If advance votes are anything to base initial assumptions upon, this election might just see an upswing in voter turnout. By Elections Canada’s count, by Thanksgiving, about 3.6 million people have cast their ballots — about 71 per cent more than in 2011.
This kind of statistic forecasts that voter turnout is on the rise. I feel safe assuming that this is tied, in some part, to the focus on apathy and engagement that this election period has seen.
Campaigns for engagement are more visible than ever. Media attention to the issue is admirable. And criticism on the low youth voter turnout and the sentiment to change are validated and bolstered when personalities like Rick Mercer and Justin Trudeau speak on the issue.
These all give positive exposure to a social movement that is attempting to motivate more young people to inform themselves of the political issues at hand and vote. But there have been other kinds of exposure that I vehemently disagree with.
VOTES4NUDES is an Instagram account run by a group called Sluts Against Harper. The account sends nude photos to anyone who sends photo proof that they have voted.
In a similar vein, Vancouver marijuana dispensary Eden Medicinal Society is holding a contest: those who prove that they voted get a chance to score free weed and a Snoop Dogg concert.
These incentives risk denigrating the democratic process, and not for reasons related to the things these groups are giving away. If citizens are only motivated to vote a certain way simply because of the promise of weed or nudes, then they aren’t necessarily getting very informed about the choice they’re making on the ballot. And even if I agreed with some of the concerns that Sluts Against Harper or Eden Medicinal Society have, the legitimacy of their image as “concerned individuals doing something about it” is tarnished when they offer something in return for voting in a way that is favourable for them.
When government action is swayed by the influence of money, and not by facts or public demand, we call that corruption. These groups might not be using money, but they are buying votes. What makes accusations of corruption any different for voters who are swayed to vote a certain way?
Political parties try to buy your vote all the time, though maybe not with an Instagram pic from your favourite candidate. You could argue, for instance, that the Conservatives’ Child Tax Benefit aims to buy votes — you wouldn’t be the first. But even if the political parties attempt to reward behaviour that benefits them, the response on the end of voters or advocacy groups should not be tit-for-tat, lest we reinforce the notion of voting for goodies.
And in a time when we’re seeing more discussion about apathy than ever, and more pressure to get informed and involved, rewarding simply the act of voting feels out-of-step.
But maybe I’m expecting too much out of this increase in voter turnout. Statistics Canada doesn’t record how much attention those voters have given to politics. Maybe I’m confused as to what motivates most people to vote.
In an interview with Motherboard, Sluts Against Harper spokesperson Jessica Sims discussed how the group is willing to “do anything to spark the vote and get some interest.” Despite my conviction, they’re might be getting out the vote better than a candidate or a social movement ever could. I hope that’s not the case.