Next week, Albertans will go to the polls and decide which candidates they want to represent them, as well as which party and person they want to represent the province. Voting is the easiest and most common way to participate in a democracy, and some would argue it is a duty for citizens to cast their ballot. But what if you’ve never voted before and don’t know how? Here’s a quick guide on the whole process so you can be ready to participate in your government on voting day!
What does voting mean in Alberta?
Alberta, like the Government of Canada and other provinces, participates in a Westminster-style Parliamentary Democracy. This means that the party who wins the most votes forms the government, and its leader becomes the premier. The territory is divided into ridings, and each riding votes for their Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). That member likely represents a specific party, and the party with the most MLAs in the legislature forms the government. In contrast, the United States has a Presidential Democracy, in which the President is elected directly by the people and independent of the elections to Congress.
Alberta uses a Single Member Plurality electoral formula. Plurality systems are commonly referred to as First Past the Post systems. This means that the candidate who receives at least one more vote than the other candidates wins the entire riding. Single member refers to how many candidates represent the riding. In Canada, the single member who wins a plurality of seats is sent to the elected assembly to represent the interests of their riding.
Alberta has four major parties: the Progressive Conservatives (PC), the Wildrose, the Liberals, and the New Democrats (NDP).
Why should I vote?
Given that we live in a democracy, the entire governmental system relies on people voting for their representatives. Each candidate is going to the legislature to represent the interests of their constituents, so they require the consent of citizens to act on their behalf. If no one votes, candidates lack the legitimacy to make decisions that affect the society they govern, so voting allows candidates to make decisions.
And, of course, voting is easy and the most straightforward way to participate in the democratic process!
Now that we understand Alberta’s democratic process a bit better, we will continue with an explanation of how to vote.
When is voting day?
The official election day is May 5, 2015, but you may vote at the Advance Polls starting today, Wednesday, April 29 through to Saturday, May 2.
How do I register to vote?
In Alberta, you are eligible to vote if you are a Canadian citizen, at least 18 years of age, and a resident of Alberta for six months (if you have lived in Alberta since November 5, 2014).
If you have voted in an election from your current postal code before, you are likely already a registered voter, but if you are unsure, you can always visit the Elections Alberta website. Here, you can find out whether you’re already registered to vote by clicking “Am I registered to vote”. Unfortunately, if you find that you are not registered, online registration has closed. But don’t worry! You can still vote! You can always have your name registered on the day you go to vote. The only difference is that you will need to produce government issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or an Alberta Identification Card at the polling station. If you do not have such a piece of ID, you can still produce two items from this list. Just make sure that one of them has the address you will be using to cast your ballot!
Where do I go to vote?
If you don’t know where to go to vote, Elections Alberta has a helpful application to make sure you go to the right place on voting day. Just enter your postal code and it will tell you your electoral division, where you can go to vote on May 5, and where you can go to vote on any of the Advance Poll days. But be careful! The location for the Advance Poll is often a different location than for the actual voting day, so make sure you know where you’re going!
Who should I vote for?
Here comes the tricky part– now you have to decide who you want to see representing Albertans nationally and internationally, or who you want to see representing your interests in the legislature. The four main parties (PCs, Wildrose, Liberals, and NDP) all won seats in the legislature in the last election, and, according to polling, are likely to win seats again. There are a few other parties running in Alberta that currently do not have seats in the legislature. They include the Alberta Party and the Green Party.
Before getting too committed to any particular party or candidate, you should first check to see who is running in your riding. Once again, Elections Alberta is here to help. Once you enter your postal code here, Elections Alberta will tell you everything you need to know about voting day, including the candidates who are running in your riding. This list of candidates is located at the bottom of the page.
Now that you know which parties and candidates are running in your riding, you can get a better idea of who to vote for. As explained above, in a parliamentary democracy, you vote for an individual to represent you in the legislative assembly. This individual will belong to a party, and the party that wins the most seats forms the government. However, most people pay closer attention to the party itself when casting a ballot, or which party has the leader they like best. It’s completely up to you whether you want to cast your ballot based on the candidates in your riding, the party that resonates with your values and beliefs or the leader that you trust the most.
A good start is to check out the website of each of the parties. The Progressive Conservatives, the Wildrose, the Liberals, and the New Democrats all include links to their platforms, biographies of their leaders, and information about each of the candidates on their websites.
If you’re still unsure on who to vote for, or you find sifting through all of the platforms exhausting, there are other resources available. CBC has released a vote compass in which you will be asked a series of questions to gauge which party your views align with most. While you will often hear people talk about a “left and right” spectrum of politics, the vote compass splits social issues (family and education, for example) from fiscal issues (the economy and taxation, for example). With this split, you can get a wider, more well-rounded view of which party you align with most. You can also weigh the issues based on what matters most to you. So if you’re all about the environment, but do not have a lot of knowledge on taxation, you can make questions regarding environmental issues count for more.
At the end of the day, it’s important to not feel intimidated by all of the information being thrown at you. It can be overwhelming listening to experts analyze the election, or have newspaper articles criticizing platform points you thought made a lot of sense. When listening to so many experts dissect the election, it can often feel like you are too uninformed to have a say. But remember, you have the right to influence the decisions that effect you and your surroundings. You get to vote because you matter. You don’t have to be an expert on all of the issues to cast a ballot! Chances are, you already know where you stand on many of these issues– you just may not have thought about them in a political way. Before voting day, take some time to reflect on what matters most to you and what you would like to see in your society and community. Once you’ve done that, find out what each of the parties’ thoughts are about those issues, or talk to some friends you trust about their political insights. And remember– your vote matters!
CC Photography courtesy of Flickr user Kempton