by Jennie Milligan

I used to love election day, not because I was excited about voting, but because I felt heartened to see my fellow citizens doing their civic duty.  I also liked the sense of purpose in the polling place and the seriousness with which the election workers took their duties. Election day gave me hope for humanity – until May 12th, that is.

On May 12th, only half of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls. The Liberals took 58% of the seats with only 46% of the popular vote,meaning that more people voted against them than for them, yet they hold all the power, again.  Almost 11% of the popular vote went to parties who won no seats at all.  It’s not that I was surprised by these results.  They are typical of an election under our current electoral system.  It’s just that I was frustrated and disappointed by the fact that this pattern will continue because BC passed up the opportunity for electoral reform.

In 2005, I was only tangentially involved in the campaign to change the way we vote. I was consumed by law school and not able to devote myself fully to the campaign.  When the referendum fell just2% short of the threshold, I thought to myself, “Poor Wendy (who I had been working with in Victoria), she must be really disappointed.”  This time around, my friends were thinking the same thing about me.

From January to May of this year, I devoted a great deal of my free time to supporting the recommendation of the Citizens’Assembly on Electoral Reform.  It was, at times, the most frustrating volunteer experience of my life, but I kept on because I believe in proportional representation.  Why? Because I’m tired of strategic voting. I’m tired of “choosing” between two large parties, both of whom drive me crazy, or voting for a third, who will never get elected.  I’m tired of swing politics and attack ads,and I don’t think I’m alone.

In the early morning hours of May 13th,when it was clear that the referendum had been a dismal failure, I understood why people don’t vote and I sympathized with them.  Hell, I wanted to join them.  At the same time, I was incredibly frustrated with the 50% of eligible voters who hadn’t realized that if they’d only voted for STV, it would have cured some of the ills that had probably kept them away from the polling station in the first place. It was a sad irony and it made me mad.

Once I’ve healed my wounds from the STV campaign, I’ll be back working with Dogwood Initiative to re-energize its democracy file.  Keep your ear to the ground for more information about a new campaign from Dogwood this fall to get the big money out of politics by reforming our political financing rules.

Jennie Milligan is a Director on Dogwood Initiative’s Board.  She lives in Vancouver where she’s currently a practicing lawyer.