Last Tuesday, in light of the ongoing UTMSU elections on campus, the Centre for Student Engagement invited Professor Justin Bumgardner from UTM’s political science department to present a talk on why voting matters.
Bumgardner emphasized the importance of voting at every level, whether federal, provincial, municipal, or even student elections. He started by deconstructing the common myth that individual votes don’t make a difference.
“Your vote can matter, because you never know how close an election can be,” he said.
Many people don’t vote because of the belief that one vote will not change anything. Bumgardner stated that although statistically that may be true, sometimes there are elections that get very close. He then offered a few examples.
“The smaller the election, like a student election, the better the chances of your vote making a difference. You can have an election on campus that can be determined by a single vote.”
As he continued, it’s usually not about a single vote. Sometimes, people can make a difference by swinging the votes of their friends or others.
A common saying about voting that he mentioned is that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. “Even if you don’t like the candidates, you should still exercise your right to vote,” he said. “This is because you might find the results of the election troubling.” He mentioned how many Americans are deeply troubled by the results of the last election, yet it was the lowest voter turnout in 20 years.
The right to vote is not a right that everyone in the world has, and it is not something we should take for granted. “Living in North America, there are a lot of things we take for granted in our daily lives that billions of people around the world don’t have. One of them is democracy,” he said.
He discussed the historic election of 2000 with George W. Bush vs Al-Gore, which was a very close one, with a difference of only four electoral votes.
Bumgardner discussed how the consequences of an election can be very serious. The results of the 2000 American election led to the Iraq War in 2003, and indirectly to the creation of ISIS. “It really does matter who wins,” he said.
He provided other examples of close elections, including six elections in Canada that have ended in ties, three of which were federal elections.
Returning to the topic of democracy, he stated that 2.6 billion people in the world are living in 50 different countries where they do not possess the right to vote. “This is something to consider when exercising the right to vote,” he stated. “It is a privilege that not everyone has.”
In addition to this, there are 1.8 billion more people, from 56 different countries, who despite having elections, have rampant fraud in the government that prevents their votes from being counted.
“About 40 percent of the world’s population live in a liberal democracy, but the rest live either without democracy, or in a pseudo-democracy,” he explained.
He also mentioned that many people are tortured, imprisoned, and killed for attempting to bring democracy to their countries. “If you’re not voting, it does a disservice to people who have sacrificed their lives in order to have freedom,” he said.
Bumgardner stated that election results can have big consequences. The rise of Hitler and the Nazis was the result of a democratic election, and those results caused the Holocaust and World War II. The type of leader that the people choose can influence the social reform that takes place in a country.
He concluded his talk by stating a quote from Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other alternatives,” which illustrates that while democracy can be problematic, it is still a much better choice compared to other forms of governments.