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system. Briefly, it will see us vote twice each election"; once for a representative for a riding on the current "first past the post system" and then for a party which has put forth a slate of potential members. They will be elected in proportion to the popular vote.
Here is an article explaining it further. TheStar.com Ontario Election Reject MMP, Conservatives tell voters
The object of this new system is to try to have the parties seats in the legislature more closely reflect their popular vote. Our current system can see the government formed by a party that gets as little as 40% of the popular vote while some parties that may get 10% or 15% may get no seats in the legislature. If this passes it will see us with more minority parties, more minority governments, requiring coalitions to govern, and the will of the people more faithfully represented.
The PC's are offically opposed, the Liberals take no position and the New Democrats are in favour.
I think the referendum will fail as no one seem to be out promoting it. It is confusing to some so they will vote for the status quo and it will require 60% to pass.
I have written all this by way of background to what I really want to say.
I have been struck often by the differences between the Canadian and American system for registering voters, and the election day process.
As I have mentioned we seldom have a referendum to vote on. Our ballot are simple. You put and X in the spot beside the candidates name. You fold it and put it in the box under the watchful eye of scrutineers (usually your neighbours,)representing each party. There are always enough polling places that they are convenient and quick to pass through.
In the American system, the process is cluttered with referenda and elaborate voting machines are used.
In Canada voting is a right so it is seen as a responsibility of the goverment to see that every one eligible to vote get to vote. A permanent voters list is maintained and for those who miss getting on it, for one reason or another, one can be qualified the day of the vote at the local polling station. There are also opportunities to vote ahead of time if you will be away election day. It is also possible to vote by proxy. Prisoners can vote and there is a way for people without a permanent residence, (the homeless) and copies of the proper ID papers to fill out a form that qualifies them. (This possibility is not widely known and the election officials could do a better job at using this program.) The forms are available at agencies that aid the homeless.
Technically, you need to be a citizen to vote but my experience is that your citizenship is never asked only your residence and a picture ID like a drivers license. The object of registering voters is to guarantee that as many elligible voters as possible are not frustrated into not voting.Who Can Vote?
In the US, there is a long tradition of limiting the number of voters. They see it as the responsibility of the individual to qualify to vote. If you are illiterate, a prisoner, homeless, aged, homebound etc, this can be very hard. At times, if you were a member of a minority you were frustrated by the system and possibly even threats of violence.
Gerimandering has been a long tradition in the US, where district lines are redrawn to favour one party or the other due to the demographics. As a result, the incumbant has a advantage over the other party's candidate.
On voting day, the number of voting places and their location can frustrate minorites and the poor with long line ups while more affluent communities have ample voting booths in convenient places. Even when people do manage to vote at times corruption and "faulty" voting machines has denied the counting of votes from some wards. This seems to have been the case in the last two presidential elections in Florida and Ohio, respectively.
It is my belief, that the Americans don't really trust democracy. In fact, until the 20th century, democracy was a seldom used word. It does. of course, mean "rule by the masses (or rabble if you prefer). It takes a leap of faith to believe that the collective wisdom of the masses can be trusted. The American republican structure of government has tried to limit who controls the government. This began with the electoral college presidential system. The use of property qualifications at times. The denial of women the vote. The frustration of Afro American from voting. The denial of prisoners or other institutionalized people the vote. The balance of powers arrangement of government limits the "power of the people. ETC.
Ironically, the best democratic system, can still be seen in the US in the Town Meeting form of local decision making, I always enjoyed these when I lived in the New England. They were often held in the historic church, an old Meetinghouse.
Elections need not be hard. Everyone should be allowed to vote. It should be easy to qualify and vote. There should be one person one vote under a fool proof system of counting. Under such a fair system, I would support the idea that everyone must vote under threat of a penalty for not voting. (Such as they have in Australia.)
In all my life, I have never voted for a candidate that has won and only once has my party formed the government to everyone's amasement (and later dismay). I continue to believe that it is a serious civic responsibility for everone to vote.
I am off to vote now. The Liberals will win. My party, The New Democrats, will hopefully get 20% of the popular vote and at least 15 seats. The referendum will fail badly as a good idea badly promoted.
May we never need more than a stubby pencil to make our mark and share in the health of the Polis. Damn, all voting machine!