A voting booth that could have a “none of the above” option. Photo: CC, George Hodan.
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Option gives voice to frustration in political system

A student at the University of Ottawa has recently made national headlines with his appeal to the Federal Court for a “none of the above” option on ballots. This initiative is an indication that voters don’t believe their voices are being heard. In a democratic system, the opinions of the people determine political outcomes, so disillusioned voters pose a real issue to the democratic process.

Last year, Liberal member of parliament Wayne Long was kicked off of two parliamentary committees as a consequence for opposing the Liberals’ tax change proposals. He was punished because he chose to vote based on the needs of his constituency.

When partisanship has precedence over the needs of the voter, “none of the above” is a clear way to voice distrust in the establishment and call for electoral reform.

It’s rare to completely agree with the entirety of a politician’s platform. Values and beliefs can be situational and can seldom be defined within one distinct ideology. This leaves voters in a situation where they often choose to settle for their least objectionable candidate.

Our elections are a battle of compromise. It is illogical and naïve to believe that we will ever be fully satisfied with a democratically elected leader. A “none of the above” option is a call for conscientious, self-aware, and community-oriented politicians, instead of our current out-of-touch ones.

There is a clear misunderstanding in elections. Voters select a representative that best suits their needs but what often occurs is a vote for the leader of the party, rather than the local politician themselves. We need to place a focus on our local politicians. We’re not just selecting a leader, we are choosing the person who is supposed to fight on our behalf. They are supposed to vocalize our needs, and ensure our voices are heard. If we continue to vote with a focus on the prime minister, our voices fall away into the background.

The 2015 federal election is a prime example of this narrative. We all called it an election, but it was really asking “should Stephen Harper be re-elected?” The answer for the most part was overwhelmingly against Harper, and the Conservatives lost 60 seats. Studies by the Canadian Election Society have analyzed this question and determined that our current government is only in power because we voted someone out, not because we voted them in.

Elections are usually a choice for the lesser of two evils. Parties or leaders are voted out, not in. Each party has their base, the loyal subscribing supporters, the rest of us vote for change. Or for who we think is most likely to cause change. In the real world however, change is just a buzzword used far too often entirely for show. It seldom comes to fruition.

We should demand more from our democracy. Our system is called a representative democracy for a reason. If anything is clear at this point it is that this situation will not be fixed by a party or a politician; it can only be done by you and me. Creating a “none of the above” option is a way to begin to fix things.