Democracy Watch's Duff Conacher said this week that declining one's ballot signals that you care about voting, but don't like any of the choices.
"Essentially you go to the polling station, you are handed your ballot and then you hand it back" to the poll clerk, he explained.
"Come out and send a message to the parties saying I don't like any of your platforms or your leaders. It's not the best system, but at least indirectly you can send a message saying: "I don't really support any of you, there's problems with the system.'"
In politics, as in much of life, people and Parties focused on winning will always look to push the rules and do whatever they can get away with. If and when they're caught, denial, deflection or flat-out lying becomes a method of avoiding accountability.
Like a child who doesn't face consequences when they don't follow instructions, the lesson learned is "hey, this works. How much further can I push the envelope?"
It's important to understand this concept as we look at the failings of our democratic system and try to sort out how to fix it.
We have had multiple governments elected by minorities of the voting population (but majorities of those who actually cast their vote) claiming legitimacy they don't truly have. Legitimate opposition is being decried as anti-democratic for challenging the my-way-or-the-highway policies of these minority majorities.
The press feeds into this, because they're so desperate for copy that will sell. People aren't buying traditional news, meaning shock-and-awe headlines are that much more important. As is simplicity. Both the press and the politicians have learned what the private sector has already embraced - keep it simple, keep it stupid. Low hanging fruit sell, so don't innovate a ladder.
What we end up with is, Easter Island-like, Parties and press that make due with less, deliver less, which gets consumed with greater disdain by a frustrated public. Or not consumed, as the case may be - we've chosen to be "too busy" to engage in our system.
As in all sales professions, the most cynical political operators don't care if the car you're buying works or not, so long as they get paid. It's actually in the best interests of the Parties on the political right for more voters to decline their ballots, because it's a statistical truth that their base, however small it might be, is guaranteed to get out and vote.
Angry people act, is the lesson.
So while the public might try to send a message to the political system by declining votes, the question is "who cares?" Political Parties that win won't care; the atrophying of democracy has clearly worked to their advantage. As such, it's in their interest to stifle all voices that encourage voter participation, as we're seeing happen at the federal level.
Does this mean declining your ballot is a bad idea? No. It's a way to express yourself and that's something we need to do, as citizens in a democracy. Be aware, though, of who you're trying to convey a message to.
If tough-minded political operators have such opaque blinders on that they can't see how they are actually damaging our democracy with their shenanigans, they may not be the intended audience.
It may be that, for our democracy to survive, we have to stop shouting at the people on the watchtower and start communicating with each other, getting organized, finding ways to contribute.
Which, thankfully, is already happening. It's too bad the press hasn't realized the power of this story - they'll get there, though.