Ontario Election 20140612

Declining your vote won't send the message some people believe it will, says a long-time democracy expert who works to promote voting to young people. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Declining your vote won't send the message some people believe it will, says a democracy expert who works to promote voting to young people.

Taylor Gunn said he supports having the option to decline a ballot, but that exercising it isn't likely to send a message to politicians.

Gunn runs Student Vote, an organization that works with schools to show students how to vote and how elections work in the hope they exercise their right to cast ballots once they turn 18.

Gunn said the fact Ontario offers that option is "to be celebrated," but says its impact "is a little bit questionable."

Gunn was reacting to a Windsor political activist who says Ontarians need to know that they can head to the polls today but decline their ballots.

Paul Synnott, who has strong ties to the Conservative Party, said while some people spoil their ballots if they're unhappy with the choices, many don't know that they can also choose to decline. Declined ballots are tallied separately.

Synnott said he isn't happy with any of the parties seeking election in Ontario. He said in the past he's run two campaigns for the federal candidate in Windsor-Tecumseh and he most recently campaigned for an Ontario PC candidate last August in a byelection.

Voter suppression?

Synnott has been accused of trying to suppress the vote in order to support the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, but said he's not telling people not to show up at a polling station.

"It's kind of hard to run a voter suppression campaign when you're encouraging people to show up at the polls and vote," Synnott said. 

"Because you actually have to show up at the polls to decline your vote. And once you're standing at the polls, I have no power over what you do with that ballot once you have it in your hand ... you might just take that ballot and go vote for somebody."

Low voter turnout, Synnott pointed out, tends in Canada to benefit the incumbent. He said he simply doesn't want to vote for any party in today's provincial election.

"I'm not personally a big fan of Tim [Hudak]'s and I disagree with a number of the policies and [the] direction of the party itself," he said.

"Declining was my, really, only option left. I would not not vote. I believe in taking part in the process."

'You've got all these options'

Spoiling a ballot, Synnott said, covers a range of problems with a ballot, including legitimate mistakes. But declining, he said, tells the politician "Hey, I'm here, my vote was available, but I don't think any of you deserve it.

"There's a number of ways you can cast your ballot," he said, including voting for a party, an issue, a leader or a local candidate. "Or you could vote against any one of those things.

"To me there's never just one decision when you go to the ballot box, there's actually five or six or seven to make.
It's less just comparing the parties. You've got all these options of what you could vote for or against," Gunn said.