EDITORIAL – It will be a sad day when we have to pay people to vote

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

SPECULATION CONTINUES that the turnout for this civic election will be somewhere between lousy and dismal.

Kamloops council candidate Gerald Watson thinks turnout could be improved if voters received a $20 credit against city utilities or recreation services. “A small financial incentive,” as he calls it.

It will be a sad day when we have to start paying people to exercise their democratic privilege of voting.

Besides, there’s no guarantee people who voted in return for a $20 credit would be informed voters. At worst, it could seriously mess with the results. But at least Watson is trying to be creative.

At the opposite end of the scale is mandatory voting, which is used in some jurisdictions. In Australia, for example, you get a $20 fine if you don’t vote, as opposed to Watson’s $20 gift. I find the very concept of forced voting to be undemocratic.

One argument in favour of it is that it supposedly increases overall political awareness. I suppose Watson’s idea could do the same thing, to a lesser extent.

There’s no question that democracy is in tough shape all around the world. Freedom of speech is on the decline as well. Just a few years ago, we were full of hope and optimism about democracy but today right-wing nationalism and isolationism is on the rise.

So it’s more important than ever that we recognize our duty to protect democracy by participating in it.

We need to ask ourselves why we’re in this pickle — why do we have to even be talking about mail-in and online balloting, incentivized voting and mandatory voting? When democracy is in good shape, we’re engaged in the process and enthusiastic about joining other citizens at the polling stations.

The fact that we aren’t engaged means we’re either taking our democracy for granted or we just aren’t interested. Manufacturing artificial ways to get us to the polls won’t change that.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger’s Armchair Mayor editorials appear Mondays through Thursdays on CFJC- TV. His Armchair Mayor column is published Saturdays on and CFJC Today. Contact him at

About Mel Rothenburger (7758 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on EDITORIAL – It will be a sad day when we have to pay people to vote

  1. Ian M MacKenzie // October 9, 2018 at 2:55 PM // Reply

    “The fact that we aren’t engaged means we’re either taking our democracy for granted or we just aren’t interested.”

    I think that both these reasons are essentially the same. The other more basic reason that I find far too often when I canvass for Pro-rep is some resigned comment to the effect that “why bother? They’re just going to do what they like, anyhow.” What this kind of reply tells me is that people are turned off by party politics, ideology, party whips, and too much power concentrated in party leaders. They are looking for pragmatic leadership that listens to and follows their wishes. But it’s pretty hard to get them to vote when they’ve reached that resigned stage, which is why your two reasons (or 1) are natural results of their disengagement.

  2. John Noakes // October 9, 2018 at 6:05 AM // Reply

    Sometimes it takes but one small thing to tip the balance in politics between supporting or not supporting a candidate. Mr. Watson attracted me to vote for him when he said he wanted better accountability at City Hall and a review of all for expenses. But, suggesting a tax credit for voting tipped the scales to choose someone else.
    Promise not to bring your family members to a zoning meeting to meet with the applicant and I’ll be happy.

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