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The Man Who Ate His Ballot

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.

Mayday Magazine is a grassroots monthly paper out of Hamilton, Ontario, dealing with issues of local concern from a progressive perspective.


With another election season drawing near, many of us have been gazing at the list of candidates with feelings of dread and apprehension. It's old news that the candidates are virtually identical. It's old news that the system is fundamentally flawed. These statements are hardly even controversial anymore.

And yet voting is still held up as being a fundamental sign of a free and successful society. Every election season, activists put their systemic critiques aside and plead with people to care about the process. Many of those who still bother to vote do not do so because they genuinely support any of the candidates. Rather, it's out of fear that someone truly horrible will get into power if they don't vote for the lesser evil.

This article will suggest some possible avenues of action which individuals can take instead of voting for candidates they don't really support. Every time we cast a vote, we are both materially and ideologically propping up a corrupt, exploitative, and destructive system. I am not against voting simply as a matter of principal, but I believe that actively choosing not to vote is a useful tactical step in undermining the existing social order.

First, I'd like to address the activist tendency to urge people to vote in the name of empowerment and engagement, often without advocating a specific candidate. The basic premise of representative democracy is that we, as individuals and communities, are either incapable or unwilling to run our own affairs. And therefore we must choose someone to think and act for us.

The electoral system is all about giving away our power. If our goal is an informed and engaged city, then let's take steps that actually lead towards that, rather than just trumpeting those words while advocating subservience. We as people are capable of collectively making the decisions that affect our own lives and communities – it is complacent to delegate that responsibility to others.

Some activists work to promote a specific candidate whose vision they feel is close enough to their own to be worth working for; they then encourage others to vote for their chosen representative. Yet this assumes that activists have thought through the issues at stake in a particular election, and that if only others had taken the time to educate themselves, they would agree with the activist's position.

But why is it that so many people choose not to vote? I don't pretend to speak for all 60 per cent of the Hamilton population who will abstain from participating in the upcoming vote, but all those people certainly can't be written off as being lazy, ignorant, or apathetic. Many people recognize the glaringly obvious central contradiction of representative democracy. No matter what kind of person the future mayor is now, after winning the election, he or she will become a highly paid bureaucrat, indebted to rich capitalists – namely the local business community and large property holders – in order to keep the job through the next election. It is an economic reality that wealthy capitalists do not have the same interests as the large majority of the people. This reality is apparent throughout our communities and it cuts to the heart of the democratic myth.


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