Quick Fix: Mandatory Voting

Hey everyone, I am pleased to announce that I became a father on the 29th of October! This is super exciting, but if my writing schedule becomes more inconsistent, that’s my excuse. I’ve actually got a lot of content underway, some of which will definitely be done by the end of the year, but I’m just a bit crunched for time as you can probably understand.

Anyway, with the midterm elections now on the books and the Democrats thankfully winning Congress, hopefully the signs are pointing towards this global fascist nightmare finally losing momentum. All of the voting talk was making me think about my many articles about voting and how I kind of wish that people had to earn the right to vote (if there was a way to make that notion not totally evil). Upon some reflection after seeing the midterm campaigns unfold, I occurs to me that this idea doesn’t really fit into the modern American democratic process very well (let alone the Canadian one). Part of the problem is the pervasiveness of fake news and propaganda on hyper-partisan media. If the truth wasn’t being actively obscured by malicious agents that would be one thing, but when we have one side skewing the truth so much that its adherents are basically living in an entirely different world, that makes them have a false sense of confidence that they know what the issues really are that they’re voting for. Plus, these malicious influencers are driving people to vote through outrage, meaning that the parties are incentivized to be political scum in order to have a chance to win. It’s just a race to the bottom due to the way that the system is set up.

But… what if it didn’t have to be that way? I saw the following Tweet while browsing voting threads and I found its argument extremely interesting:

Aussie here: one thing that is oft repeated by Australian commentators on the USA is that because USA lacks mandatory voting the Republicans must rely on churches to get people to vote. Which is why your Conservative party is a lot more right wing tha ours.

— A.Z.M.B (@Voodooqueen126) November 4, 2018

I definitely think that AZMB is hitting on some truth here, as the Republican party and most influential evangelical leaders have been inextricably, publically tied together since at least the time of the Moral Majority. This, of course, hits on what I said earlier – pander to voting blocs to overpower opposing parties’ numbers, because all that really matters is that you get into power when you’re in politics.

I don’t know how you would enforce it, but mandatory voting definitely does stymie some of these issues and incentivizes parties to actually serve the interests of the majority of the public, rather than just voting blocs. To make this more effective, the government would either make voting significantly easier for citizens, or make voting days into national holidays. As we saw in America, this is not the case, as it plays to the strengths of those in power (the major parties in America are in bed with corporate interests, so they don’t want their employees not working) and suppresses the poor, working class from engaging in politics. Simply put, the system as it works now is rigging the fact that less than 60% of the population is actually likely to vote by being very selective on the ones who actually will get a political voice.

Hell, while we’re at it, getting rid of a first past the post system would also serve the public greatly. Justin Trudeau flirted with the idea, promising it in his election campaign, but when the time came to act he backed down, making the excuse that it gives extremists a voice. Unless the majority of Canadians secretly harbour a preference for extremist parties, I don’t think that this would be the case. In fact, I’d think that proportional voting would incentivize less extremism, as the parties are going to want to appeal to more voters.

Basically, I just wish that politics were actually in the interests of the people, rather than corporate interests as they mainly are now. Steve Bannon is an evil piece of shit, but he kind of has a point regarding populism being the way of the future – however, his nationalist, xenophobic bent makes this unconscionable. However, populism in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, merely that it is often co-opted by people like Bannon. Bernie Sanders was kind of a proof of this, as he was a populist and a socialist. I don’t think that the winds of change have gone out of the sails of populism and if progressives want to survive this fascist nightmare then they would do well to harness it for good. A progressive, populist movement could do some serious good and would hopefully have some real value to voters.

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Voter Ignorance, Part 2

These are truly abundant times for us amateur political bloggers. Case in point: this article was originally conceived from Trump’s reaction to the recent mass shooting in Orlando. I was skimming the news when I came across a very fitting quote regarding the situation that the US faces in the current election: “What Obama can’t say is [that] the presumptive Republican nominee is an embarrassment to his own party, and the ultimate IQ test for the American electorate, come November.” That alone was enough to trigger another round of speculation on the eligibility of the existing electorate… but then Brexit happened. Holy shit, if there was ever a time to make voter restrictions a public topic, this is the time.

