Many who study online activism lament the rise of what they’ve termed ”œslacktivism,” a low-cost low effort form of online social action. Think of causes you might have ”œliked” on Facebook only to continue about your business seconds later. Think of the online petitions you’ve signed that have gained little to no traction.
Now think about voting. Every four years or so, Canadians head to the polls to click ”œlike” on a ballot, only to continue about their business minutes later. They’ve completed their democratic duty. Now it’s up to someone else to represent his/her interests until the next election.
The implications and stakes are different from liking a petition to casting a ballot, but the act in itself is the same. In effect, we’ve reduced our institutions of democracy to voting every now and again.
As voter turnout continues to decrease, Canadians are desperately searching for a cure that, for many, can be found in a strong dose of mandatory voting. Andrew Coyne recently made such a case here arguing that voter turnout is itself a problem that needs to be fixed.
But why do we care so much about voting? Yes, choosing our representatives has important policy implications. It is also true that most of us are busy and likely wouldn’t benefit from a form of direct democracy where we have input on every decision.
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But what we’re missing when we narrow our imagination to voting, as we do when we debate mandatory voting, is the opportunity to discuss a myriad of other opportunities to engage public policy and our politics between elections.
Perhaps we can look to reform the Senate and turn it into a meaningful institution of citizen outreach. Perhaps we want to create citizen councils or inject meaningful citizen consultation into the legislative process. Perhaps we want to establish online discussion forums where Canadians can discuss and debate issues of the day.
The point is that we need to stop talking about mandatory voting and start talking about meaningful engagement to our political institutions. It’s not helping us tackle what’s ailing our democracy. But if we’re only focused on voting, then we should expect a slacktivist approach to democracy. Until we move beyond this, not much will change.