Around any election time, you hear this expression, “If you don’t vote, you can’t bitch”. Sorry if that offends, but it’s an important sentiment. If you don’t engage in the most basic and valuable of democratic rights, then you don’t really have a right to complain about who does or does not get elected.

As our American friends head to the polls for one of the closest elections in many years, citizen engagement is more important than ever. Many people don’t feel that they have much say in the world these days. But here in Canada and next door in the U.S., each of us has a say in who we vote for.

While Americans prepare to cast their votes, Canadians are pinning poppies onto their lapels (and wondering how the umpteenth one fell off their coat again…). Around Remembrance Day we honour the veterans who fought for our country, for our freedom and for the endurance of democracy.

Last year, we watched in awe as the Arab Spring ignited — citizens across Northern Africa rebelled, battled, and in far too many cases, died, for the right to elect and live under true democracy. What a devastating and humbling reminder for all of us who take democracy for granted.

Would you risk your life to preserve your democratic freedoms? Some of us have family who have already done so. Most of us hope that we never have to face that kind of conflict. So then how can so many of us think nothing of blowing off voting in local, regional or federal elections?

Voting is a privilege. Voting is an honour. Voting should never be taken for granted.

Voting and elections are our most basic form of community engagement. We get together; we discuss what kind of community/country we would like to see; a few folks put up their hands and say, “I’m willing to do the work”; the rest of us critique their ideas and agenda, and them some of us (yes, only some of us), get off our duffs to vote on election day.

In the last U.S. presidential election, voter turnout was estimated at 61.7%. That was the best turnout in 40 years. In the 2011 Canadian federal election, voter turnout was at 61.1% — again one of the highest voter turnouts in recent history.

It’s sad that we’re excited when roughly 60% of our citizens engage in democracy. Because democracy is a 100% undertaking. Our governments impact us all, yet almost 40% of us don’t feel it’s worth casting a vote.

Some of you may feel that your vote doesn’t matter now. But it does. It always does. Many races are decided by fewer than 100 votes. Your vote matters.

So get engaged. Get informed. And ALWAYS exercise your right to vote. Then quietly thank those that came before us for defending our right to do so.

~ Maureen Douglas, CPF-IAF

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