Commenter #1: Maybe if there’s segregation/zero integration, but by the second generation I think you’d see a high percentage of immigrant children assimilating into our culture.
Commenter #2: Good thing we came in and civilized the shit out of them!

In general, I don’t believe that we should place important decisions in the hands of the uninformed (or misinformed) public, and Brexit was a clear example of how this can go spectacularly wrong. With the British pound being devalued to historic lows, the elderly swinging the vote in favour of their rose-tinted childhoods, and the realization that this referendum is not exactly going to bring about any immediate net gains (if any), it’s little wonder that many “Leave” voters have changed sides and admitted they didn’t know what they were voting for. In fact, a good portion of the “Leave” vote was just trying to “stick it to the man” rather than actually thinking about the impact that this will have on them – after all, they might be trying to screw over the “elites”, but they’ll weather any economic uncertainty far better than the average citizens who end up suffering from a devalued currency, shrinking job market and the scores of other issues that Brexit is going to bring about. It was also worth noting that “the Leave camp won support across a diverse subsection of voters, both politically and economically. The clearest factor seemed to be education: those with a university degree voted overwhelmingly to remain, while those without one did the opposite, according to the Guardian newspaper.”

Of course, should we even be putting this sort of important decision in the hands of anyone with a half-formed opinion? The “Leave” painted their side as some sort of pro-labourer position… somehow… even though the “evil elitists” were warning that the economic repercussions of a “Leave” win would put workers in a worse position. The “Leave” vote was also noted for emphasizing emotion (calls for “freedom” and revenge against “elitists”) while the “Stay” vote emphasized rationality and expert opinions. Such rhetoric is just another demonstration of “playing politics” to earn votes, the truth be damned. As I have written previously:

“politicians lie or, if we’re being super generous, stretch the truth because it has been proven that the system benefits the ones who do so. This isn’t how it has to be though. Politics are a system which we created and which we can reshape. Start rewarding politicians with real integrity, who treat you like an intelligent individual and not just some statistic on their voter demographics spectrum”

Something tells me that this meme was made by a misogynist who likes to say “cuck”. I’ll be honest though, it made me laugh.

This more or less gets to the crux of my worries about voter ignorance – should we allow just anyone to make important decisions, or should we allow those who actually understand what the hell they’re doing to make the call (depending on the complexity of the issue, ranging from demonstrably informed voters to certified experts)? For an analogy, I’d ask you to look to the trial by jury in the modern legal system. There are some questions on whether trial by jury is an effective method by which to determine guilt – from their personal biases, to their actual engagement, to their understanding of the law (although, to be fair, this is just one perspective and some studies find that juries do a decent job overall). It has been suggested that a more effective method would be to establish “professional juries” who actually understand the legal system and can be better-engaged in their responsibilities to provide (theoretically) more accurate results than a regular jury of peers could do. As far as I’m concerned, why not extend this idea towards voting as well, where those who are more qualified to make important decisions would be given the task? This would, ideally, turn politics into an actual, honest-to-goodness, debate instead of the emotional shit-slinging, rhetorical flourishes and misinformation that our current system relies on to swing votes.

That’s not to say that the general public should never have a say in anything. We live in an exciting age where a democratic government finally can and should be able to extend to the fingertips of every citizen in some form or another. I have an exciting, pie-in-the-sky picture of a future society where all citizens of a nation have their own government account, where they can engage in votes put up by lawmakers and can more-directly influence the decisions that affect the nation. At present, referendums are generally reserved for major policy shifts that affect all citizens, but my vision of a central, citizenship-based website would make such “small-scale” referendums much more feasible. The “O Canada” lyrics change, for example, was a prime example of the sort of purely opinion-based issue which should have been left up to Canadian citizens to decide rather than lawmakers, especially since it is in regards to a national symbol owned by all Canadians.

