Posts / June 18, 2012

I Vote Because

For this year’s eSTAS 2012, I had the pleasure of writing a chapter for the book The Power Of The Connected Citizen on the I Vote Because map in deployed last spring in Canada.

Below is an excerpt from the book, or you can also download the full ebook at libro-empodera-org.pdf.

I Vote Because
Mapping The Voice Of Canadians

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” – Jane Goodall

Leading up to last year’s Canadian federal election, I became appalled when I discovered that the voter turnout in the 2008 election was the lowest percentage of registered voters ever recorded for a national election in Canada.

Around that time, I travelled to Madrid to speak at the Internet and 21st Century Revolutions conference, sharing the story of how Ushahidi was used during the Arab spring revolutions. During my talk, I discussed the innovative ways that Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC) in Cairo used Ushahidi to map the #jan25 protests, leveraging the alert system to keep protesters informed of activity on the ground.

For the past three years, I’ve had the honor of working with Ushahidi, an open source platform to collect and visualize crowdsourced information. Here I was, in Madrid telling the story of how others are leveraging our platform to empower citizens in their country, while at home we were facing our own challenges.

The situation in Canada however is different than that of Egypt. While citizens in other countries are fighting for freedom of speech and the right to democracy, Canadians have become complacent and apathetic towards voting. Jane Goodall said, “the greatest danger to our future is apathy”, and she was right. Democracy is a system to represent the people, however it completely breaks down when citizens forfeit their right to vote.

So, inspired by the DISC group in Cairo, and having just deployed Ushahidi in Saskatchewan to monitor the spring foods, I created the I Vote Because map. My hope, was to spark a conversation in Canada why voting matters, why every voice counts.

I wanted to show the rest of the world, that Canadians not only enjoy their right to vote, but embrace it. The idea was simple, just complete the sentence; I vote because…

Over that weekend with help from some friends, I developed and deployed a custom Ushahidi map. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, so I stripped out any unnecessary components like the timeline and list of categories. I also styled the map with speech bubbles, because I wanted it represent people having a voice.

On Wednesday, April 13th 2012 the map was officially deployed and the voices began to roll in. People from all across Canada began sharing why voting was important via Twitter, Facebook, email, and the web. Since incoming reports required approval before they became visible on the map, I had to read every submission. And I was truly humbled by the responses, here is a sample of what some people had to say.

  • “I vote because I believe that the voices of the few can, together, form the voice of the many.” – Colin Bendell, Saskatoon
  • “I vote because my grandmother was not allowed to.” – Karren Brown, Alberta
  • “I vote so that the younger generation can keep its freedom of expression. For myself my children and all future children, to ensure our country stays secure, and does not waver, far off course, so no remorse. I vote because: I hope to sway, decision on election day, win or lose I’ll always choose…to vote.” – Barbara Szita-Knight, Toronto
  • “I vote for democracy. I vote because so many women before me fought hard to give me the right. I vote because I believe that every voice has a right to be heard.” – Anne, Queens
  • “I vote because because as a new Canadian I want to be heard by my government and represented.” – Veronica Rivas, Vancouver
  • “Thousands of Canadians fought and died to preserve it. Don’t take our democracy for granted. Take the time today to vote!” – The Maple Tap, Montreal
  • “I vote because it’s my democratic right and I want to lead by example. To have any hope of changing our current system, more young Canadians need to vote.” – Diane Côté, Montreal
  • “It is the single most important thing you can do for our great country.” – Bob Lawrence, Regina

The I Vote Because map is a testament, that citizens want to share their voice, they just need a way to do so. There is also a huge advantage in leveraging open source software. The map would have taken me months to develop from scratch, but instead I was able to deploy it over a weekend by reusing an existing open source solution.

We are undergoing a major technology paradigm shift. Citizens that were once only passive recipients of information, are now contributors to the story. The key point is that citizens have a voice, we only need to listen.