Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Just vote -- and help get others to the polls, too

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OTTAWA -- I spotted a sign on the front lawn of a residence in central Ottawa over the weekend, while scouring the small Chinatown area for the fixings for spring rolls.

Focused as I was on wood ears and mung bean noodles, I barely noticed the litany of coloured signs that dotted street corners as we drove along.

But one sign made me stop and take notice.

It didn't tell me who to vote for.

It simply said, "Just vote." Period.

It is the most important message of any election campaign.

In just over a week Manitoba's 40th general election will take place.

If history is any indication, fewer than 60 per cent of Manitobans will participate.

This is my personal plea to you to help change that.

I can't and won't tell you who to vote for, but I will tell you to vote.

If I am being totally honest there are days I, too, wonder if my vote matters. There are times I look at the biggest issues we face -- jobs, crime, health-care delivery -- and I wonder if any government really can solve them. There are moments when it's hard to wade through the muck and slime of politics and have anything but antipathy toward all the parties.

But there is only way to improve the system and staying home on election day is not it.

When we stay home we give away the small bit of power we have as individuals.

When we stay home we let someone else's vote count for more than it should. When we stay home we are sitting on our hands instead of trying to proactively improve our own lives.

We also ensure the politicians stop governing for all the people and continue governing for the people who vote.

That means young people, when you complain the government doesn't understand you, there is no incentive for that to change if two-thirds of you stay home again.

That means First Nations voters, politicians can continue to postpone and delay real change for the Third World conditions marring most reserves if you don't go to the polls and make them listen.

That's not to say if you vote next week your life is going to miraculously improve. Governments are big bureaucracies and our expectations of them are often not realistic.

But the issues you care about are more likely to get on the agenda if you use the one real tool you have to make governments listen.

Imagine what might happen to a government's priorities if suddenly 80 per cent of Manitobans under 25 cast a ballot next week rather than 30 per cent. That could be another 40,000 ballots cast. Not chump change for sure,

There are many campaigns at work to try and improve voter turnout. Groups such as Apathy is Boring work exclusively on getting people to the polls. The Winnipeg Free Press has its own, with the Democracy Project. Our aim has been to improve how we cover the election, and try and engage people who are often under-represented among voters.

It's not easy. Cynicism runs deep and the excuses are many.

But the excuses are often too flimsy to stand up against any real challenge.

Too busy with soccer practice and car pools? Advance polls opened Saturday and are open every day until Oct. 1, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. You can vote when you're grabbing something from a shopping mall even if its not in your riding. Or at any returning office. Even at Winnipeg's airport.

Not sure who to vote for? The Internet has made finding out what parties stand for easier than ever before. Every mainstream media outlet, the parties themselves, numerous independent and everyday Canadians have posted the information online, often in easy-to-discern packages.

Not sure where to vote or how to do it? Elections Manitoba has a ton of information that leads you through the process.

If you know all of this and are voting, I salute you. But you can do one more thing to help. You can convince someone else to vote, too.

A Windsor, Ont., man has launched a website, www.votewithme.ca, to encourage Canadians who do vote, to get at least one other person to come along, in any one of the four provincial elections underway at the moment.

Paul Synnott's philosophy is simple -- non-voters are harder to reach than voters, so why not speak to the voters and get them to spread the word. If you vote, you're already aware of why it's important and you are the most likely one to be able to convince your brother, your mother, your daughter or best friend to do so, too.

Getting more people to the polls, one extra voter at a time, is all I can ask for.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2011 A5

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