In addition to the obvious issues that come about when considering restricted voter eligibility which I covered in part 1, there is one other potentially critical issue I have begun to realize (and one which makes this already potentially-evil idea even shadier) – how do you prevent voter restrictions from turning into a revolutionary powderkeg? Terrorism grows from a sense of powerlessness, and if we suddenly tell an already-disenfranchised section of the population that their voices don’t even matter then they’ll start pulling off some ISIS-level shit to grab for power. Similarly to most of the really big issues with this whole idea, I don’t really have an effective answer on how to combat this potential drawback. Where do we even draw the line on what sort of issues are unacceptable without causing the ornery in society from flocking to it? Is “false freedom” necessary though to keep nutcases from feeling downtrodden and fighting back? Such a line of thought is incredibly unsettling… but then again, when we have a presidential candidate whose campaign seems to be basically designed around rallying white supremacists, it becomes easier to swallow.

We seem to be living in a time period where anti-establishment, counter-cultural movements are gaining a lot of traction in society. This is arguably most visibly demonstrated by the popularity of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders during this election cycle, and the immediate fallout from Brexit has shown exactly what sort of chaotic effects such a position can have. Such movements tend to stem from emotional lashing out when a level head might provide us with a better way forward. In such times, I wish that more of us would listen to experts and get educated on the issues rather than just going with our guts or our friends’ opinions. I might never “figure out” how to make voter restriction into a working system without turning the nation into a pseudo-dictatorship in the process, but I do believe that the current system is horrifically broken and I have no faith in it.

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Gun Control, and Why Partisan Politics Need to Die

As you have probably heard by now, during this past week President Obama has taken executive action to try to push some more gun regulation in the US. Predictably, there has been considerable backlash to this decision, particularly by the NRA and Republican Presidential candidates. However, this condemnation obviously has nothing to do with the actual content of Obama’s action, but rather partisan politics at their absolute “finest”. This is an effective demonstration on just how politicians treat us like dog shit for their political ploys, why politicians can’t have any sort of integrity and one reason why our democracies are so horrifically ineffectual. For the good of the public, this is my short diatribe on why partisan politics need to die now.

Before moving ahead, I guess I should probably clarify exactly what I mean when I say “partisan politics”. At its broadest, partisan simply refers to identification to a political party in general, but in the last few decades it has been twisted into a political strategy. Now, politicians have to solely serve their party’s interests and refuse to compromise with their opponents. In a Canadian context, this quote by Stephen Ledrew from The Globe and Mail illustrates our own partisan politics quite well:

“Party loyalty is a crutch for those with lazy minds, and stark partisanship simply makes public discourse cheap and ill-informed. For example, how often has one heard that Stephen Harper is an elitist Conservative, not reflecting Canadian values? How often has one read that Justin Trudeau is just a Liberal scion who represents a last-ditch attempt by his party to resuscitate itself to its former glory? Or that Thomas Mulcair is a tax-and-spend NDipper? Certainly often enough to persuade an outsider that party labels are a major factor in political decision-making in Canada. But will voting by party label provide good government to Canada?”

As you can probably see, this mentality is clearly where the opposition to Obama’s executive action is stemming from. Ted Cruz in particular has jumped on this and has claimed that “Obama wants your guns” and has promised to roll back this action. The way he tells it, it’s almost as if Obama has made gun ownership illegal before punching Jesus in the face. So what exactly did Obama even do? From this article on CBC, here’s a basic rundown:

  1. Make it so that private sellers have to make background checks before selling guns. Considering that licensed sellers have to do this already and that was making background checks a farce, it was a pretty ridiculous loophole to begin with. I actually read a study back when Sandy Hook occurred which recommended that this loophole be closed. Then there’s, y’know, the Cracked article about how easy it is to get private sellers to skirt the law.
  2. Crack down on illegal gun trafficking and improve crime gun databases.
  3. Improve access to medical help for people with mental health issues. This is a refreshingly unexpected step in the right direction, one which I imagine was meant to throw a bone to Republicans as well – they often blame shootings solely on mental issues, after all, rather than the guns themselves.

Those all sound like common sense stuff, right? The unlicensed seller loophole has long been considered a major issue which renders background checks useless. Filling it in is going to make private reselling more annoying, but considering that these are freaking weapons we’re talking about, I am lacking in sympathy for them. That said, if you’re a person who is concerned about extensive gun rights, then I can see why this might be a sticking point, even if I personally think that it is a reasonable restriction. As for improved police databases and better access to help for people with mental issues, these aren’t even restrictions on existing freedoms for people who are interested in gun rights. Furthermore, it is fairly well-known that the existing mental healthcare system in the US is in a deplorable state, so this is solution is extremely pragmatic in a number of areas.

