This past May’s federal election was my first experience truly participating in democracy, beyond casting a ballot. I was volunteering at a polling station as a scrutineer; and at the risk of sounding uninformed, this was the first time I’d ever heard of a “scrutineer”. The word has a bit of a swashbuckling ring to it, don’t you think? Yarr, we be scrutineerin’.
For those who do not know, a scrutineer’s role is to monitor the casting and subsequent counting of ballots at a polling station to ensure that an election is being conducted in accordance with the rules set out by this great country of ours. The role is performed as a representative of a candidate for membership in parliament. While I make no secret of my political leanings, I am not going to mention which campaign I was a part of, as partisanship is not why I am writing this. What I wish to do is share the profound sense of national pride and personal fulfilment I felt on the night of May 2.
Toronto has been my home for all of my twenty-six years on planet Earth. I have, however, been privileged enough to explore much of the great outdoors in nine of our ten provinces (I’ll check Newfoundland off my list one of these days), and I am filled with reverence for the beautiful lands we as Canadians are lucky enough to call home. That said, until this election I had never truly felt the same reverence for Canadian society and its democratic institutions. Don’t get me wrong, this country is the only home I know and I love it with all my heart, but it is a truism to say that it is far easier to find fault with political systems than with landscapes.
Truism or not, it’s a gross understatement to say that it is easy to focus on the negative in politics – I myself have many objections to the first-past-the-post electoral system that Canada continues to adhere to despite its obvious and well-documented misrepresentation of the popular vote. Although, it is just as easy to fixate on the faults and gloss over our country’s many political strengths.
One of our great strengths is an effective system of checks and balances to uphold honesty in the electoral process. One only needs to remember the disputes over electronic vote tabulation in Florida in the 2000 U.S. presidential election to find a shining example of why we should not take this for granted. In this country, representatives of every political party are afforded the opportunity to examine each and every ballot to ensure that any vote correctly cast is a vote correctly accounted for. I can tell you first-hand that this is tedious business, and it is by no means as stirring as the tales of countries where people are genuinely afraid to honestly express their political views, but it is absolutely vital to our democracy.
I campaigned, I canvassed, I handed out flyers, and I lost pretty much all ability to shut the hell up about politics. All of these things made me feel more involved in democracy than I ever have before. It was truly invigorating. Yet, none of those things made me feel as proud of my democracy as knowing I played a part in making sure we have an electoral process we can count on. Nice to know we don’t have to put all our faith in Big Brother just yet.