COLUMN: The freedom to vote

Surrey has had voting machines for years, and they make vote counting a breeze.

There are plenty of complaints about “tax and spend” councils as the municipal election draws near, but in White Rock at least, the city is making a bold improvement for a very small cost.

It has rented voting machines from the City of Toronto at a cost of $11,000, and thus the election results will come in smoothly and quickly on Saturday night. Three years ago, the last results in White Rock came in about 2 a.m. Sunday. All ballots were counted by hand and it was a herculean effort to come up with the final result.

This is such a common sense move, and one hopes that it marks the beginning of a trend. It is hardly worthwhile for a city the size of White Rock to buy voting machines which are only used once every three years. Why not rent them from another jurisdiction where no election is underway?

White Rock is not the only B.C. municipality to rent machines this year. Others who are renting them include Port Moody, Squamish, Coquitlam and West Vancouver.

Surrey has had voting machines for years, and they make vote counting a breeze. They are a far cry from the way we did things in my days as a poll clerk at Ocean Park Community Hall more than 35 years ago. We counted each ballot by hand.

Voting really is such a simple thing in our democracy, and at the local level, we really take it for granted. That’s why turnout is almost never very good.

The last local election in this area to attract more than half the voters to the polls that I’m aware of was in 1990, when 55 per cent of Delta voters voted. That was due to the contentious Spetifore lands development – an issue that remains unresolved and contentious some 21 years later.

White Rock often has a good turnout as well. which isn’t surprising, as a campaign in a smaller geographic area can be a lively and intense affair.

But contrast the usual 20 to 30 per cent turnout in local elections here with the recent vote in Tunisia, where more than 90 per cent of people were eager to cast a ballot that actually meant something, after many years of living under a dictatorship.

Some countries have voting, but it is far from free. In some cases, there is just one candidate. In others, it is a real threat to your wellbeing to vote for someone in opposition.

Canada is very fortunate. We have had the ability to vote freely for so long that none of us (unless we come from elsewhere) know what it is like to not be able to cast a vote freely.

I always urge people to vote, but I do so knowing full well that many of those who read these words will not do so. That is their right, because we also have the freedom here not to vote. No one will be penalized for not showing up at the polls.

It’s simple, it’s basic, it’s not time-consuming and it’s neglected by many. But at the same time, voting is a wonderful thing. It’s a freedom which is not always available to many others in this world.

On Saturday night, we will know who voters in Surrey, Delta and White Rock selected to conduct their local affairs for the next three years. Those who take part are doing something very special, even it doesn’t always feel that way.

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