So why did Ted Cruz make these bold claims about stuff that is so obvious? It would seem to me that the main reason he is doing so is because it will rile up potential voters and get them to support him. It doesn’t matter whether what he says is true or not, as long as he gets the votes. This has also earned him an endorsement from the NRA, and if he is able to leverage their support then this should help him significantly in the leadership race*. We have seen this sort of fear rhetoric put forth numerous times this year – Stephen Harper’s inexplicable focus on the niqab, Trump’s comments on Mexicans and Muslims and the numerous talking heads that have been freaking out about Syrian refugees being terrorists.

If you think I’m being hard on the Republicans though, then let me also rip into the Democrats a little bit. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both lent their support to Obama’s actions, but they could have done so much more. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Obama’s executive action is very limited in scope and will likely do very little to curb American gun violence (in the short term at the very least). Basically, it’s going to be a little harder for the wrong people to acquire a gun, and people who are mentally ill will have more access to treatment. This should help prevent some shootings, but all of the other issues with the American gun culture are still present – access to high-capacity and high-fire rate weapons, ability to open and concealed-carry weapons in public places, the existence of “stand your ground laws”, a culture which heroizes those who commit violence, etc. Sure, Clinton has beat around the bush, saying that more needs to be done from this foundation, but there isn’t a lot of dissent about how limited Obama’s executive action was. He’s patching some of the holes in the system, but unless America totally overhauls its gun culture, there won’t be a meaningful reduction in violence any time soon.

Political rhetoric is one thing though, but let’s get into arguably my biggest beef with partisanship. In his article, Ledrew also puts forth this gem which sums up my feelings quite well:

“not only is partisanship no longer accurate, it is contrary to the very essence of democracy, because it leads people to cast their vote a certain way for the wrong reason. It negates an informed electorate.”

I alluded to this sort of political bullshitting in the dying days of the 2015 Canadian election, and this is just another example of how the partisan system fosters voter ignorance. Rather than having an educated voting public, parties have found it much more successful to focus on individuals, talking points, rhetoric and fear-mongering in order to manage their voter bases – the key word there being manage. With the proper curation, politicians can predict how to manipulate public opinion in their favour and choose to ignore entire chunks of the population as irrelevant to their interests. Look at the timing of this executive action, for example. It’s in Obama’s last year in office – he doesn’t have to worry about this affecting his election prospects. It’s likely that he has wanted to implement this program for years, but was unable to pull it off until now. Furthermore, it is being used as election-fodder. For the Democratic candidates, this becomes something to protect. By Ted Cruz, this is suddenly something that he can manipulate as something that he’ll tear down if he becomes President – he just has to convince his voter base that the executive action is something bad first, which shouldn’t be too hard if they’re on board the partisan system.

People are always whining about how politicians are a bunch of liars and that all of the parties suck. This isn’t how it has to be though – politicians lie or, if we’re being super generous, stretch the truth because it has been proven that the system benefits the ones who do so. This isn’t how it has to be though. Politics are a system which we created and which we can reshape. Start rewarding politicians with real integrity, who treat you like an intelligent individual and not just some statistic on their voter demographics spectrum**. Also be willing to look into what politicians are saying and try to keep yourself informed from other angles as well. Just because people are calling Obama an anti-gun fascist because of this executive action doesn’t mean that they’re telling you the truth. Furthermore, just because he’s being praised for this action doesn’t mean that Obama suddenly solved America’s problems either. Partisan politics need to die, and we’re the ones who need to need to put this wretched system in the ground for good.

