Editorial: Vote! Opting out of democracy is not an option

April 21, 2015
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

Imagine you are at the gym, running on the treadmill, when your friend reaches over, taps the speed button up and states, “I prefer to kick it up a notch.”

Later, from the passenger seat of your car, he grabs the radio tuner knob and switches from your favourite alternative station to his preferred Europop station.

At your date that evening with a stunning and delightful brunette, he sits down, leans in and tells you “I prefer blondes” and then starts munching on your bun.

This is the scenario being presented in new television advertisements from Elections Alberta urging voters, “don’t let others decide for you.” Watch it at https://youtu.be/dRJsuBUU6aU.

I love the advertisement, and I am very excited that Elections Alberta has decided to engage non-voters and promote turnout in the current campaign. Previous chief electoral officers have challenged the notion that Elections Alberta should be tasked with trying to improve voter turnout.

Yet, voter turnout is a significant issue in Alberta.

In 2012, despite a hotly contested election with the first undefined outcome in nearly two decades, only 54 per cent of eligible voters chose to vote. In 1993, turnout was 60 per cent. It dropped to 53 per cent for 1997 and 2001, then 45 per cent in 2004, and reached a low of 40.6 per cent in 2008.

To reiterate, three out of every five eligible voters stayed home in 2008.

This saddens me. Opting out of democracy is not an option. The decisions made by government affect every single Albertan. Public services like education, health, seniors care and policing affect us all. We rely on public infrastructure like roads, hospitals, schools and utilities. And one way or another, we all pay taxes. And so the commercials are accurate — if you do not decide, others are making the decisions for you.

It is truly unfortunate that globally and historically so many people have had to fight so hard for the rights of suffrage that so many people here take for granted.

Now, I’m buoyed by one thing. Changing this situation is not impossible.

Research done on voter turnout shows consistently that there are two primary reasons non-voters do not vote. Either they lack knowledge or they lack interest. They may lack knowledge about the candidates, about the issues or about the process, and thus they feel that they don’t have the information they require to make an informed choice. They lack interest because they do not necessarily see the importance of government and its decisions in their day-to-day lives.

We, as teachers, have a powerful opportunity to change this. We are trusted and we can help people, in particular our students and parents, understand more about the processes and more about the issues. One powerful way to do this is by signing up our schools to participate in Student Vote (see Viewpoints on page 3).

We can also do it by talking with friends, family and parents about the issues that are facing our schools. We can direct people to websites like elections.ab.ca and standupforschools.ca so they can learn more about the processes and the issues. All of this can also be done in a non-partisan manner, in a way that promotes awareness and understanding without taking away their power to decide.

The May 5 provincial election will once again be a very important one. Albertans are fully realizing, with the drop in oil prices, that the government’s fiscal puzzle needs to be reassembled. The political parties are offering different views as to how that should be done, and their decisions will have a long-lasting, profound impact.

On May 5, please vote and please use the intervening time to encourage ­others to do the same. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.