This Changes Everything

As Americans head to the polls today, I am struck by something that I think is pretty profound. For the first time, the Internet is really changing the way this election day is unfolding. Not just for Americans, but for everyone.

Sitting up here in the Great White North, I often wonder why the U.S. elections are such a big deal to non-Americans. Well, people say that the U.S. President is the most powerful man on the planet. I guess that is a compelling reason. As one of the closest neighbours, what happens down there definitely affects what goes on up here. In the past, I remember tuning in to CNN on the night of the election to hear the results. Sometimes, if I got tired of the rhetoric, I’d turn over to the CBC to get the Canadian perspective. That pretty much summed up my consumption of election coverage.

Now, the Conversation Age is upon us…and this changes everything. Here’s why:

You’re all Reporters Now. Christopher Penn of Marketing over Coffee and the Financial Aid Podcast is live on location this morning at his local polling station taking photos with his “nikon and flash”. Someone asked him if he was a reporter. I’m not sure what he said in reply, but I definitely would have said yes! His photo report is online at his blog here. What Chris is providing is a real live account of people’s experience, with no spin, no rhetoric, and no flashy advertisements. He’s capturing a moment and sharing it with the world. And we’re lapping it up. Beats the hell out of CNN, if you ask me. If you see Chris today, buy him a coffee. Or six. He’s working hard to get the real story to you. 

The Body of Influence has Changed. People are influenced by many factors when it comes to deciding who to vote for. Number one is probably the media, only because they are the loudest. Unfortunately with current media biases in the major news networks, this becomes an ineffective way to get the whole truth. Secondary is by listening to the candidates themselves, which can be equally confusing once the spin doctors do their work. Third, we listen to the people around us. We have discussions at family dinners, in coffee shops, over the water cooler…and we learn from others what the issues are and are influenced one direction or another. Well, people, the space around the water cooler is a lot bigger now. Even if you have never used Twitter before, go to Twitter Search (you don’t need an account) and type “vote”, or “Obama”, or “McCain” in the search field. There’s your body of influence now. 

It’s Gone Global. I know some people will be out of sorts with this one. The world does NOT have the right to vote for the U.S. President, obviously. Some would say that it’s inappropriate to even ask this question. After all, do I really want to know or even really care what people on other countries decide? If this was done for Canadian elections, I might say, “It’s my country, my leader, my choice”. But three guys in Iceland decided to ask the question anyway and set up the site “If the world could vote?“. As far as game changers go, this one is by far the most profound in my opinion. Not because it gives people in other countries a voice. But because it allows a snapshot of public opinion in the blink of an eye. This tool allows people from all over the whole world to voice their opinion. Forget the U.S. elections. Imagine the applications of this kind of tool. And the implications.  

Well, that’s my take on the transformation that’s happening around us. It remains to be seen if the influence of the Internet will really have an impact at the end of the day on who gets into power. But one thing I do know – it’s definitely going to be an interesting ride from here on in.

To Vote or Not To Vote

Over the past several weeks of this Canadian election campaign, I’ve spoken to plenty of people about voting. What I’m continuously surprised by is the number of people who are not planning to vote. Perhaps I shouldn’t be that surprised. The voter turnout for the last election in 2006 was just 64.7 % (source: Elections Canada Online). Now, some may say “that’s not bad”, but compare this to France, whose voter turnout in their last election in 2007 was almost 84%, or, the United States, who, in the 2004 presidential election had an 88% voter turnout (source: IFES Election Guide). 64% doesn’t seem so great anymore, does it?

Why is there such voter apathy in our country? Why is nearly 40% of the population so disinterested in our democratic process? Well, the people I’ve talked to give various excuses. So I’ve decided to compile a list of the reasons I’ve heard for NOT voting, and my reasons FOR voting.

Excuse #1: I Don’t Have Time. Ah, yes. We are all so busy! How could we possibly find time to go vote on Tuesday, when we’ve got kids to get to school, deadlines at work, and myriad other things keeping us away from the polling stations? Well, I’ve got news for you. Firstly, the polling stations are open for 12 hours straight – from 7am to 7pm. Secondly, the Elections Canada Act states clearly that employers MUST give their employees 3 consecutive hours off to vote on election day. Of course, there are exceptions. But I’ve worked lots of jobs in lots of industries, and I’ve never once had an employer forbid me from leaving the office so I could go and vote. Thirdly, if you have your voter card and a piece of I.D., it literally takes 3 minutes to vote. Even if there’s a lineup. I worked for Elections Canada at a polling station one year, and I can tell you, it is a well-oiled machine. So, there’s one excuse, and three reasons why it’s no excuse. Next….

Excuse #2: I Don’t Like Any of the Parties. Probably the most common excuse I hear for not voting is that there’s nobody worth voting for. “All the politicians are full of crap”, “I don’t agree with anyone’s policies”, “I don’t like this guy/that girl”. Look, nobody is asking you to agree with EVERY SINGLE part of a particular party’s platform. No party is perfect. There are always going to be things that can and should change. Here’s my suggestion – take some time and read up on all the parties’ platforms. Find the party that you can relate to the MOST. The one who you have the tendency to agree with mostly. Vote for them. And the things you don’t agree with? Well, if that party gets into power, you’ll have a chance to write a letter to the guy or girl you voted for, and tell him or her why you think Policy A or Policy B stinks. And what you’d like him or her to do to change it. That, my friends, is democracy at work! 

Excuse #3: My Vote Won’t Count. Imagine that! I’ve actually heard this on a number of occasions. Consider if everyone thought the same way-nobody would vote! Yes, yours is just one vote. But your vote is just as important as anyone else’s vote. And if you really are considering not voting because you don’t think it matters, then think about this. Millions and millions of people around the world do not have the right to choose who leads their country. Every day, people die fighting for the basic right that we in democratic nations take for granted. Every day, innocent people are imprisoned, tortured or killed for disagreeing with the government in power. Consider yourself insanely fortunate that you live in a country where you can freely choose the people that represent you in government. And if you can’t cast a vote for your own reasons on election day, cast a vote in honour of those people who may never get the chance to exercise this basic human right. 

Still disagree with me? Let me have it in the comments – but hope to see you at the polls on Tuesday anyway.

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