*You also get inexplicable tough-talk, such as Cruz’s gem: “Those executive orders are not worth the paper they’re printed on, because when you live by the pen, you die by the pen, and my pen has got an eraser.” What the literal hell is that supposed to mean Cruz? You also realize that this is a reference to Matthew 26:52, in which Jesus himself warns his apostles not to commit violence and not to use their weapons. That is a terrible reference to make for someone who is trying to advocate for gun rights.
**Hopefully this is obvious, but this is not an endorsement for Donald Trump! Being a “politically incorrect” blowhard is also a political strategy, especially when attempting to stand out in a right-wing leadership race. It also doesn’t mean that you’re being honest or have a shred of integrity. Use your damn head.

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Voter Ignorance

Election period is coming around in Canada once again, and I’m not sure which irritates me more: the shady politicking or the whining of the uninformed. Recently, I was analyzing Stephen Harper’s campaigning speech in Vancouver, when the lady sitting next to me helpfully informed us all that “they never keep any of their promises, so why bother?” Ah, the old standby of the uninformed and uninterested person who chooses not to vote, and yet has to throw their opinion in anyway because they feel like they need to justify their ignorance (and using “prevailing wisdom” no less)!

Of course, studies have shown that politicians actually do keep the majority of their promises (typically 65-85% of them, depending on their term length, partisanship, etc), so it goes further towards damning their opinion. I mean, this should be pretty obvious – if a politician gets a reputation for lying through their teeth, then they aren’t likely to get reelected.

Unfortunately, it is the uninformed, like my co-worker, who are just the sort of person that politicians need to game the democratic system. Politicians are aware that those who are already politically engaged have made up their minds on who to vote for long before the election ever comes, so they have to find other sources to swing the election in their favour. The undecided and uninformed voters are the people that politicians are campaigning towards… and that’s pretty damn frightening to me. I mean, I can respect the undecided (and I think that we should all keep our voting options open and not fall into the habit of voting for the same party every time simply because we always vote for them), but the amount of uninformed voters who vote is scary. Think about it – every time there’s an election, the fate of our country is potentially hinging on the whims of people who don’t really understand what they’re doing. Perhaps they felt pressured into voting by someone else (there are always big “VOTE NOW!!!” campaigns come election time and people always whine about 40% voter turnout, but I’d rather that than 60% of voters not knowing what the hell they’re doing), or their neighbour has convinced them that a particular party is the way to go because all the others are liars, or maybe the politicians’ own extremely deceptive tactics managed to sway them (this is why we have attack ads galore and why everyone is dog-piling on Harper for “causing a recession” – it doesn’t have to be true, you just have to get people to think it is). For example, my youngest brother has a learning disability and doesn’t understand politics in the slightest. However, he votes for the Conservative party consistently, simply because that is who my parents vote for and they have basically prodded him into voting with them.

Is there a good solution to prevent the whims of the uninformed from affecting elections? Or is this just how democracy should work? While I’m sure there are a diversity of opinions on the matter, I personally see this as one of the failings of our democratic system, which allows the “gaming of the system” which politicians are so notorious for. My own proposed solution is one that I have waffled on for a while. It is the idea of a voter compitency test, where voters actually have to know what the hell they’re doing to gain the right to vote. This might actually make more people interested in being politically active, because people are always most interested in the rights that they don’t get without earning them. This would shift things more towards an oligarchy of the educated, but this also opens up additional concerns. Foremost amongst these is how the test could be conducted without opening up a bias towards a political party, and to prevent it from being gamed in the future (which is how dictatorships are created). Also, I’m aware this whole idea of an educated oligarchy might just be a political bias of my own – while studies are inconclusive on the idea, there is another bit of “prevailing wisdom” which claims that educated people tend to be more liberal. If this prevailing wisdom was actually true, and only the educated were allowed to vote, then this could effectively wipe out conservatism (or at least make it significantly more liberal than it currently is). Even if this wouldn’t happen, I still can’t shake the sense that I lean towards this solution just because it fits into my political leanings well.

In any case, this election is shaping up to be one of the more interesting ones in quite a long time. The Conservative pary hasn’t had any real competition since the early 2000s, so with a shockingly competitive-looking NDP and a young maverick leading the Liberals, the election is looking like it will be very tense. However, I implore you this: if you don’t know or care about politics, and don’t want to get educated on it, then for the sake of our country don’t feel compelled to vote. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT FEEL COMPELLED.

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