Why Vote?

I’m very involved in the upcoming civic election here in Calgary because my wife has decided to run for public school board trustee. We have never gotten involved in politics before and we have no interest in party politics or even most civic issues. What we’re really interested in is preserving and improving our public education system. It’s interesting to note that voter turnout in 2004 and 2007 was 20% and 33%, both very low. This is not an issue only for local politics, but also for corporate motions. In our office, we recommended a real estate investment five years ago. The project was intended to be completed in five years and issued five year debentures. The debentures are due now, but the real estate is not ready for sale. The general partner issued a circular with voting instructions, asking all limited partners to vote to extend the deadline, avoiding a “fire sale” of the assets. Although we would prefer to have our money back, we supported the extension in the hope of getting a better sale price for the properties.

The problem was that the partnership required a quorum of 50% of owners before a decision is valid. then, 50%+1 of votes must be in favour before the motion will pass. Unfortunately, fewer than 50% of partners had voted with only a week until the deadline. Perhaps they felt disappointed with the manager, and chose to register their disapproval by withholding their vote, rather than voting against and risking the motion to fail. We spent some time encouraging our clients to vote, either for (our preference) or against simply to reach a quorum. In the end, the motion passed. I wonder how often the same thing happens with other corporation that have widely held share ownership.

I wrote the following article with the upcoming civic election in mind. If you have no interest in politics, please read it with reference to share ownership as both face significant voter apathy.

When discussing our right and responsibility to vote, I hear that those who don’t vote have no right to complain about their government. But I have come to realize that voting is not the only option. Citizens can also make their voices heard by writing letters to, phoning or meeting with their representatives. Citizens can become involved in lobby groups, demonstrations or associations that represent their point of view. And politicians must listen, whether the citizen voted or not, because they represent all their constituents: those who voted for them, those who voted against them and those who didn’t vote, including children and permanent residents.

We are free to choose whether or not to vote. In a municipal election, it is clear that our choice represents only one voice in ten thousand, at best. It takes a certain effort to learn about the positions and personalities of the various candidates, to bring appropriate identification and to travel to the polling station. It may appear that voting is more effort than it is worth.

This year, I feel very strongly that it’s important to vote. There will be significant changes at city hall, and I want to have a say in determining which people play a part. There are also significant changes coming from Alberta Education. I want to be one of the people to help direct and adapt the changes so they most benefit all students across Calgary.

Democracy is not perfect. But it’s the system we currently live with, and voting is how we participate. By not voting, we voluntarily disenfranchise ourselves. An election gives us an opportunity to learn about the ideas and personalities of the people who will end up representing us. It’s true that we each only cast a single vote. But when we vote, we take our place as a citizen. We show support for our preferred candidate. And we recognize that, no matter how small our contribution, democracy is too important to leave to chance. Further, if everyone decided to just stay home and let others vote, your single vote would make all the difference. And when you go to cast your vote, the people around you see your participation, and they will hopefully respond to your example and also choose to vote.

We can make our voices heard in other ways at any time during the year. But October 18, 2010 is our opportunity to make our vote count in Calgary. Make sure all your friends and colleagues know that you’ll be voting, even if it means taking a short trip to vote at the local polling station. And encourage them to vote, too.

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