Voting and wellbeing: why showing up at the polls matters

Voting in elections is one of the most basic expressions of our political opinions. While it is only one element of democratic engagement, it is often the first activity we think of when it comes to maintaining our democracy. But why vote?

Voting is good for your wellbeing. People who vote are more likely to be active in their community, to talk to their neighbours, and to volunteer,[1] all of which contribute to overall wellbeing. People who vote also rate themselves as healthier than people who do not vote[2].

Also, you can vote for wellbeing! When choosing a candidate to vote for, consider how you want elected officials to influence policies related to your wellbeing. Political parties rarely talk about wellbeing per se, but wellbeing issues such as education, living standards, environment, and healthcare are always part of election platforms.

man in suit and tie holding sign in front of face that reads "get out and vote"

Why showing up matters…

Thursday June 12, 2014 is provincial Election Day in Ontario. If past voter turn-out is any indication, we can expect fewer Ontarians to vote in this election than previously. Declining voter turn-out is not just an issue in Ontario; across the country fewer and fewer Canadians are voting in elections. However, as our recent provincial report revealed Ontarians are less democratically engaged than Canadians as a whole. In addition to low voter turnout, Ontario residents have less confidence in federal parliament and less satisfaction with the way democracy works in Canada. We also elect fewer women to office. While Ontario residents are more interested in politics than in the past, that interest doesn’t transfer into action. We are not showing up at the polls.

chart showing Ontario and Canada levels of democratic engagement 1994 to 2010

But what if you dislike your choice of candidates? Or your preferred candidate has no chance of winning?

In Ontario elections, political parties who receive at least 15% of the popular vote get $0.05 of funding for every vote they receive. So even if your preferred political party or candidate won’t get elected this time, you can help them receive a little bit of money for the next election.

If you are feeling uninspired by your choice of candidates but still want to participate in the electoral process you can decline your ballot. This sends a clear message that you are a participant in your democracy but for whatever reasons you feel none of the candidates deserve your vote. To decline your ballot, go to your polling station and once you receive your ballot, return it, refusing to complete it. Declined ballots are counted and are tallied separately from spoiled ballots. When you spoil your ballot, by voting for more than one person or not voting for anyone, it is not clear that your mistake was intended. Declined ballots, on the other hand, send the message that you are not satisfied with your choices or with the way democracy is working.

Find where to vote in Thursday's Ontario provincial election.

Why does voting matter to you? Have you ever spoiled or declined your ballot, if so why? Tweet your thoughts @ciwnetwork or comment on our Facebook page.

[1] Nakhaie, M.R. (2006). Electoral participation in municipal, provincial, and federal elections in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 39:2, 363–390.

[2] Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B.P., & Glass, R. (1999). Social capital and self-rated health: a contextual analysis. American journal of public health, 89(8), 1187 -1193.

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