The Decline Your Vote banner, via Facebook.
As I mentioned in my article on Monday about Ontario’s thoroughly depressing election, there’s so much disdain surrounding this year’s race, that a movement to decline your vote has been gaining traction. If you’re not familiar with the concept, instead of spoiling your ballot—by overlaying ‘BATMAN’ over Tim Hudak’s name in highlighter—or in lieu of simply just staying home and avoiding the vote entirely, there’s a third option. Stare your voting officer in the eye and tell them you are declining your vote, IRL, like a boss (who doesn’t care about exercising their democratic right to participate in an election).
The “Decline Your Vote” movement has gained so much momentum, a man named Paul Synnott in Windsor started DeclineYourVote.ca to give people more information about the vote-declining process. Paul has worked in politics before, as a Research and Development agent for Campaign Research. He later attempted to start a “New Media Solutions company focusing on conservative Canadian Politics at the Municipal, Provincial and Federal levels” called Polisource, which never got off the ground. Currently, he co-hosts a political talk show in Windsor with members of the Liberals and the NDP.
Yesterday evening, however, Paul and his brand new website caught the ire of Reddit’s /r/Toronto and /r/Ontario communities, after a thread was posted by /u/bluesnoodler that accused Paul of being a war room strategist for the Conservatives. It’s somewhat understandable to connect the dots and presume that, because of Paul’s background as an active Conservative politician, with a history of working on digital campaign messaging, that he is by default a subversive Conservative strategist. But, as we should all know by now, Conservative does not necessarily equal evil political mastermind. So, I called Paul to put the internet’s wild accusations to the test.
Paul told me this campaign is 100 percent personal, and not related to any specific political party: “I have no love lost for Tim Hudak and even a slight search on Google will yield a few articles where I call him out. It’s one of the reasons why I launched Decline your Vote, because I’m not supporting or working with the Conservative party this time. I’m actually declining my vote. Once I decided to decline my vote, talking to friends and family, I found that a lot of people had no idea that was an option. A lot of them were going to stay at home and not vote. And I’d rather see them go to the polls and take part in the process, rather than not vote.”
Many opponents of the Decline Your Vote campaign are arguing that by influencing people to negate their ballot, they’re actually helping the Conservatives, who they say do well in elections where few people turn up to the polls. This is not exactly a very scientific approach to voter turnout, but there is some basis to it. Kinda.
In 2011, when the Tories took a majority federal government, low voter turnout was attributed to their victory because—according to a political scientist at the University of Ottawa—”low turnout usually favours the government, while a high turnout usually favours the opposition.” So, in this case, a low turnout would favour the Liberals. There is also an argument to be made, however, that young people and minority groups, who are more likely to vote Liberal or NDP and less likely to hit the polls, could therefore have a positive impact on the Conservatives (through their absence) in an election with low voter turnout.
I asked Paul if he thinks his vote-declining campaign is helping the Conservatives:
“I’m trying to increase the turnout… If you look at the Decline Your Vote Facebook page, anywhere and everywhere I’m encouraging people to go out and vote for any and every party. I encourage that first and foremost. This campaign is specifically targeted at people who don’t know who they want to vote for; they can’t stand Hudak, they don’t trust Wynne, and they don’t trust the NPD. So they’re going to stay at home. So that’s who this campaign is particularly targeted at.”
Ultimately, no matter what a Conservative says, people are probably going to blame them for causing global warming, rigging the election, and destroying orphanages. I’m certainly no Conservative sympathizer when we’re talking about roughly 90% of political scenarios, but in this case, I can’t see Decline Your Vote being a “grassroots” campaign designed to trick the people of the internet into staying away from voting.
Still, I put the question to Paul one last time. Is Decline Your Vote a subversive Conservative campaign to rig the election?
“This hasn’t been created as any war room strategy or by any Conservative strategist. To be honest with you, I don’t think Hudak’s team has the brains to come up with a plan like that. Seriously… That’s what I think of his team.”
While declining your vote can be dismissed as being unstrategic, or more plainly as a copout, it’s overly conspiratorial to presume that it’s all a Conservative rouse. If you do decide to decline your vote, an Elections Ontario source provided me with materials that explain precisely how a declined vote is interpreted. As you can see from the screenshot above, taken from an Elections Canada manual, a declined vote is not interpreted as a protest vote or “none of the above.” It’s a forfeit.
So, if you really wanna mess with the system, vote Green or Libertarian. If you're not into that, maybe you should reconsider the whole strategic voting thing. But don't listen to me, because I could be a puppet of the internet media conspiracy here to manipulate your thoughts and emotions.