“Voting is and always should be an act of conscience. But our consciences must weigh many things: which candidate best represents our views, yes, but also the overall political landscape and the potential effects of each candidate’s victory or defeat. It is naive and simplistic to say that the only thing that matters, the only thing that should matter, is getting to vote for the person you like best, as though your relationship to the election ended as soon as your ballot was cast. It doesn’t. We live with the results of our voting for years.” – Torontoist, October 22nd, 2010
I haven’t been able to address this quote yet on this blog until now. The quote is pulled from a half-hearted endorsement by the Torontoist of Toronto Mayoral candidate George Smitherman who was defeated this evening by Mayor-elect Rob Ford. While the arguments for support were interesting and valuable, the thing that struck me most about the post was this quote.
I long ago decided (although I am only twenty-four years old so perhaps not that long ago) the framework I would use each time I cast a ballot. Elections provide voters with a lot of options. Not just between parties and candidates but also between abstract ideas and concrete promises. Some of these issues will address my own concerns and interests while others will not. This does not sway my vote.
The reason my vote is cast without thought to personal issues is because I believe in a concept of government where it and the people in it are there to bring good to society. I feel that the job of government is to bring about positive change in society, to help those in need, and to do what individuals and other groups alone cannot accomplish on behalf of the citizenry.
what does this have to do with my vote? Because of the type of government I believe in, I cannot ethically cast my ballot with my personal interests as my guide. Society is too big and government’s real purpose too noble for me to attempt to influence it for my own gain. I feel that my vote is put to better use if I cast it with the interests of all of society as my guide. Thus when I fill out a ballot, I think of what would be best for Canada, Ontario, or my home city as a whole and not just what would benefit me most.
It can be argued that if everyone bases their vote on their own concerns then everyone is taken care of. This does not reflect the government I believe in and in my opinion, goes against the very nature of societal organization. We formed societies in the first place because of the benefits we gained by splitting up tasks and responsibilities. Government formed for the very same reasons. To vote with concern for only my own interests goes against both of these facts of human nature. We need one another and because of that we need to look out for one another and our collective needs.
I am all for supporting your beliefs and sticking to your principles, especially when filling out a ballot. But when the values you feel would best serve society at large are put in jeopardy by a strong candidate who opposes everything you believe is right in your city, province, country or the world… sometimes it is best to see what you can salvage.
I do not advocate strategic voting as there are far too many variables in play to really know who your vote will help. I do believe in finding a candidate you can reasonably support, that you can approve of if not outright get excited about. Some of the most progressive and needed changes we have enjoyed as a country came incrementally by those who had the foresight to see the big picture instead of dwelling on ideas society could not yet stomach.
So while I support people having convictions, I also support those who have the courage to see that their convictions will not be granted immediate gratification. That they must work harder and longer to achieve the change they really want. Change is not carried in by those who are left on the sidelines because they could not understand theirs was just one voice of many. It arrives with those patient few who are willing to wait for society to gradually catch up.
I like to call this approach social incrementalism because social change is not an event but a process and the people who bring it about are those who gently push society along with them instead of leaving the majority bitterly in their dust. It is the welcoming of evolution in social thought and the rejection of revolutions that would lead to half-formed ideas forced on an ill-prepared citizenry.
While radicals and fringe candidates have their place, it is centrists and moderates that govern with the most fairness. They do not swing too far in either direction and while they can’t please every voter, they can appeal to the needs and interests of most voters to some degree. In a system where we all have a right to our opinions and get to have our say at the ballot box, the moderates are the ones that best address our societal needs at a communal level.
I want to encourage voters in future elections to think about society as a whole when they cast their ballots. I want voters to remember that in the aftermath of an election the issues we personally care about may change or drop off the radar entirely, but the general direction of our collective vote, the reverberations of our collective decision, will shape our entire society for years to come.