Voting rights and turnout

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Submitted by Steve Gabell

The right to vote is something that has been hard won over centuries. The history of voting rights is of small concessions being granted that gradually expanded voting rights to different groups of people. In 1780, the UK electorate was less than 3% of the population. In 1867, the year of Confederation, the Second Reform Act extended voting rights to urban working men who met property requirements. Secret ballots were not introduced until 1874 in Canada. While Ontario granted widows and unmarried women the right to vote in municipal elections in 1884, women were not given the right to vote in provincial elections until 1917. The Federal government granted widespread suffrage in 1920, but some minorities and most Aboriginal persons were still excluded. Women in Quebec did not win the right to vote in provincial elections until 1940, and it was only in 1960 that First Nations persons gained the right to vote in federal elections.

Given the long and sometimes bloody fight for voting rights, you would think that every person eligible to vote would see it as their civic duty to vote. Yet in the last provincial election, turnout was a meagre 58%, although shockingly this was the highest turnout since 2003. This low turnout means combined with the vagaries of our first past the post system means there is a huge democratic deficit in Ontario. The previous government was elected by the votes of one in four eligible voters. Even in our super safe PC riding, more people did not vote at all than voted for Steve Clark, and almost two in three people did not vote for Mr. Clark.

There is a significant difference in voter turnout between age groups. In the 2019 federal election, 79% of people aged 65-74 voted, but only 54% of 18-24 year olds did. Politicians are very lim- ited in what they can achieve without being elected, so they naturally listen most to those groups of voters who are most likely to vote. Young people need to be involved in the political process if their concerns are going to be addressed, and all politicians should be trying to engage and encourage young people to vote.

One thing I often hear is that people don’t vote because it doesn’t change anything. This is untrue. Even if you vote for a candidate who does not win, your vote still sends a message showing how much that candidate’s values matter in this riding. Your vote helps to show how much support there is for that candidate and their party in your riding. Your vote can help change the picture of this riding from a safe seat to a more contested seat. And if your vote didn’t change anything, why did powerful, vested interests fight so long and so hard against universal suffrage?

On June 2 use your vote. Use your vote to honour and respect those who fought so long and hard for you to be able to vote. Use your vote for those who can’t yet vote. Use your vote to express your view, your values, and your vision for Ontario’s future. Whether you vote PC, NDP, Liberal, Green, or any other party, our democracy is stronger when more people vote

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